Lessons of the great miners’ strike of 1984/85
It is now 20 years since the forces of the British state lined up to smash the miners, who had for over a hundred years been in the forefront of the British trade union movement.
The miners went back to work on 5 March 1985 after an epic, year-long struggle. They went with heads held high, knowing they had fought in the front line on behalf of the entire working class; fought not just for their own jobs and communities but for the basic right to work of all working people and against the misery and degradation of a lifetime on the dole queue.
Despite this proud stand, the British working class as a whole suffered an enormous setback that day. Many people lay the blame for this defeat at the door of the treacherous Nottinghamshire miners and the pit deputies’ union (NACODS), who refused to support the strike, but they were outnumbered by the miners of Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire, the North East and Kent, who were steadfast and steely in their determination to fight to the finish and win. Others blame the bullyboy tactics of the Thatcher government; the slanders, lies and threats of the imperialist media; or the nefarious machinations of the state machine – judiciary, police, etc, but the miners withstood and outwitted all these for 12 long months.
No, in our opinion, the largest share of blame for the defeat of the miners has to be laid at the door of the organised labour movement – the Labour Party and TUC leadership who did everything in their power to prevent the spread of the strike to other industries and to contain and limit solidarity action by their members, despite the eagerness of much of the membership for such solidarity action.
For 20 years, the working class in Britain has been on the retreat; no organised tactical retreat, but a full-blown rout that has allowed successive Tory and Labour imperialist governments to decimate social provision, privatise huge swathes of Britain’s industry and services and implement a plethora of anti-union legislation virtually unchallenged. In the meantime, the ruling class has overseen the education of a new generation of workers to whom collective action is as much a thing of the past as Britain’s industrial base and a demoralised and impotent working class is the only kind imaginable.
The recent rumblings of discontent among hard-pressed public sector workers – teachers, nurses, firefighters, rail and tube workers, local government workers, civil servants, etc – and the election of a few relative militants (by recent standards, at least) into the leadership of public sector unions – are the first signs that what remains of Britain’s trade union membership may just be starting to realise the necessity of getting up off its knees and fighting back.
All the more reason then to evaluate the lessons of the great miners’ strike of 1984/85, for until British workers not only understand these lessons but also put into practice the conclusions drawn from them, they will continue to suffer defeat after defeat, sinking lower and lower under the relentless onslaughts of imperialism in crisis.
Background to the strike – divide and rule
Contrary to popular belief, the divisions within the NUM had their roots not in Thatcher’s policies but in incentive schemes imposed on miners by the Callaghan Labour government and the then energy secretary Tony Benn. Bonuses for workers in pits which were the relatively easier to mine in the Midlands (Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire) encouraged the ‘moderate’ leaders in those areas to believe that it was only the ‘uneconomic’ pits that the Tories wanted to close.
According to official mythology, the strike was ‘undemocratic’ because Arthur Scargill made a unilateral decision, refusing to allow the miners to hold a national ballot on whether to strike. In reality, most miners were against holding a ballot, regarding it as an attempt to break the strike and to give miners in the ‘moderate’ areas, who felt (wrongly) that their jobs were secure, the chance to vote them out of a job. Scargill made no recommendation to the special conference held at the beginning of the strike, which decided by a huge majority that no ballot was necessary since the membership had already voted with its feet – a perfectly democratic decision taken in accordance with the union’s own rules. Nevertheless, the ‘issue’ of the ballot was jumped on by those looking for an excuse not to support the strike, and has been dragged up ever since as the trump card that ‘proves’ the miners were in the wrong.
Another popular myth is that it is only the Tories who closed pits. In fact, though, both Labour and Tory governments have been closing mines consistently since 1945, regardless of how much coal was under the ground or how ‘moderate’ the union leadership at the time. In 1945, there were 958 pits in Britain, employing a total of 718,000 miners and producing 200m tonnes of coal per annum. Today there are a handful of deep mines and opencast sites, employing just 9,000 miners and producing 30m tonnes of coal every year.
Why were the miners targeted?
On the 20th anniversary of the start of the historic strike this March, there was a veritable deluge of articles and television documentaries, all purporting to analyse and explain what went on. Reading and watching these, one would be forgiven for concluding that the strike was some kind of personal vendetta between the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the miners’ leader Arthur Scargill – an explanation presumably dreamed up at the same personality-led school of history that claims that the Second World War would not have happened if Adolph Hitler had never been born (or if his parents had understood him better, or if he had been better at art …)
Longtime readers of this paper will be well aware of the real reasons for the targeting of the miners by the British state, so for the purposes of this article a short summary will suffice. (For a full analysis, all our articles of the time are reproduced in Harpal Brar’s book Social Democracy – The Enemy Within.)
