30 years since the start of the miners’ strike

March 13, 2014 at 8:33 pm (AWL, class, cops, history, posted by JD, solidarity, Thatcher, Tory scum, TUC, unions, women, workers)

By Sean Matgamna and Martin Thomas (from the Workers Liberty website):

In the small hours of Monday March 12 1984, hundreds of Yorkshire miners moved across the border from Yorkshire into Nottinghamshire. Their destination was Harworth pit, and by the evening shift they had picketed it out.

Over the next few days, hundreds of Yorkshire pickets came down over the border again and spread out across the Notts coalfield. Their mission was to persuade Nottinghamshire’s miners to join them in a strike to stop the pit closures announced by the National Coal Board chief, Ian MacGregor. Their tactic was to picket Notts to a standstill.

In the great miners’ strikes of 1972 and 1974, miners had picketed coke depots and power stations. In 1984, for reasons which we examine, it had to be miners picketing out miners. That fact dominated and shaped the course of the strike.

Within hours, 1000 extra police had been thrown into Nottinghamshire against the picketing miners. Within days there would be 8000 extra police – highly mobile, centrally-controlled, semi-militarised police -moving – around the coalfields of Nottinghamshire.

The state had spent a dozen years preparing for this strike and everything had been made ready. Plans to beat mass picketing had been refined; police had been trained; special equipment had been assembled; and a national police nerve centre had been prepared and readied for action.

The Tory government had manoeuvred for years to avoid a premature battle with the miners. In 1981 sweeping pit closures were announced, and then withdrawn when a wave of strikes swept the coalfields. The Tories were determined that the battle would come when the government was ready and thought the time right. In 1981 they weren’t ready. The labour movement had not been softened up enough. So Thatcher backed off from a showdown with the NUM.

In 1984 they were ready. Now they would provoke the miners to fight back by giving them the alternative of surrendering and letting the NCB do as it liked with the industry. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cameron’s Mandela hypocrisy

December 8, 2013 at 8:32 pm (apologists and collaborators, Beyond parody, David Cameron, history, Human rights, Jim D, Racism, Thatcher, Tory scum, truth, wankers)

Lest we forget.

David Cameron was a member of the Federation of Conservative Students when they published this on posters and T-shirts:

"Hang Mandela" poster produced by the Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980s

And here‘s an attempt to defend of Cameron over this shameful business. But even the apologists can’t get round the simple fact that Cameron was a member of the FCS when the poster was published in the 1980s - and, of course Thatcher repeatedly called Mandela a “terrorist” at that time.

Cameron the shameless, eh?

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Thatcher in power: a record of staggering incompetence

April 22, 2013 at 2:10 pm (Guest post, history, Thatcher, Tory scum)

Cartoon by Gerald Scarfe

Guest post by Dr Ian Taylor

Some will say this is too soon, and others will say it’s a bit late, but in my judgement now is probably the most appropriate time to look back on the Thatcher years and decide whether they were good or bad for Britain. I guess it’s fair to say that the title I’ve gone with gives a fairly big clue as to where I stand on this one. Nonetheless, I seize on her incompetence for a reason: Her supporters will often concede that she may not have been the nicest person in the country, but argue that at least she turned this place around. The fact that she made a difference can hardly be disputed. But it certainly wasn’t for the better.

All I really want to do with this posting is present a few facts about the economy which is where her greatest achievements were supposed to lie. I’ve also given the crime figures. If the analysis that follows seems somewhat detached and dispassionate, that too is for a reason. My intention is simply to get a few important facts into the public domain to provide some ammunition against the ‘wasn’t she wonderful’ crap that we’ve had to endure over the past fortnight or so. As a middle-class teenager in the 1980s I can certainly remember her reign, but I am sure that others can speak with far more authority about what it was like to endure record levels of crime, poverty and/or unemployment. If not, I leave it to the reader’s powers of empathy and imagination to figure out what that must have been like.

