Margaret Thatcher, the Miners’ Strike, and the Triumph of Middle Class Leftism (2015), by Sean Gabb


Margaret Thatcher, the Miners’ Strike,
and the Triumph of Middle Class Leftism
Sean Gabb

Sean Gabb

20th April 2015

A few days ago, I put the following post on my Facebook account;

It’s about thirty years since the end of the Miners’ Strike – the final humbling of our working classes. Thinking back, I am filled with hatred for Margaret Thatcher, and despise myself for having believed in her.

I appeared to be siding with the workers in a loss-making nationalised industry against the woman who is generally credited with saving the country from socialism. My posting led to an often sharp discussion, in which, among others, these points were made against me:

1. That Arthur Scargill was a Marxist who had to be stopped;

2. That the mining communities I was lamenting were drenched in socialism and were kept alive by taxpayer subsidies to which they had no right;

3. That the trade unions in general were a menace that had to be stopped.

I replied to these points on the discussion thread. But I have been asked to put my defence into a more connected form. Here it is:

1. Arthur Scargill, Marxist

Accepted. He was a Marxist and a pro-Soviet Marxist. His ideal Britain was another East Germany, but with warm beer. He regarded the National Union of Mineworkers as a personal army that he could use to lead a national strike that would bring down the Government. He was also a fool. He called his strike without any formal consultation of his members, and made sure it began in the spring, when demand for coal was falling and would remain low for the next eight months. He then fought the strike with a combination of inflammatory rhetoric and violent picketing.

This being said, the Thatcher Government pushed him into calling the strike when he did, and had been secretly building up large stocks of coal so it could ride out the strike without fear of the power cuts and disorder that had brought down the Heath Government in 1974. Its strategy was not so much to end the strike as to smash the strikers. It succeeded. Once the strike had collapsed, it set about closing down much of the coalmining industry, and was able to complete its remodelling of all the trade unions with minimal resistance.

I deplore both the end of coalmining and the attack on the unions, but will give my reasons in a moment. What I will now observe is that the Government beat Mr Scargill by destroying the members of his union. It waited and watched as the miners lost everything they had and then, one by one, crept back to work as atomised individuals. Also, it won the strike in part by turning the police into an arm of the state. They were given the right to stop British citizens from moving freely about their own country. They were also given a blank cheque for whatever authoritarian laws took their fancy. I am inclined to believe that the big gun control law of 1988 was pushed through largely because the police disliked the thought of an armed population, and that this was part of their reward for doing over the miners.

2. Illegitimate Subsidies and Socialist Culture

Accepted again. With the move to oil and gas and some nuclear power, and fears of smoke pollution, coal was no longer so important to the country by the 1980s as it had been in the 1940s. Also, many pits were uneconomic or becoming so. A rational policy would have been selective closure of pits and investment in modern extraction technologies for the others. The coal miners and their union bitterly resisted every closure, and they held up the introduction of any technology that would have increased productivity but caused job losses or changes to existing work practices. From about 1960, the National Coal Board was only kept solvent by annual subsidy. These were compelled transfers of money from those who had to find willing buyers for their labour to those who did not.

Yet the National Coal Board, by then renamed British Coal, made a loss of £485 million in the year before Mr Scargill called his strike. This was covered by the British State. If we add to this the indirect subsidy from the electricity boards, which were forced to buy British coal at inflated prices, the total subsidy for 1983-84 was £727 million. Let us assume what is unlikely, that prices have trebled in the past thirty years, that would be a subsidy in modern terms of £2 billion.

A lot of money, no doubt – and money, I repeat, extracted from the taxpayers. On the other hand, the direct cost to the British State of winning the strike was £7 billion. Also, we need to consider the cost, after the strike, of redundancy payments to the unemployed miners, and the cost of welfare payments that kept most of them alive until they retired or died, plus the cost of the state “investment” into the mining areas once the mines were gone. I am not sure the strike led to any net reduction of cost.

Then we need to look at how the modern British State spends our money. I believe the annual cost of dealing with fraudulent claims about global warming is more than £18 billion. I have no idea what the private finance initiative scam has so far cost the taxpayers. The figure may be in the region of £100 billion. The last time I looked, our net contribution to the European Union budget was £11 billion a year. The cost of the wars we have been continually fighting since the end of the last century has not been trifling. £2 billion to keep the coal mines going does not seem, in retrospect, a horrifying extravagance.

