No short cuts to power

For older-generation members of the traditional working class movement the return to a privatised coal industry is almost unthinkable. For the miners, vanguard of the class and the most tenacious class warriors, not to mention mercilessly exploited, nationalisation of the coal industry was seen as symptomatic of a shift in the balance of class forces irreversibly in favour of the working class.

The truth is - privatisation is only the victory roar: the battle itself was lost over the mass closure question posed in the last two or three years.

The industry is now decimated and with it the power of our union. Of course, wherever the union exists, it can act as an inspiration and an example of red unionism, which puts the business managers of most other unions to shame. However with something like 15 pits and 13,000 miners left in the whole country, it is unlikely that we will take the state by the balls or burn any more barricades for some time to come.

Not to say that we cannot still stand at the head of the whole trade union movement and launch a full scale attack by the whole class. This will require pushing most of the well-heeled bureaucrats and trade union barons out of the way. As well as rattling the dusty and bureaucratic structures of the trade unions themselves to their very foundations.

That the industry is bought out by Budge is of some small comfort in so far as he is prepared to recognise the union and draw up a joint plan for safe methods of work. This has not been the case in many of the smaller buy-outs, and conditions unseen since the 1930s are now common in such pits, together with non-unionism.

Added to all of this we have the feature of a workers’ buy-out at Tower, led by the union and my old comrade Tyrone O’Sullivan, a man of impeccable class credentials with a heart as big as a dustbin lid.

It must be said though, the buy-out will not restore our dented armour, nor give us back the glory days when we took the tiger by the tail. True, the coal will still come to bank in the valleys and this will be of some comfort to the families of the men employed there. But it is a risky business which does nothing to continue the fight against the capitalist state.

To compete in the squeezed coal market with fierce competition the logic of the operation will be longer hours, less and unpaid holidays, lower wages and cheaper production methods.

After investing about £8,000 each and risking much else to earn a buck, will the men be as receptive to costly and timely safety standards? Logic and the law of the capitalist market would tell us otherwise.

For those still hopeful of a Labour cavalry riding to the rescue - forget it. Blair has proclaimed loudly and publicly that coal will not be renationalised; and in any case the anti-union laws and pro-employer bias of the Tory administration will be preserved and built upon.

There is a workers’ solution to the problem, but not one in buy-outs or Labour traitors. It consists of the people taking the power into their own hands and seizing the means of production, distribution and exchange under their own direct control. If that sounds like jam tomorrow, the fact is that in the here and now concessions have only ever been won when we went for the lot. Conversely, when we begged for crumbs cap in hand, we only ever received a kick in the teeth. In the words of the Irish song: “They asked for little and less was granted. Lest granted little, they asked for more.”

The last decade of Tory rule and Labour arse-licking has taught us that there is no middle ground, no consensus politics - only naked class war. We have a world to win and there are no short cuts to taking back what is ours.

Dave Douglass
vice chair,
South Yorkshire NUM panel