 Growth:

On average the economy grew by about 2.3% from 1979 to 1990. This is hardly an amazing achievement: Tony Blair (of whom I am no fan) averaged 2.5%; while the average during the post-war Keynesian era was closer to 3%. And of course, Thatcher’s Premiership coincided with a time when Britain was best placed to exploit North Sea oil reserves. In terms of pure economic performance her record is distinctly unimpressive. Nonetheless, growth of 2.3% wouldn’t be so bad were her years in office not bookended by two recessions that gave us unprecedented levels of unemployment.

Unemployment:

In 1979 unemployment stood at 1.5 million. Within a year of Thatcher coming to power it had rocketed upwards, and stayed at above 3 million from 1983 to 1987. Thereafter it fell slightly, although not below 2 million – a figure that would have been unthinkable in the ’50s, ’60s or even the ’70s. Unemployment then rose up again past in the 3 million mark in the recession of the early ’90s.

Thatcher’s apologists, like former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, like to point to the reduction in the number of days work per annum lost to strikes during her Premiership: down from 29.5 million in 1979 to 1.9 million by 1986 he says. What he’s rather less keen to talk about is the number of days’ worth of productivity lost in that year (or any other) due to unemployment. 3.2 million out of work that year multiplied by 240 working days a year amounts to 768 million days lost in 1986 alone.

 Interest rates:

In the 1980s interest rates rose to double figures – higher than they’d ever been before, or since.

 Taxes:

This is something that her supporters like to harp on about, albeit without uttering the word ‘poll’. In truth, she cut taxes for the rich, whilst increasing them for the poor with the poll tax and through VAT rises.

 Inflation:

This was, apparently, another big triumph of her economic policy. In truth, inflation rose to 18% in 1981, and moreover, was higher when she left office than when she came in: 11% compared to 10.3%. It’s true that on average inflation was lower in the ‘80s than in the previous decade, but then again inflation fell around the world during the 1980s: Given that inflation is largely determined by the price of raw materials the fall hardly seems like a major achievement, particularly in the light of the aforementioned figures.

Poverty:

Where to begin on this one? The proportion of children living in poverty in this country more than doubled under Thatcher: rising from 14% of children in 1979 to 31% by 1990. Meanwhile, according to a recent Guardian ‘Data blog’, the number of people living below 60% of medium income rose from 13.4% to 22.2% under Thatcher. These figures continued to rise under John Major, but when seen in comparative context it ought to be understood that they were far from inevitable. The number of people living in poverty had been falling throughout the 20th Century up until 1979, and, to give credit where it is due, the number of children growing up in poverty also fell slightly during the New Labour years.

 Crime:

In 1979 there were 2.5 million crimes recorded in the UK; by 1990 that number stood at 4.5 million. The 1980s also saw some of the worst rioting in British cities of the 20th Century. You’d think that things like this would embarrass the ‘party of law and order.’

 In short, Thatcher’s legacy is a thoroughly shameful one.

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Yip Harburg rediscovered

April 19, 2013 at 10:27 pm (capitalist crisis, class, film, history, humanism, Jim D, mccarthyism, socialism, solidarity, song, Thatcher, United States, workers)

I can’t write a song unless it has meaning” – Yip Harburg (songwriter, lyricist, poet, b: April 8 1896 – d: March 5 1981)

An entirely unintended, but very welcome, consequence of That Funeral, has been the publicity it’s brought to the work of songwriter Yip Harburg. I have no intention here of going into the debate about whether the protesters’ use of ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’  was in any way sexist: quite clearly the song itself is a celebration of the defeat of tyranny, as represented by the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz (a film full of political symbolism, by the way). As lyricist of the song (the music was by Harold Arlen), Harburg intended it that way: he was a committed socialist who went on to be blacklisted as a communist sympathiser in the 1950s. In fact he was never a member of the Party, but he was heavily involved in the Popular Front movement and, like many leftists of the time, appears to have combined libertarianism with a degree of sympathy towards the Soviet Union and Stalinism. He supported the semi-Stalinist Monthly Review magazine until his death. His exact politics were unclear – possibly even to himself. But much of his work is explicitly socialist, including his “masterpiece,” the show Finian’s Rainbow (1947) which deals in its way with commodity fetishism (!) It was also probably the first Broadway show with a racially integrated chorus line.