The difference is that the coal subsidy went mostly to working class miners in a sector of some actual and great potential strategic importance. I am not a protectionist, but £2 billion strikes me as money well-spent on the admittedly dubious assumption that it was the lowest cost of keeping us self-sufficient in coal. The much bigger sums I have mentioned go to the rich and well-connected and to various clients of the corporatist police state that Mrs Thatcher and her successors created.

I turn to the nature of the coalmining communities. I think there were over 150,000 British coalminers at the beginning of 1984. Adding to these wives and children and the retired, this makes a coalmining interest of more than half a million people. These lived in a great federation of close and morally self-sufficient communities. They had a culture that went back in many cases to the eighteenth century. They were the nearest thing we had to a landed peasantry.

I will not romanticise their culture. Coalmining is a disgusting occupation. I would not like to dig coal. I had two friends at university who had been miners. They were not going back after graduation. One of my grandfathers was a miner in Kent for a few years in the 1930s. I am told he was very glad to get out and join the Merchant Navy. I regret the settled belief of the miners in their right to pick our pockets to keep their communities alive. But they were an imperium in imperio. Authoritarian states are instinctively scared of social structures outside their control. What they want, in the words of Auberon Waugh, is the power to press one button and watch everyone jump at the same time. In a free country, there is no single imperium. Certainly, a free country needs some commonality of blood or language or religion or historical experience. Anything less is a recipe for inter-communal unrest that needs an authoritarian state to keep the peace. Beyond that, however, it is a federation of more or less impermeable communities. If at all, such a country must be ruled by discussion and consent.

The virtue of the mining communities was not that they were filled with good people, but that they were filled with people who wanted to live according to their own ways, and who had sufficient trust in each other to tell intruders into their lives to go to hell.

By the end of the miners’ strike, these communities lay in ruin. Even before the jobs went, the moral bonds had been severed. The result was not a burst of individual enterprise, but a void into which the new class of middle class leftists could advance without check. Would those old mining communities have tolerated a smoking ban in their pubs? Would they have let their institutions be co-opted into celebrating unlimited mass-immigration by unskilled competitors in the labour market? Had she been a miner’s wife, could Emma west have been held without trial for eighteen months, until she broke down and confessed to various “hate crimes” that did not exist when she was born? It is more than partly because there is no autonomous working class movement that this country has moved so quickly and without opposition into soft totalitarianism.

3. The Trade Union Menace

What I have said about the coalminers applies to the working class as a whole. Regardless of whether we had, or could have had, a comparative advantage in steelmaking or shipbuilding or whatever, the general cost of subsidising the other nationalised industries was not, by comparison with how the British State nowadays spends our money, extravagant. But these industries, and British industry as a whole, gave meaningful work and lives to millions of our people. Once the industries were allowed to fail, the traditional working class was destroyed. It was replaced by what can only be called the lower classes. Some of these people have non-jobs in the public sector. Many more live on various forms of welfare. Others scrape a living on the financial edge – part-time casual work, zero-hour contracts, security guarding, van driving, a bit of welfare fraud, a bit of petty crime. These people have not yet started pulling their forelocks when their betters walk by. But they know their place in the new order of things. They know when to keep their mouths shut and how to look the other way if the social workers roll up to take the children away from their neighbours.

The old trade unions were a nuisance. I am old enough to remember the strikes and the working to rule and the resistance to innovation. But I used to discuss all this with Chris Tame when he was alive. His first real taste of libertarian activism came in the late 1970s, when he helped break the Grunwick strike. He hated the unions. More than that, though, he despised the useless management of British industry that had allowed the unions to become the nuisance they were.

