Do Kinnock and co back the miners?

In this article from the August 1984 issue of The Leninist, Michael McGeehan underlines the real role of the Labour and union bureaucracies - and of those who excused or covered for their treachery

Speaking at the 1984 Labour conference, party leader Neil Kinnock was even-handed in apportioning blame for the violence around the miners’ strike: “I condemn the violence of the stone-throwers and battering ram-carriers,” he told the assembled delegates, “and I condemn the violence of cavalry charges, the truncheon groups and the shield-bangers.”

This ‘neutrality’ amounted to open treachery, given the scale of the onslaught miners were facing. Many thousands of ordinary Labour members up and down the country were working selflessly in the scores of miners’ support committees, raising money and material solidarity. The upper echelons of the trade union and labour movement bureaucracies - counter to the claims of the likes of Andrew Murray and other CPGB opportunists of the time - betrayed the miners. This despite the fact that it was clear that defeat for them would mean a general assault on the rights and wages of many other sections of the class.1

In this article from the August 1984 issue of The Leninist, Michael McGeehan underlines the real role of the Labour and union bureaucracies - and of those who excused or covered for their treachery

“Kinnock gives complete backing to miners’ fight” - or so the Morning Star proudly announced in its front page headline of April 19 1984.2

But did he give “complete backing”? Does he support the mass picketing of pits, coke depots and steel plants? Does he support the militant miners’ use of violence against the brutal police? Or perhaps comrade Costello’s lead story was just another piece of the Morning Star’s rose-tinted, uncritical view of the left-reformist Labour and trade union leaders?3 Let us see.

When the storm of the miners’ strike was still gathering force back in March, the leader of ‘her majesty’s loyal opposition’ was desperately trying to avoid committing himself to support the miners. At that time, underestimating the iron determination of a large section of the National Union of Mineworkers, and faced with a barrage of pro-ballot propaganda spewed forth from the bourgeois press, Neil Kinnock finally broke his calculated silence and welcomed the “closer prospect” of a national ballot.4 But the wave of media effluent on the ballot issue broke on the rock of the mass of miners’ granite determination to fight, leaving the Labour leader floundering quietly, embarrassedly in the receding tide of press sewage he had chosen to swim in.

Kinnock quietly, conveniently forgot the filthy mess he had immersed himself in, as did the great bulk of his Labour Party colleagues and trade union backers, not to mention the editor and journalistic staff of the Morning Star and the executive committee of our Communist Party.5 It was therefore hardly surprising that just six days after Kinnock’s thumbs-up for a national ballot, the Morning Star should blaze across its front page his supposed “complete backing” for the miners’ struggle.

Of course, having seen which way the wind was blowing, the sly reformist fox proceeded to produce some rather hot, fiery blasts of his own at the Scottish TUC, which the opportunist Morning Star ‘hardliners’ dutifully printed without comment or blush. Kinnock can rant and rave about the “malice aforethought and intimidation” by the Thatcher government and the National Coal Board, he can rattle on about Thatcher heading for “dictatorship and despotism” and accuse her of trying to starve the miners “into submission”, but the acid test of his ‘support’ is his positions on the resolution of the strike and on the question of violence.6

Apart from all the expected claptrap from the Labour leader denouncing the governments attitude as a “betrayal of the national interest” (a view shared, of course, by multifarious opportunists within the Communist Party), we find him calling on the government to intervene in the dispute!7 Such a call would be merely laughable if it were coming from a saloon bar expert, but it comes from a self-styled ‘supporter’ of the miners, who is the leader of the Labour Party, the mass bourgeois workers’ party.

But this misleader of the working class showed his palest pink political underbelly when the miners’ willingness to reply to police violence broke into the news. Consistently, Kinnock “condemned the use of violence by either side”.8 That was all he had to say on the question after the bourgeois state’s thugs in blue had, armed with batons, riot-shields and helmets, plus horsemen equipped with three-foot truncheons, brutally smashed the heads of countless pickets, attacked miners whose only defence is their wits, muscle and determination. We say that the miners and the working class in general should take measures to organise workers’ defence corps against the police thugs: it is only reformists and their opportunist allies who cringe before bourgeois law, whimper about the violence of both sides and argue against the miners’ and the working class’s right to defence against the state.