Harburg wrote the lyrics to many standard tunes including ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon’, ‘April In Paris’, ‘Down With Love’ and (of course) ‘Over The Rainbow.’ But the one that gets to me every time is this great anthem of the depression, written with the composer Jay Gornay and given probably its most powerful rendition in this 1932 version by Bing Crosby:

Yip explained later: “It was a terrible period. You couldn’t walk along the street without crying, without seeing people who’d been wealthy, begging: ‘Can you spare a dime?’…

“When Jay played me the tune he had, I thought of that phrase, ‘Can you spare a dime?’ It kept running through my head as I was walking the streets. And by putting the word ‘brother’ to the line, I got started on it.

“But I thought that lyric out very carefully. I didn’t make it a maudlin lyric of a guy begging. I made it into a commentary. That may sound rhetorical, but it’s true.  It was about a fellow who works, a fellow who builds, who makes the railroads and the houses — and he’s left empty-handed. How come? How did this happen? Didn’t I fight the wars, didn’t I bear the gun, didn’t I plow the earth? In other words, the fellow who produced is the fellow who’s left empty handed at the end.”

The Yip Harburg foundation’s website, here

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When Labour told the truth about Thatcher

April 16, 2013 at 2:12 pm (elections, history, Jim D, labour party, Thatcher, Tory scum, truth, TV)

While searching Youtube for the famous (infamous?) “Kinnock: The Movie” 1987 election broadcast, I came upon this less well remembered, but excellent broadcast from the same election. I understand that Ed Miliband’s in a rather awkward position right now (not helped by Blair’s disloyal intervention), but he really ought to have a look at this, and reflect on the fact that there was a time when the Labour leadership felt able to tell the unvarnished truth about Thatcher, the Tories and what they represent:

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1987: The triumph of Thatcherism and the collapse of ’1945 socialism’

April 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm (AWL, capitalism, capitalist crisis, class, Conseravative Party, elections, From the archives, history, Jim D, labour party, Marxism, socialism, Thatcher, Tory scum, trotskyism, unions, workers)

From the archives:

Following Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987, Workers Liberty magazine carried this editorial (unattributed at the time, but actually written by Sean Matgamna).

Above: Thatcher and sidekick Tebbit triumphant in 1987

No, socialism is not dying!

Labour gained ground slightly during the 1987 British general election campaign — the first time it had done so since 1959. But the Tories still won. The central lesson — Neil Kinnock said it and he was right — is that you don’t win an election in four weeks.

The failure of the Labour leaders to campaign (except against Labour’s own left wing) over the last four years, their terrible political timidity, and their efforts to pull Labour back from its leftism of the early leftism of the early 1980s to bourgeois respectability, meant that Labour started at a disadvantage and on the defensive.

But between 1945 and 1970 Labour always got at least 43% of the vote, even when it lost elections. This time we got only 30.8% — the lowest share, apart from 1983, since 1931. Since 1974 Labour has never scored above 39%. Obviously, there are longer-term problems.

The vainglorious Tory press says that socialism is dying, and that Thatcher’s third term will see it off. They are wrong. There is political decay not of working-class socialism, but of something else which has passed for socialism for too long.

In creating the Labour Party, the British working class went beyond pure and simple trade unionism; but not far beyond it. The Labour Party, in its fundamental politics, has always been no more than trade unionism extended to parliamentary politics. But the trade unions bargain within capitalism on the basis of market relations. They start from the existing relations of labour and capital, and do deals on that basis. They are bourgeois organisations. In periods of depression they may well collude in cuts in workers’ living standards. Essentially the same is true of the Labour Party.