Imagine. It is 1975, and you are running a small engineering firm in Birmingham. One day, a new shop steward covered in badges comes to you with some farrago of nonsense about tea breaks. When you fail to give him exactly what he wants, he calls a sudden strike. What do you do? You can go whining to the newspapers about how hard done by you are, and give money to the Conservatives, who promise to sort things out if they win the next election. You then wait to go bankrupt. Or you can set private detectives on the Trotskyite pig who is wrecking your firm. He must have one embarrassing weakness. Everyone has a weakness. Or you can bribe him with cash or sex, and photograph his acceptance. Whatever the case, you get the dirt on him and make it clear that, unless he leaves you alone, you will make him sorry he was born.

Of course, this is not the end of the matter. You also treat your workers like human beings, and pour investment into new products that will give you a full order book as far ahead as anyone can see. You also spend a lot of time on the shop floor, listening to your workers and explaining your own vision for the common future.

There may have been such companies. But I worked for a few weeks in 1979 in a small manufacturing company in South London. The senior managers came by once or twice, never speaking to us, and visibly scared of getting grease on their fine suits. They were hated and distrusted to a man. The older workers kept production going by ignoring what they were told and following their own sense. I am surprised the company made it to 1979. It was gone by 1981.

I grant, the unions were in need of sorting out. But this was mostly a question of better management in both state and private companies. I do not recall that Japanese or American companies in this country were held to ransom by the unions, and they operated in the same legal environment as everyone else. Other than that, the Government needed to take away the privilege given in 1906, and make trade unions vicariously liable for the torts of their officers. Instead, the Thatcher Government came close to nationalising the unions with wholesale intervention in their internal affairs – an intervention that made it necessary for the unions to replace working class officials with middle class cultural leftists. It also failed to cut public spending, and financed its deficits with an interest rate policy that messed up the exchange rate and made it impossible for many small companies to borrow.

If I knew less about them – had I seen less of them in action during the 1980s – I would accuse the people who advised the Thatcher Government of being less interested in ending trade union militancy than in using it as an excuse to destroy the British working class. But they were not that bright. All they did was to clear the way for the real villains to step forward.

When I was young, I used to go to Adam Smith Institute events, and listen to the silly chatter of the young men who surrounded Madsen Pirie. You will not believe the rubbish I stood through, a glass in my hand. Internal markets for the National Health Service – that is, more, and indeed unlimited, management jobs for cultural leftists. Contracting out of public services – that is, unlimited corruption opportunities for councillors and local government officers, and, of course, more management jobs for cultural leftists. Pulling up the railway lines and replacing them with toll motorways – a fine use for strips of land barely twenty feet wide. Privatised prisons – how to blur the distinction between state power and private enterprise, and how to raise an interest group in favour of laws to imprison healthy and literate slave workers. A poll tax – good for keeping tabs on who lived where. The private finance initiative – oh! I soon stopped trying to argue with these people. I went instead to their gatherings for much the same reason as people of quality once paid to watch the lunatics howl and caper about in Bedlam. It was 1989 before I began putting my objections to the Thatcher Project in writing. My only regret is that I waited so long, and that I was so mild for so long after in my criticisms.

But I return to the coal miners. What should have been done? My answer is that, instead of being sent off to murder Hilda Murrell, the security services should have been set on the union leaders. As said, everyone has a secret. The mines should then have been handed over, with a tapering subsidy, as worker co-operatives. Better macro-economic policies would have helped. But, rather than shut everything down that was not worth selling for cash, the Government should have turned the nationalised industries over to those who worked in them. Some of the co-operatives would have failed. Some would have demutualised and become normal joint stock companies. Others might have flourished. We would not have had to sit for a whole year through the spectacle of a government at war with a significant group of its own people.

I and millions of people like me voted Conservative in 1979 in good faith. We believed that we were electing a government that would set us free. The state sector would be reformed and reduced. Enterprise would be liberated, the currency stabilised. We would reach the end of a troubled century with our ancient freedoms not merely restored but significantly enhanced. Well, give or take a few electoral wobbles along the way, there has been a continuum of government policy from 1979 to the present day. The evidence is in, and the Thatcher Revolution stands revealed as a ghastly wrong turn.

I feel sorry for the miners, and I feel sorry for all of us.

NB – The Libertarian Alliance takes no view of the current general election. The above essay does not constitute advice to vote for or against any political party.

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22 comments

  • I am beginning to agree…but in parts at this time. I’ll have a think and come back later.

