Tag Archives: Miner’s Strike

Thatcher’s dead

Yes, she’s finally dead. She tore apart the country and sold off the family silver. Under her rule, the North-South divide grew larger and people were urged to think only of themselves. Large swathes of the country had their hearts torn from them.

I promised myself that I’d play this on a loop when Thatcher snuffed it and here it is.

Here’s another tune that sums up the moment.

Elvis Costello wrote and recorded this at the height of Thatcher’s rule.

It’s 1322, I may go for a beer. I don’t usually drink during the day but this is a very special day.

Let’s remind ourselves of what happened in 11 years of her misrule.

  1. The sale of council homes. Councils were forbidden to use their capital receipts to build new homes. We now have the biggest housing crisis since WWII
  2. The Miners Strike. Subsequent pit closures devastated the communities that grew up around the collieries. The Metropolitan Police served as Thatcher’s private army
  3. Section 28
  4. The Poll Tax
  5. The abolition of the metropolitan counties
  6. The Falklands War
  7. The deregulation of the financial sector, which has contributed to the banking issues we see today.
  8. The widening of the North-South divide
  9. School league tables
  10. The wholesale privatization of nationally-owned  industries and public services
  11. The marketization of education
  12. The Toxteth, St Paul’s, Handsworth and Brixton riots
  13. The lack of real jobs to replace those lost through privatization
  14. Anti-union legislation (revenge for 1974)
  15. Canary Wharf and the rest of the “Enterprise Zones” where people could be paid less and weren’t allowed to collectively bargain for improvements to pay and conditions
  16. British Rail effectively starved of funding to prepare it for privatization
  17. Massive cuts to arts funding. Arts and culture reduced to commodities.
  18. Unqualified support for Pinochet and his repressive regime.

So there you have it. The wicked witch is dead. Now let’s get rid of this shower in power.

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Orde: “police must not be seen as an arm of the state”

We're on your side! Honest!

I’ve heard some pretty stupid stuff in my time but Sir Hugh Orde’s words, reported today in The Guardian are on a par with Boris Johnson’s ignorant realization that the tube strikes were “political”. Strikes? Political? Surely some mistake?

Police fear becoming the focus of public anger at government cuts and that repeated clashes with demonstrators risk damaging their reputation, a top officer has told the Guardian.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said it was crucial that police do not appear to be “an arm of the state” who are being used to allow the government to “impose cuts”.

It’s too late for that, Sir Hugh. Because of their behaviour, the police have earned themselves a reputation for being violent and brutal and this is not the first time that the police have faced these allegations.  The Met were involved in scuffles with protesters at a Countryside Alliance march in September 2002. At the G20 protests in April of last year, newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson – who was not part of the protests – was violently shoved to the ground by a TSG officer. Tomlinson subsequently died from the effects of this injury. The officer responsible for Tomlinson’s death did not face criminal charges.

Like it or not, the police along with the military use violence to achieve their objectives. In this way, they can both be said to be repressive forces. They are both arms of the state and act according the wishes of the state and are directly accountable to the government of the day. The police’s role is specifically domestic; the military’s can be both foreign and domestic -particularly if we consider how the army has been used historically to suppress protests and put down strikes. The Tonypandy Riots of 1910 and 1911 were quelled by the army which had been deployed there by the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill (now seen as a defender of freedom by some). Gunboats were anchored off Hull and Liverpool in 1911. In Liverpool, 3,000 armed troops together with police were deployed on the streets.  This article from Libcom says,

As the rail strike began to spread across the country, a mass demonstration in Liverpool was declared as a show of support. Taking place on August 13 at St Georges Plateau, 100,000 workers came to hear speeches by workers and leaders of the unions, including Tom Mann. The demonstration went without incident until about 4 o’clock, when, completely unprovoked, the crowds of workers suddenly came under attack from the police. Indiscriminantly attacking bystanders, the police succeeded in clearing the steps of St George’s Hall in half an hour, despite resistance from strikers who used whatever they could find as weapons. Fighting soon spilled out into nearby streets, causing the police and troops to come under attack as workers pelted them with missiles from rooftops. Becoming known as Bloody Sunday, the fighting resulted in scores of injuries on both sides.