The 1945 Labour government was not a break from that capitalist framework: the fundamentals of the policy of nationalisations and the welfare state were part of a national consensus created under the wartime coalition government. The Labour government left capitalism healthier than it found it.

When Labour returned to office in 1964 it presented itself as the party that would modernise Britain. The big-business magazine ‘The Economist’ , which today is Thatcherite, backed Labour. But Labour’s modernisation effort failed — primarily because of the strength of the working class, which saw off Wilson’s anti-union legislation. Labour turned against its own working-class base. This marked a basic point of decline in Labour’s history.

By the 1960s the long boom which had underpinned a relatively easy consensus in British politics was visibly decaying. Britain’s growth was grievously lagging behind other big capitalist countries. British capitalism needed to reorganise itself, to adjust to the loss of its empire, to replace old and stagnant industries by more modern enterprise, and to deal with its special problem — a too-mighty trade union movement.

The history of the last quarter-century is one of repeated attempts by governments, Tory and Labour, to carry out that restructuring of British capitalism; great struggles by the working class which thwarted them; but — and this is fundamental — a failure by the working class to create its own political alternative; and thus, finally, the victory (to an extent, and for now) of a radical ruling-class alternative, Thatcherism. Read the rest of this entry »

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When the ‘Mail’ sneered at a dead politician…

April 14, 2013 at 3:36 pm (Daily Mail, gloating, history, Jim D, labour party, media, red-baiting, Thatcher, Tory scum, truth)

The Thatcher fan club (led by the Daily Mail) howls with rage at those who dare ‘disrespect’ her memory.

Remember when harmless, decent, old Michael Foot died?

From the Daily Mail (two days after his death):

NB:  Wikipedia states that  “at the outbreak of the Second World War, Foot volunteered for military service, but was rejected because of his chronic asthma. It has been suggested (2011) that he became a member of the secret Auxiliary Units.

“In 1940, under the pen-name “Cato” he and two other Beaverbrook journalists (Frank Owen, editor of the Standard, and Peter Howard of the Daily Express) published Guilty Men, a Left Book Club book attacking the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain government, which became a run-away best-seller.”-JD

H/t Sunny at Liberal Conspiracy

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Thatcher parliamentary “debate”: the non-grovellers

April 11, 2013 at 12:02 am (grovelling, Jim D, labour party, politics, Thatcher, Tory scum, truth)

Recalling the Commons and the Lords for  “debates” on Thatcher yesterday was, of course, a grotesque act of political manipulation and well as an outrageous waste of money at this time of austerity. All 650 MPs were emailed with the message that they could claim up to £3,750 just for turning up. Peers could draw £300 for attendance. Then there are the tens of thousands for security and running costs as Parliament was not due back until Monday.

Former miner Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), one of many Labour MPs  who stayed away, may well have been right to say simply “I’ve got better things to do.”

But of those Labour MPs who did turn up, two were pretty good:

David Winnick (Walsall North)…

…and Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn):

Well done, you two: proper, serious and honest, reformists.

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Privatise the funeral!

April 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm (Jim D, media, privatisation, strange situations, Thatcher, Tory scum)

Today’s Mirror:

Kevin Maguire writes:
Privatising next Wednesday’s funeral would be a fitting tribute to Margaret  Thatcher.The former Prime Minister worshipped profits, distrusted public services and  flogged off the family silver at knock-down prices.So bankers and yuppies who harvested fortunes during the Tory leader’s reign  should pick up the £10million tab instead of taxpayers.G4S security guards, not troops, could line the route of the cortege.

And rather than St Paul’s, the service could be held in the offices of a  Mayfair hedge fund.

None of that is likely to happen, of course, and the country’s first and only  woman PM will receive a grand send-off from the British state.

The Queen’s royal seal of approval by attending may take the sting out of the  disapproval of a gun carriage farewell.

