Recalling the nine days

A commitment to official union structures, and an inability to grasp the potential of organisations created by workers in struggle meant the miner's strike was a test most of the left failed, says Mark Fischer

This article from The Leninist of September 1984 makes the simple point that the miners’ Great Strike rigorously tested all political trends in the Communist Party and the wider left. The overwhelming majority were to fail pretty ignominiously. In particular, most were at a loss to understand the significance of, or chart a way forward for, the new organisational forms the struggle produced over the 12 months of the strike.

For instance, the miners’ support committees - the subject of this Bill Kernan piece - brought together militants from different industries and political groups, and had a potential far beyond simply collecting money and food to sustain the miners and their families. We saw in them embryonic councils of action - bodies that came to the fore in the 1926 General Strike and might be able to coordinate the generalised strike action needed to win this strategic, year-long confrontation between the working class and the Thatcher government.

The National Union of Mineworkers’ reliance on the official structures of the trade union movement was to prove a central weakness. The MSCs had the potential to form the skeletal framework for a “National Miners’ Support Movement” of all working class organisations committed to “total physical support” for the miners.1 With such a body, it would have been possible to call, over the heads of the treacherous bureaucrats, to militants in other unions, bring them together in common organisation and cohere an authoritative alternative centre that could launch a united class offensive. A historic opportunity was missed and the miners fought on alone.

Mark Fischer

Miners’ support committees: into action

The miners’ strike has had a great impact, not only on the mining communities themselves, but through­out the workers’ movement and the British left as a whole. From a period of post-election demoralisation and the defeat of the National Graphical Association by print boss Eddy Shah with his use of the anti-union laws, the masses have now gained new confidence. Inspired by the miners’ iron resolve, working class militants have thrown themselves into supporting their struggle with enthusiasm and energy.


Working class groups and parties have raised money from their own members for the miners, but the bulk of fund and food collecting has been under the auspices of the trade unions them­selves, trades councils and in particular, various forms of support com­mittees. Certain trade unions have raised generous amounts of cash and food, particularly those that have clashed with the government, such as the print unions. That Sogat has managed to raise over £375,000 is an indication of the bitterness welling up against the Tories.

Wider support has been expressed at the local level: for example, the London organisations of Sogat ’82, the NGA, the Fire Brigades Union, the Transport and General Workers Union, AEUW-Tass and Usdaw on August 2 sent a convoy carrying £100,000 worth of food to Yorkshire. Large amounts of money have been flowing from literally thousands of workplace collections and levies.

Apart from this healthy pulse of concrete aid, there have been the mass demonstrations in Liverpool, Birmingham (at Saltley Gates) and the regional TUC one-day strikes in solidarity with the miners by the South East Regional TUC (on June 27) and Yorks and Humberside Regional TUC, which gave the miners and the movement a morale boost.

But it is the miners’ support committees that merit particular men­tion, as it is they that involve the most militant rank-and-file workers, the political activists who burn for revenge on the Tories. Their genuine mass character is attested to by the fact that in every city and major town in Britain, from Basingstoke to Blackburn, and Southampton to Salford, there is some kind of miners’ support committee or group.

In most areas the committee has been set up by the local trades council, otherwise by political parties or trade unionists on an ad hoc basis. Though in the majority of cases they have operated more or less independently of the trades council that set it in motion. Although in some places, such as Sheffield and Birmingham, they have only the status of trades council sub­committees. The degree of involvement, activity and organisa­tion will vary from town to town, but there can be no excuse for having only monthly meetings at such critical times - as in Sheffield.

The miners’ support committees’ activities have mainly been around the collection of much needed food and money on the streets, and sometimes the staging of benefits or other social fundraising events; this approach having even been enshrined in the title of one organisation - the Dundee Miners’ Strike Relief Committee. While we would be the last to deny that such support is basic, material class solidarity, and also plays an essential additional role of boosting the morale of the miners, it must be complemented by a much broader and higher range of actions. This can only be done if we transform miners’ support commit­tees into councils of action-type organisations.

This means:

The miners increasingly see their struggle as not just against pit closures, but as a political struggle against the government - a perspective the entire working class has a vital interest in joining. As the political temperature rises, it becomes clearer and clearer that food and money solidarity has serious limitations. As Arthur Scargill has said, “We need more than finance, more than food - we need the physical participation of workers. We do not want pious words from the leaders of the labour movement. We want in­dustrial action in support of our union!”

But to facilitate this we must, amongst other things, transform the run-of-the-mill MSCs into councils of action. Such militant, broad-based, fighting class organisations are not simply desirable: they are now a necessity for mobilising working class action at a local level, which is essential to the total victory not only of the miners, but the working class as a whole - smashing the Tories’ anti-union legislation and bringing the Iron Lady Thatcher to her knees.