  • How you privatise chucks of the state without leading to crony capitalism is an interesting and difficult one for me. Anyone have any good books on the matter?

  • Superbly written stuff, Sean. Not sure I agree with all of it, Like David Davis I need to think about it a bit more.

    “But I return to the coal miners. What should have been done? My answer is that, instead of being sent off to murder Hilda Murrell, the security services should have been set on the union leaders.”

    Wow! I’m sure that you realise that some poor sod was stitched up for that one and is serving a life sentence as we speak? Judith Cook had some interesting views on the matter.

    • Many thanks.

  • That’s one thing all parties agree on – that old communities must be dissolved and individuals alienated from one another. Mass immigration and the destruction of old industries have been the chief means of doing it, supported by phony economic arguments. When Thatcher said “there’s no such thing as society”, it was an aspiration, and one she went a long way towards achieving.

    • To be fair to the woman, what she said was that “society” is an abstract term and that it isn’t capable of moral responsibility in the same was as an individual. She has been deliberately misquoted for a quarter of a century.

    • I’ve been coming to that conclusion myself, although I lack direct evidence of a conscious, coordinated policy actually existing!

      • If everything bad in the world needed a conscious conspiracy before it could happen, the world would be a much better place. Most bad things are unintended consequences – though these are often foreseeable by anyone of reasonable intelligence. My personal experience of the Thatcherites is of the lower-level personnel. They were generally ignorant and stupid. Most of them genuinely thought they were saving the country.

  • I should know enough to check the original quote before pronouncing judgement on it!

  • The stockpiling of coal was justified at the time as a measure necessary for national defence: during the Cold War UK was the forward staging base for the reinforcement of Europe in the event of hostilities breaking out with the Warsaw Pact. If interruption of the coal supply could switch off the power during that process it made the whole strategic plan invalid. It’s hard to argue that this was a necessary national defence measure. In practice it was used to break the miners’ unions but it would have been necessary in any case.

  • Mr Scargill was determined to launch a political strike – as he had before (the early 1970s when he made his name).

    He did not care about pit closures – “striking for jobs” is like fornicating for virginity, it is demented.

    Obviously a major strike undermines a business and means that more (not less) pits will be closed.

    If Mr S. had been interested in “jobs” (as he claimed) he would have been offering wage cuts and so on – and he did not.

    Nor did he even consult the miners – he forced through a strike without a ballot of his members (because he thought he might lose the vote).

    It was a political strike by Mr S. and his Marxist thugs – and Sean blames it on Mrs T.

    This reminds me of why I have had bitter disputes with Sean in the past – he has a good mind, but he comes up with weird conclusions (almost as if he was getting his stuff from conspiracy internet sites on the internet). But I am old and tired now, and used to Sean coming out with crazy stuff sometimes (not that often really – normally he is O.K.), so I am not really annoyed.

    As for the government – Peter Walker (the minister in charge) kept making offers and concessions to the union, but Mr S. rejected them all. Because the strike was never about “jobs” – it was a Marxist attempt to bring down an elected government.

    However, the government did miss a trick.

    It could have just turned round and said “you want loss making pits – fine we will give them to you”.

    Yes give the union those pits that were making a loss – for nothing. Mr S. would not have the money to keep them going – so he would have had to close them down himself. Unless worker communes actually worked – in which case, fair enough.

    “Management allowed unions to…..l”.

    Actually it was THE STATE that did that – by a series of pro union laws going back to 1875 (most notably the Act of 1906 – which was so blatant that the courts could find no more foundation for traditional Common Law defence of property rights against organisations engaged in conspiracies to obstruct factory gates, attack “scab” workers and so on, union funds were declared sacred – employers could not sue them with any hope of success).

    Sean is an historian – he knows all this, yet he leaves out.

    In the United States there were similar laws (passed in the 1930s) – but they did not go quite so far, and they were partly rolled back in the late 1940s.

    Lastly “two billion is not much considering….”

    As Sean knows perfectly well – it would not have stopped there.

    Once the government has let it be known it will pay the losses of a nationalised enterprise, there is no limit to those losses.

    The losses will grow – and grow, and grow…..