Yet I’ll admit my own surprise at the depth of public criticism of Thatcher  since she died.

I knew she created a lot of enemies, and entire communities suffered under  her stilettos.

She relished confrontation and Thatcher supporters can hardly complain.

But I, who despised her in the 80s, still feel uncomfortable at the sight of  people celebrating her death.

Conor Burns, a Tory MP, was making the best of a bad job in claiming she  would view the protests as a tribute. They are not.

Divisive in death as in life, Thatcher exposed deep fissures which she  deliberately widened.

The nation she wrongly claimed trade unions had rendered ungovernable in 1979  is terrorised in 2013 by the financial forces she unleashed.

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, a diehard foe of Thatcher, showed restraint in  Northern Ireland.

“Resist celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher,” he tweeted.

“She was NOT a Peacemaker but it is a mistake to allow her death to poison  our minds.”

Discipline, comrades, show ­discipline.

***************************************************************************************

Privatise Thatcher’s Funeral: it’s what she would have wanted! Sign here

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Now that Thatcher’s dead…

April 8, 2013 at 12:18 pm (gloating, history, James Bloodworth, left, politics, protest, reaction, reblogged, Thatcher, Tory scum)

James Bloodworth (writing at Obliged to Offend in December 2011):

Instead of celebrating … the left should reflect on what a
pig’s ear it’s made of the past 30 years

Ever since Margaret Thatcher stopped appearing in public due to poor health, the
fit and proper reaction to her eventual exit from the earthly realm has been
discussed with increasing regularity by the left.

That rolling news will gloss over her legacy with the empty platitudes of the obsequious is entirely  predictable. Nor will it surprise many to see the leading lights of the Labour
Party queuing up to shower the former Prime Minister with praise.

There  are, however, plenty of us who haven’t forgotten the lives she destroyed, the
dictators she championed or the unmitigated social disaster set in motion by her
particular brand of finance capitalism. We do not feel the need to do what many
formerly of the left now do, and parrot the dictum that we are ‘all Thatcherites
now’ (just a hint, but when a person says neo-liberal capitalism is ‘inevitable’
what they really mean is that it is desirable). Many of us are not, and never
will be Thatcherites, and we will continue to feel no shame in believing that
there is more to life than the winner-takes-all capitalism she so
unapologetically championed during her lifetime.

There are of course  also those, on the other side of the fence, who view Thatcher’s eventual demise  as an opportunity to get one over on her family, her friends, and her supporters
in a way that was not possible in an era when her ideas triumphed so
emphatically. In this regard, Margaret Thatcher’s death is not only to be
greeted with sullen contempt, but is to be actively celebrated.

The idea  of getting back at this almost mythical figure for the numerous defeats she
inflicted on the left is strong motivation for those planning to crack open the
Champers on learning of her passing. Considering that during her reign she
trounced us at every opportunity, revelled in her victories, and then did it
again, the desire to see the back of the woman is perhaps understandable, even
if the outright celebration of her passing is, to my mind at least, taking
things a bit far.

What we on the left would do well to remember, however,
is that the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher are not going to be dented, let alone
killed-off by the departure of their most famous living embodiment. ‘All the
forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come,’ Victor
Hugo once said, and if the left is to recover from the tremendous setbacks it
has suffered during the past 30 years, it is the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher
that must be replaced, not the worn-out figure of an elderly lady.

Rather than celebrating the death of a human being, even a not
particularly endearing one, the left should instead examine with
clear-sightedness where it has gone wrong, how it has behaved and how it can do
better – and boy, can it do better. Considering the complete failure to make any
political inroads since the 2008 banking crash, this should be clearer today
than ever.

Time and energy spent celebrating the deaths of those who
popularise ideas we dislike is time that would be better spent popularising our
own ideas. With this in mind, morbid celebrations are better left to the
psychologically unhinged. The media already does an effective job in portraying
us as morally detached from the values of the average person; they certainly
don’t need us serving up ammunition on a plate for them.

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