Councils of action

It was in August 1920 that councils of action were first established in Britain in order to carry out an act of proletarian class solidarity with the young Soviet Republic, when the government threatened to transform its assistance to the counterrevolu­tionary forces of Wrangel and his Polish allies into open military inter­vention. Mass agitation by the councils of action and the threat of a general strike actually forced the government to pull back from its plans for direct counterrevolutionary attack on the first socialist state. Surely this was one of the finest instances of proletarian internationalism ever displayed by the working class in Britain.

But, of course, councils of action are best known for the dynamic role they played during the 1926 General Strike. The breadth of their activities in organising working class activity around the strike is well documented, but also worthy of mention is the way they operated independently of TUC guidelines in many towns and cities, issuing their own transport permits and mobilising pickets and workers’ defence corps, to the treacherous TUC’s obvious displeasure.

Communist action

The call for councils of action in 1926 did not, however, simply spring spon­taneously from the working class, but was campaigned for beforehand. As the official historian of our Communist Party, James Klugmann, pointed out, “It should be noted and appreciat­ed that the call for the councils of action, which were to be the most important organs of struggle dur­ing the nine days of the General Strike, came first from the Com­munist Party and the Minority Movement.”2 In fact, as the impending strike drew near, such a call was one of the main propositions of the party’s statement of April 23 1926.

Throughout the nine days of the strike, the Communist Party threw its small but vigorously active forces into the fight; where there were strong communist organisations, there the most effective and militant activity was to be found. Not only did communists frequently take the lead in the activity (and fairly often leading positions) of the councils of action: they also gave a general political lead in shaping a large number of them into really broad, class-fighting organisations: “... moribund trades councils were revived, and existing ones were broadened to bring in all types of working class organisations, including political organisations, until they became real expressions of the whole local working class movement.”3

Despite the party making some clearly incorrect calls before the strike (eg, ‘All power to the general council’), it undoubtedly played a vanguard role in explaining the political nature of the strike and the need to defeat the capitalist state, in campaigning for and organising councils of action, to set up workers’ defence corps. Our party’s proud record during the General Strike is undeniable to any honest observer. Because of its role in the strike, thousands of the most class-conscious workers, men and women, flooded into the party that had won their respect - the Communist Party. Between its 7th Congress (May 30-June 1 1925) and its 8th Congress (October 16-17 1926) party member­ship increased from 5,000 to over 10,000. Furthermore, the Young Communist League had, since its previous 3rd Congress, increased its membership threefold to 1,800 (December 1926) - and 70% of these recruits were young miners. What better demonstration of the party’s heroic role during the General Strike!

Communists today

From the first days of the present strike, many communist miners have taken leading roles in the organisation of picketing and in the general running of the dispute. Outside the NUM itself, many communists have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the activities of the miners’ support committees. But, excellent though this solidarity work is, there is much more that is demanded of communists - political analysis and political leadership.

Perhaps some of our more in­experienced comrades might have expected Marxism Today4 to have carried numerous articles analysing the political significance of the strike, extensive debates and their favourite round-table discussions between various communists and Labour lefts. Instead, in the last two editions (July and August) there is only one article on this historic class battle - that is, an interview on the role of women. Of course, we do not really expect much more from hard-core Eurocommunists. As we know, they hate fierce working class struggle - especially violence and intimidation; for them class struggle is a quaint, old-fashioned concept they occasionally bandy about after their genteel dinner-party dos with their fellow academics.

So much for Marxism Today,but what of the party leadership? What is the position of our executive committee? Well, looking at George Bolton’s report to the July EC, one is immediately struck by the almost complete absence of concrete proposals for the taking forward of the miners’ strike. Instead this miners’ leader and party chairperson contented himself with merely describing events and, amongst these generalities, calling on party members to “lift our solidarity activity to even higher levels”.5 Comrade Bolton did actually pose theright question when he asked: “… what has to be done in order to broaden and widen every aspect of the struggle ...?” But he didn’t answered his own question and nor did the EC as a whole after their weekend’s deliberations.

The difference between the impact of the party in 1926 and now is clear. It is the difference between a committed revolutionary party that fought to lead the struggle, that called for councils of action and workers’ defence corps; and a party dominated by opportunism that tails the NUM leadership and the leftwing Labour bureaucracy and whose leadership appears incapable of giving the revolutionary communist direction the strike needs. This is why, today, communists need to follow the revolutionary lead of The Leninist to take this strategic and historic strike forward to victory.


1. The Leninist January 1985.

2. J Klugmann History of the CPGB London 1969, p103.

3. Ibid p148-49.

4. Ostensibly, Marxism Today was the theoretical magazine of the CPGB. However, from 1977 to its demise in 1991 it was effectively the house organ of the Eurocommunist trend of the party.

5. Weekly Worker August 8 2014.