    The successes and failures of Mrs Thatcher’s time in office are a complicated topic – and I have never been uncritical (indeed my first actions in politics were to denounce the decisions made in 1979 to accept the insane government sector wage, and other, settlements made by the outgoing Labour government), but to say that the government led by Mrs Thatcher was a “disastrous wrong turn” is just hot air.

    One has to carefully go through the policies followed – praising the good (such as the end to exchange controls and the reduction of the top rates of income tax and so on) and pointing out the terrible blunders – such as not getting a grip on government spending, or even trying to reform the labour market, for three years (the terrible 1979 – 1982 period).

    Later the blunders that really stand out are the “Big Bang” in the City (really a government take over) and the “Single European Act” (both 1986).

    Both polices were misrepresented to Mrs T. (radically misrepresented) – but the lady should have had the common sense to see through what she was told.

    Lastly there is the Lawson monetary policy – expanding the money supply in an effort to rig the exchange rate (of all things).

    A demented policy – that led to the massive boom-bust.

    I am afraid that the understanding of monetary policy is still not understood.

    The faith in the Fool’s Gold of credit money expansion (the idea that lending can be greater than real savings – thus producing the unholy grail of “low interest rates”) remains fanatical among the establishment – of all major countries.

    • Paul, I will answer you at some length later. For the moment, I will only say that you have not read me correctly.

    • Right, here goes – though I have limited time for supplementals.

      I haven’t denied that Arthur Scargill was a dangerous trouble maker. Indeed, I went out of my way to say that.

      The losses of the nationalised industries had been covered by the British State for a generation. No doubt, had there been no reform, the losses would have continued to rise. But it would have taken longer than 2015 for the subsidies to reach the extravagant scale of the pfi scam. And I didn’t say that the nationalised industries shouldn’t have been reformed or privatised.

      You should also note that I haven’t accused the Thatcherites of a conspiracy. I explicitly said that they weren’t that bright.

      What I say is that, after 36 years, we should start to look at the Thatcher years from the perspective of 2015, rather than maintain the often enthusiastic endorsement we may have given her and her friends in 1979-83. The truth is that they spoke like classical liberals, but delivered corporatism. They had no regard for and no understanding of the constitutional system we had inherited from the past.

      In c1982, there was a scandal involving some British nurse who was tossed out of a Saudi window during a drunken orgy. The inquest jury brought in a diplomatically embarrassing verdict. The Government’s response was to abolish the ancient right of juries to bring in general verdicts. Again, c1987, there was a trial of some British soldiers in Cyprus who were involved in a buggery ring. They got off by using their right of peremptory challenge to get a more sympathetic jury. The Government’s response was to abolish the ancient right of peremptory challenge. Again, there was a moral panic in the early 1980s about “video nasties.” The Government’s response was to bring in the first system of pre-publication censorship since the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1694. The Thatcher Government made ex post fact laws. It made laws reversing the burden of proof. It made laws requiring self-incrimination. It made laws allowing penalties to be imposed without due process of law. You have yourself condemned the Big Bang, in which private associations were effectively nationalised.

      The Thatcher Government regarded ancient constitutional restraints as a set of low-level rules open to change or abolition the moment they became temporarily embarrassing. That is why we now live in a soft totalitarian police state. The Common Law has been put through a shredder, and the shredder was turned on by the Thatcher Government. The questions of whether the price of bread is set by the market or by a Prices and Incomes Board, or of who owns the telephone network, are secondary to the overall constitutional structure. You may remember that I was arguing this long before the end of the Thatcher decade. There has been no change in my opinions.

      I turn to the miners. However, imperfect they may have been, the old trade unions represented a reasonably coherent working class. If they were a nuisance – if they managed to bring down several governments by making unwise or simply lunatic demands – they were also autonomous institutions largely impermeable to infiltration by the kind of people who now have hegemony in this country. Smashing the unions and atomising the working class allowed the imposition of economic rationality, but also left us wide open to take over by a very different and more insidious leftism than we ever had from Jack Jones and even Arthur Scargill.

      I repeat – the Thatcher Government needs to be judged from the standpoint of what we can see in 2015, not from what we hoped or believed in 1979. These people cut down the tree to get at the fruit. Much of the fruit turned out to be bruised, and we now miss the shelter of the tree.