The Labour Party’s attitude to the police has always been classically reformist and was illustrated par excellence by shadow home secretary Gerald Kaufman, who after whinging about the “heavy methods” used and expressing a touching concern for the “intolerable dilemma” facing the poor old police, stated moronically that: “The police force is not an arm of the state, but the servant of the community, whose confidence they must secure.”9

It should have been quite apparent to any observer of the struggle that the Parliamentary Labour Party has studiously avoided giving support for a no-holds-barred fight for victory. On the contrary, Labour energy spokesman Stan Orme (a man described by Straight Leftist Morning Star political correspondent Andrew Murray as a “veteran leftwinger”) has been frantically buzzing about between the NCB and the NUM in order to facilitate conciliation between the two parties.10 As Mr Orme himself said, “The Labour Party has played a considerable role in bringing the two sides together.”11

This is, of course, precisely the role of Labourites; to dampen down open class war and conciliate workers with capital. This is why Neil Kinnock and his shadow cabinet cronies have not given “complete backing” to the miners. It was only due to the rising pressure from the striking miners and Labour Party rank and file activists that Kinnock started huffing and puffing out the hot air in earnest, attempting to disguise his need for respectability with rhetoric.

There is, however, little doubt that the likes of Dennis Skinner and Tony Benn support the miners (the latter having even called for a general strike on June 25) and their forceful calls to the rank and file, such as Benn’s declaration that “No-one need wait for permission to begin. Trade unionists in a whole range of industries and services should plan to take industrial action where they work”,12 contrasts strongly with the TUC-Labour Party liaison committee’s anodyne platitudes. But because these left-reformists are bound hand and foot to the Kinnocks and “the next Labour Party government” their calls for militant action are rendered impotent. A case in point was Benn’s withdrawal of his proposal for a national demonstration against pit closures (hardly the height of militancy) at a national executive committee meeting on June 27, no doubt under pressure from Kinnock, Healey and Callaghan et al.13 Because their party is officially content to merely issue statements repeating the “miners’ case” and allow the collection of money, the Benns and Skinners cannot in practice mobilise support for the general strike so essential for the miners’ total victory.

The response of all opportunist tendencies in the Communist Party has been to tail the NUM and Labour Party leadership in the most pathetic and ridiculous fashion, in the manner of a motley flock of ducklings trailing along behind the first animal they set eyes on after hatching. Thus imprinted, the Morning Star faithfully reported and repeated in its editorials the line of the NUM leadership that the struggle was in part to save ‘our industry’. Of course, this is precisely what we would expect from the Chater-­Costello faction: given their orientation to the left of the labour bureaucracy, we certainly do not expect a word of criticism or them to suggest bold initiatives to develop the struggle - perish the thought: Knapp and Todd might get the idea that the Star was trying to lead the working class!14

But it is not even Chater’s editorials which exhibit the lowest form of prostration to the misleaders of the working class. No, it is possible to grovel even lower, as Straight Leftist and Morning Star political correspondent Andrew Murray ably proves.15 Both in his normal reportage and in his own little corner entitled ‘Westminster Window’ (that well-known treat for insomniacs) he regularly regales us with the most incredible sycophancy towards the Labour leaders, particularly Foot and Kinnock. Reading one particular report of the parliamentary debate on the miners in ‘Westminster’ (yawn) ‘Window’ (zzzzz), we get the distinct impression that comrade Murray really believes that the speeches delivered by Labour MPs had dealt swingeing blows to the government.

In fact we find him stating that “... the Parliamentary Labour Party did its duty to those who sent them to parliament.”16 But even more revolting was his review of Michael Foot’s (“one of the finest orators in modern-day politics”) new book in the form of a friendly chat with the “inveterate peace-monger” - you know, the one that supported the Falklands war.17 Does comrade Murray castigate this treacherous demagogue, this invertebrate pro-imperialist over his support for the Falklands escapade? No, he does not even hint at the question. Instead, Murray confines his criticism to: “Of course, he made mistakes; this he would himself concede.” One wonders if comrade Murray, who must be on the extreme right of Straight Leftism, is aiming to join good old Michael and Neil in parliament? Of course, we do not mean as a communist MP.