Then of course, there’s the Miner’s Strike and the notorious Battle of Orgreave Colliery in 1984 when the police baton and horse charged pickets.

Sir Hugh should read some history before going off half-cocked.

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This week’s strikes and the media backlash

One of the topics for discussion on this morning’s Sunday Morning Live is about striking workers. The host, Susannah Reid asks “Are strikes justified or are they the tactics of bullyboy unions”? Cue footage of Thatcher, the ‘Winter of Discontent’ and the Miner’s Strike. The overall tone of the pre-discussion film is anti-union. Some woman called Angela Epstein, whom I have never seen before declares that all strikes should be made illegal. But it’s  2 against 1 as Jonathan Bartley and Hardeep Singh Kohli lay into her ill-thought out opinions.  But that isn’t the end of it. Cue the talking heads from around the country linked by webcam to the studio. It’s all about the “cost to British business”. Never mind working conditions. They just shouldn’t do it. Angela asks “do really want to return to the militancy of the 1970’s”? To be honest she doesn’t look old enough to remember the 1970’s. If she was old enough to remember she may recall how utterly rubbish British management was though I suspect that she’d have been on the side of the Tories. Their view was that Britain’s gin-soaked managers were doing a bang up job.

Earlier on The Andrew Marr Show, Julia Hobsbawm and Clive Anderson were reviewing the papers. Anderson lighted on an article by Andrew Gilligan that is titled “The Return of the Strike”.  I don’t know where Kennite has been living for the last 20 years but the strike never went away. Britain’s unions have become weaker thanks to the restrictive legislation passed by Thatcher and all the governments since. But strikes still happen.

Over the last few months, there has been much union and media talk of a “new winter of discontent” to be allegedly provoked by the savage public spending cuts ahead. And indeed, last week, as the clocks went back, the workers went out – not just at the Beeb, over pensions, but on the London Underground, where Wednesday saw the third 24-hour strike about ticket office closures, and in the London Fire Brigade, over shift patterns, with the second of two eight-hour strikes on Tuesday and a 47-hour walkout due to begin on Friday.

I don’t recall any union leader talking about a “New Winter of Discontent”. Yet here Kennite claims that some union leader, somewhere, has said it.   In fact, his own paper warned in August that Scotland was facing a winter of discontent.  Indeed much of this talk has come directly from the Tory press and Tory commentators. So maybe he’s half right. But Kennite is a little late with his analysis. The BBC’s Nick Robinson produced this article in September. He says,

The unions are weaker, the laws limiting their actions much stronger and the desire for that style of confrontation is simply not there.

There is no mention of this rather important fact in Kennite’s article. Instead he concentrates his attention on how the unions present themselves in the media,

And there are also doubts about the union movement’s ability to fight in the media age. Sophisticated trade unionists, like the TUC’s Brendan Barber, know that Seventies-style chest-beating will not work. It is notable that in his first speech as Labour leader, Mr Miliband went out of his way to condemn “irresponsible strikes.”

He continues,

People like Barber know that a new unionism, modelled on the most effective NGOs, such as Greenpeace, is needed: addressing the public, rather than just the employer; based on campaigning, and on uncovering information that changes minds, rather than just the diminishing asset of workforce muscle.

It never occurs to Gilligan how the Tory-dominated press operates with regards to workers, unions and strikes. His paper and others like it print smear story after smear story about unions and striking workers. These days mainstream politicians will do any thing to please the media barons. You may recall how Tony Blair schmoozed The Old Bastard before Labour’s election victory in 1997.  The Murdoch media empire was more than happy to  swing behind Blair and his new Tories. It was as if the real constituents; the ordinary voters didn’t matter. What mattered was appeasing the Tory press. Miniband is merely trying to keep onside with the hostile media because he knows that if he doesn’t the press will make mincemeat of him and his party.

What programmes like Sunday Morning Live succeed in doing is regurgitating old myths and canards. They attract armchair activists whose understanding of the world comes to them from the Tory press.

Why do we fight? Because we have to!

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