    • Yes, you absolutely correct in what you say, in particular with regard to Big Bang.

      • for the avoidance of doubt, my agreement is with Paul Marks

  • Stephen Moriarty

    “They beat the Kaiser’s army. They beat Hitler’s army. These are the finest men in the world.” This was, from memory, part of what Harold Macmilllan said in the House of Lords, pleading with the Thatcher government to compromise with the miners.
    It was the vindictive tone of Margaret Thatcher that was so distressing; I don’t know if she realised how she sounded, but to this day her affected RP accent makes millions of people’s flesh crawl. She didn’t only smash the NUM, she severed any bonds that existed between the classes (and regions) in this country.
    To be fair to her, and those that supported her, trade union militancy had got entirely beyond the joke and something had to be done, and it was perhaps inevitable that the person to do it would be as hard as nails. One might say something similar about the Thatcher government’s encroachments on civil liberties: crime in the seventies and eighties was making life unbearable and, again, something had to be done.
    The question, then, is more why things had already got so bad. IMHO it was to do with the particular problems Britain had in moving towards the nation-state model: it couldn’t shake off the Empire; it couldn’t offer a unified identity by its multi-national nature; it couldn’t offer a sense of citizenship because of the class system; it simultaneously enraged and tantalised class interests through its FPTP electoral system.
    Trouble, then, was inevitable. When grieving for that which bore us, as we are, it helps to remember that its passing was inevitable. Let’s look forwards in hope.

  • This is yet another oddity from you, Sean, though far better than your ideas on libertarianism and art.
    The Trade unions are against rather than for the working class, as Robert Owen said in the 1830s. They 1) oppose rival unions, 2) they oppose blacklegs and scabs and 3) they tended, if ever successful, to put up prices for the consumers , who Owen held to be mainly to be what he called the working class. Engels adopted that idea of the working class, and many other ideas, from Owen, and Marx took the framework over from Engels but he argued, exceedingly poorly, that Owen was wrong on trade unions. His sole point was that it was logically possible for a wage rise to cut into profits. That possibility is true but not really germane to Owen’s case against the trade unions.

    In any case, it is clear enough that there are no economic interests of those who Owen called opposed to any other group. There is nothing to Marxism. There is nothing that ever could be called a working class in any meaningful class interest sense and most who are called such have never felt themselves to be such.

    Perhaps the most stupid thing a sociologist can say, from a Politically Correct secular religion posing as a social science, is that some individuals have ever been atomised. He individual is the biological unit and the community is, especially in towns and cities, fleeting at best. We are all individuals and we are not all really one, as Schopenhauer joins the Indian religions in repeating. That is an eastern falsehood.

    So what is this supposed “final humbling of our working classes”? It looks like sheer cant to me.

    You say you now hate Mrs T and despise yourself for believing in her. Maybe you should have said what believing in her consisted of and why you think it is now false. It is not very clear in what you go on to say what you thought and what you now think.
    I recall that the government backed down in first being challenged by the NUM and, yes, they did decide to take him on later in away such that he would not bring them down, as he had helped to do with Heath.

    I see no merit in the Trade Union movement that Owen got right, even if he erred on a supposed class interest that a Grand National Consolidated Trades Union might address. The trade unions, that set out to be proactively coercive, were intrinsically illiberal and they should never should have ever existed. In the NUM strike of the 1980s they reaped as they sowed.
    The police always was an arm of the state.

    Here is no likelihood of an armed population in the UK. That vanished around 1850.
    You seem to repeatedly use the idea that two wrongs makes a right, Sean, when you say that the money wasted on the coal mining, of a sort of dole of signing on with a pickaxe before the strike were overmatched other newer wastes of money by the state. You say that you are not a protectionist but you write like one. Again, you say that you will not Romanticise the mining communities but that exactly seems to be what you are attempting.

    Your adoption of the common idea that mere religion can bind people together to aid society is also pure Romance. No one ever believed in religion. It is valued for the sake of tradition but never ever believed.

    Language is about the only realistic thing that you mention in aiding society to function.
    You also seem to think government can be other than dysfunctional.