Instead of straining to conciliate with the Labour and trade union leaders, to become the faithful rearguard like the Chaters and Murrays of this world, it is the duty of communists to push the struggle forward, to expose the reformists’ mealy-mouthed ‘support’ for the miners, to relentlessly criticise the vacillations and manoeuvres of the left-reformists of all shades, to act as the vanguard of the working class.


1. As BBC industrial correspondent Nicholas Jones wrote, “Lining up in support [of Thatcher and the government] were the newspaper proprietors who realised that defeat for the National Union of Mineworkers would pave the way for their own subsequent confrontation with the print unions” (quoted in F Beckett, D Hencke Marching to the fault line London 2009, p135).
2. Neil Kinnock was leader of the Labour Party in opposition between 1983 and 1992 - and after his resignation following Labour’s 1992 general election defeat the UK commissioner of the Europe Commission. He came from the left of the party, but in many ways laid the basis for Blair’s leadership. He was bitterly critical of the militant tactics of the miners’ strike and - at Labour’s conference in 1985 - launched a foul attack on the Militant Tendency (today’s Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal are the fragments of this once large organisation) and Liverpool city council that it dominated and had led into battle against Thatcher. The man was a scab, in other words.
3. Mick Costello succeeded Bert Ramelson as the CPGB’s national industrial organiser. Tony Chater was the editor of the Morning Star (see Weekly Worker April 2).
4. Morning Star April 13 1984.
5. The executive committee was the leadership of the CPGB with “full responsibility for the direction and control of the work of the party and for the formulation of current policy, in accordance with the decisions of the national congress” (CPGB constitution, 1982 edition).
6. The National Coal Board (NCB) was created under the 1947 Coal Industry Nationalisation Act to run the now state-owned industry. In 1987 it was renamed the British Coal Corporation and was subsequently privatised.
7. Morning Star March 171984.
8. The Guardian June 20 1984.
9. The Times April 111984. Gerald Kaufman was Labour’s shadow home secretary.
10. Stan Orme was a left-leaning member of Labour’s shadow cabinet from 1980-87. During the miners’ strike, he was Kinnock’s industry spokesperson.
11. Financial Times July 4 1984.
12. Financial Times June 26 1984.
13. Dennis Healy was made chancellor of the exchequer after Labour’s 1974 victory. On the right of Labour, he narrowly defeated Tony Benn for deputy leadership of the party in 1981 - an event which marked the zenith of Bennism in the party. Healy served as shadow foreign secretary during most of the 1980s. James Callaghan was Labour leader between 1976-80 and prime minister from 1976-79, when he lost to Thatcher’s Tories. He fought the unions in the ‘winter of discontent’ in an attempt to impose a fifth year of pay restraint, alienating not simply organised labour, but wider swathes of society.
14. Jimmy Knapp was the general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen and then the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (today’s RMT). He was a member of the general council of the Trade Union Congress from 1983. Ron Todd  was the general secretary of the huge Transport and General Workers Union from 1985 until 1992.
15. Straight Left originated as a slavishly pro-Labour Stalinist faction in the Communist Party after the 700-strong 1977 split that saw the formation of the New Communist Party. Leading figures included one-time CPGB student organiser Fergus Nicholson and current chair of the Stop the War Coalition, Andrew Murray. Dishonestly, its paper, Straight Left, posed as a broad Labour Party publication and carried a dull and stolid mixture of ‘official’ positions from the British trade union and world communist movements. The Straight Leftists campaigned for the Communist Party to raise the issue of affiliation to the Labour Party and to modify its electoral strategy accordingly, which in essence boiled down to calling on the Communist Party “not to stand candidates against the Labour Party” (Susan Michie Pre-Congress Discussion Journal No2, October 1981).
16. Morning Star June 11 1984.
17. The1982 Falklands war between Argentina and the UK was fought over the sovereignty of islands in the South Atlantic. It was sparked when Argentina invaded and occupied the British-ruled Falkland Islands and South Georgia in April of that year.