    The main breaking of Britain by mass immigration was achieved by 1960. It was done in the 1950s. You write as if this emerged only sometime after 1980. Men like Scargill were automatically PC. So were most who ever got to see themselves as working class, but most classed as such never noticed this of the idea of class and they reject PC as silly. That is mainly because there is no working class, as such, in reality.

    You repeat your two wrongs make a right and all the more right if the latter wrong wastes more money. But the opportunity cost of signing on with a pickaxe was getting a real job rather than getting deeper into subsidy.

    You write as if the workers in most firms want to meet the owner, or top management, but that is not likely. Participation is thought to be good in the colleges, and it was by J.S. Mill, but it is seen as a dreaded waste of time by most people.

    Similarly, TU members pay their dues but otherwise attempt to dodge TU meetings. Most firms lacked unions, as most workers were too apathetic to run them. That is why the USA or Japanese firms dodged them: most firms did. But as trade unions were thought to be proper by the state, [and often by a private firm’s management too], so state run places of work did usually have a union.
    It is not likely that an idealistic youth trying to set up a TU will ever have a secret or be open to corruption. Argument stands a better chance. But those who do want to set up unions are few and far between.

    Most of the NUM members down pit will not want to ever take the pit over.

    • We must agree to disagree on this

  • Well Sean – for the sake of argument I will assume you actually what you write in your reply to me.

    You do not dispute what I say – namely that Mr S. wanted a political strike (to bring down the government) and that he rejected all concessions that utterly weak man Peter Walker (the minister in charge) offered to him.

    Instead you bring up stuff about Saudi Arabia and Cyprus – what you say about these cases may be true or it may be false (or it may be partly true – but leave out things of importance), But it is not relevant to the matter of the post. Had you become the lawyer you, perhaps, should have been – the judge would intervene at this point and tell you to get back to the actual case (or concede).

    You then say to David M. “we will have to agree to disagree” about unions.

    This is not open matter you can just “agree to disagree” about.

    As W.H. Hutt (and so many other economists) have shown – union action CAN NOT improve the wages and conditions of the “working class” as a whole, not even Karl Marx believed they could. Any gain for union members must be at the expense of other workers – and it is not even a “zero sum game” as the harm done to the economy (by violent union activity) means that the losses to other workers are greater than the gains to union members.

    In the 19th century the Kettering shoe worker (Mr Palmer) showed the folly of union thug activity – he was not “right wing” (he was in favour of worker coops and so on), but his writings were received with such anger (and violence) that he had to emigrate to Australia.

    It is not a zero sum game – it is a negative sum game. “Picketing” (obstruction) and so on, are harmful activities.

    It is absurd, utterly absurd, to pretend that such things as the “National Union of Mineworkers” represent “the working class”.

    Friendly society activity (fraternal activity) – for health care, old age pensions and so on is good. “Collective bargaining” backed by threats of violence is bad – bad for the “working class” as a whole.

    As for your statement that the British government had picked up the losses of the nationalised industries in the past – and so could do so in future.

    You forget the very point you had previously conceded – that Mr S. was a Revolutionary Marxist (allied to various hostile foreign regimes and organisations).

    No matter how much Mr Peter Walker (the minister in charge) offered – Mr S. would simply demand more. Because the aim of Mr S. was to overthrow the government and create a socialist regime. As Saul Alinsky (the Chicago Red) was fond of putting it “the issue is never the issue” – the “activists” demand X, but if X is conceded they simply demand something else (and on and on – till “the system”, “capitalism” is destroyed).

    You must know this Sean – indeed you have admitted it (more than once).

    Therefore, Sean, your position makes no sense.

  • In war (and the attempt of the Revolutionary Marxists such as Mr S. to bring down the government was war) one must inspire one’s own forces.

    Therefore Mrs Thatcher’s “tone” was entirely justified.

  • Thatcherism fails because it is an ideology and no ideology ever works because no ideology is ever an adequate guide to interpreting the world. By an ideology I mean not simply beliefs or opinions, but an intellectual apparatus which purports to be a complete explanation of either the entire human experience or of a discrete part of that experience. Laissez faire meets that definition, see https://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/free-markets-and-free-trade-elite-propaganda/

    The great error of Thatcherism is the making of economics, and in particular the cultish worship of the god Market, the driving force of not just politics but life itself. That is a sterile thing. Of course in theory Marxism is also enslaved to economics , but Marxism in practice was always more of an emotional thing than a rational one, with most people who have called themselves Marxists being like most Christians, ignorant of the detail of the ideology, who are drawn to it simply by its promise to overthrow oppressive regimes, of freeing the poor. Marxism also had a final end, a promised land. That is what gave Marxism its vitality until the Soviet and Chinese experience burst the illusions for all but a few sad Marxist intellectual. Thatcherism lacked the emotional appeal of the group working towards a common end because ideologically it was just everyone for himself and there was no promised land for which to strive.

    Sean is right in looking at Thatcher’s privatisations and subjection of the unions through the lens of the wood not the trees. That has always been my approach, because so often disturbing social structures cost both materially and morally far more than those who do the disturbing understand.

    The truth about Thatcher is that she acted as a useful idiot for the liberal internationalists -see

    https://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/margaret-thatcher-the-most-useful-of-idiots/

  • I think where a lot of people get it wrong about Thatcher is in believing that she knew what she was doing. The view is that she had insight and strategic abilities that were beyond most others, instead of shifting her position ‘on the hoof’ to take advantage of each new and unforeseen result that occurred from previous errors of judgement, and being led by the nose by those who fully realised how she could be used to get what ‘they’ wanted. In 1979 she had essentially two aims, one was to reduce the amount of money in circulation and the other to drastically reduce income tax for the better off and shift the burden to indirect taxes – ie VAT. These were her economic panaceas, and both failed miserably.

    The shift to indirect taxation was done in Howe’s first budget, and was disastrous. Demand fell and unemployment soared. As for controlling the money-supply, so-called ‘monetarism’, to do that it was necessary to control the money-suppliers – which many in her Government simply didn’t understand (including Mrs T), and the rest had no intention of doing – particularly Howe and Lawson, whose loyalty to Mrs T was not nearly equal to that of their City interests.

    To cut a long story short, as a result of the drastic effect that her flawed economics had on British industry by 1981 she was the most unpopular Prime Minister for a very long time. Her political skin was saved by the Falklands War of 1982. A war some say her Government had encouraged by its plans to withdraw the Royal Navy’s ice patrol vessel – HMS Endurance – from the area thus signalling to the Argentinians that defence of the islands was not high on its list.

    The war and the 1983 election won, she once more had to turn her attention to domestic problems. Unemployment was massive and our manufacturing industry decimated, so much so that even the billions that her Government was receiving from the once-in-lifetime bonanza in the North Sea was barely enough to pay the bills. To supplement this she was persuaded to turn her her attention to cashing in some of the ‘family silver’. City interests, again through influential ‘double agents’ like Geoffrey Howe, advised that the privatisation of public assets was the way forward. As a consequence, great British companies like Jaguar, BT, British Aerospace, British Gas and many others were sold off – often at less than their true value.

    It was around this time that Thatcher began to realise that her failed economic policies might have a silver lining. Mass unemployment had weakened the unions, now perhaps was the time to take on some of those who were despised by the Tories. Now was perhaps the time to settle a few old scores. At Longbridge ‘Red Robbo’ had been got rid of early in her Premiership and the unions, who would have not tolerated it in earlier times, now meekly accepted that they could do little in the prevailing economic circumstances and they returned to work after an initial walkout..

    Then it was the turn of the miners, a workforce still hated by many Tories for the humiliations inflicted on Heath’s Government (of which Mrs T had been a member) in the early 70s. Pit closures were announced, which prompted a series of walkouts and strikes which culminated in the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85. A combination of the ruthless use of anti-picketing laws, an increasingly politicised police force, and the refusal of the NUM lead Arthur Scargill to hold a pre-strike ballot, saw the miners defeated in March of 1985. Britain now has only a handful of working pits, all in private hands, and last year we imported tens of millions of tons of coal – around 90% of the coal we used.

    Robert Henderson’s description of Thatcher as a ‘useful idiot’ is spot on. She was a disaster for Britain, but not for all of Britain. The City boomed and many benefited from her sale of public assets. Perhaps they are the ones who still applaud her.

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