First and foremost, the miners were targeted, not as miners, but as the most advanced detachment of the organised working class in Britain. The Keynesian consensus, whereby all British bourgeois parties agreed on the necessity of introducing a ‘welfare state’ and of nationalising such industries as coal, steel, railways, etc, partly as the best way of pacifying the postwar revolutionary upsurge and partly to defray the cost of essential industries that it was not possible at the time to run at a profit, was crumbling. This meant that British monopoly capitalism could only survive on the international scene by becoming more ‘competitive’, ie, by making swingeing attacks on the pay and conditions of British workers. Knowing that the workers were unlikely to take these attacks lying down, the government, in its role as the executive of the British bourgeoisie, prepared carefully and put all its strength into a meticulously planned attack on the mineworkers, knowing full well that if the miners could be defeated, the rest of the trade union movement would be easily overcome. This strategy has been amply rewarded and proves that while doing its best to keep the working class in the dark about the irreconcilable nature of class antagonisms under capitalism, the bourgeoisie has no illusions as to who its enemy is, and no reservations about fighting it with every means at its disposal.
Secondly, Britain’s mining industry was run down to suit the interests of a handful of immensely powerful financiers and monopolists who stood to gain untold riches through the looting of Middle Eastern oil, so long as there was a large enough market to sell this looted oil into.
Thirdly, Mrs Thatcher’s government was determined to avenge the humiliation inflicted on the previous Tory government, which, under Ted Heath, was unceremoniously brought down by the victorious miners’ strike of 1974.
So far then, what lessons can be learned?
The first lesson that must be grasped by workers is that capitalists give concessions in order to buy time for their system, when their relative strength is declining in the face of a rising working class movement; they give concessions in order that they might live to fight another day and reverse them when the balance of power shifts back in their favour. Therefore, the fight for concessions must not be an end in itself for the working class movement, since concessions gained under capitalism can only ever be temporary. Instead, it must be combined with a revolutionary struggle for the complete overthrow of the imperialist system.
Further, we need to realise that, overwhelmingly, the direction of living standards for workers under capitalism is down, and that therefore imperialism offers no future, no security and no prosperity for working people even in its own rich heartlands. The post-war period already referred to above was a special exception to this and, since the fall of the Soviet Union, all the imperialist countries have been working to destroy their welfare provisions, since the cost of them is a major obstacle to maximisation of profits, especially at such a time of major economic crisis for imperialism on a world scale.
It must also be noted that in the context of maximisation of profits, industries will continue to be closed in Britain while labour can be got cheaper elsewhere in the world. This phenomenon, defined by Lenin as export of capital, is one of the major reasons for unemployment in the imperialist countries. Even if there was no immigration into Britain (immigration being the ruling class’s favourite scapegoat for unemployment), British workers would still find themselves being thrown out of work as companies relocated to more profitable areas of the world, for the quest after maximum profit is a fundamental law of imperialist economics and only maximum profits will do.
An education in the nature of the state
The course of the year-long struggle gave the striking miners and their supporters a practical crash course in the realities of the bourgeois state. From an early age, we are taught to believe that the state is a neutral, administrative body, standing above and outside of society and acting in the best interests of all. The experiences of thousands of British workers during the strike gave the lie to this ‘eternal truth’ in a series of unforgettable lessons, as all the supposedly neutral forces of the state came out unequivocally on the side of the ruling class.
The legislators dredged up old laws (police arrested people for ‘besetting’, for example, an ‘offence’ not heard of since the 1926 general strike) and made haste to introduce new ones aimed at defeating the strike.
The police used their powers to the full and stepped outside them with impunity, not only enforcing the new laws with great gusto but enforcing plenty that did not exist at all – many thousands of pickets and supporters were arrested and later released without charge; people even suspected of being miners or of being on the way to picket lines were arrested or prevented from travelling; people collecting for the miners were arrested for begging (including a Santa Claus collecting Christmas presents for striking miners’ children); Kent miners found all roads out of the county blocked and had to walk to the picket lines in the north, while Nottinghamshire was similarly sealed off; miners under arrest found themselves being questioned by Special Branch officers about their political affiliations; and police brutality took on a new dimension, with more than 4,000 miners injured on the picket lines, including 11 deaths (including David Jones, Joe Green and several children who were picking coal for heating), five miners on life-support machines, three fractured skulls, 10 cases of broken ribs and over 2,500 cases of miners with cracked ribs, broken arms and torn shoulder muscles caused by being dragged handcuffed across the ground. (Figures taken from ‘The coal strike of 1984-85’, Lalkar, March 1985).
The courts, meanwhile, as well as convicting hundreds of miners on trumped-up charges from affray to riot, declared the strike in Yorkshire and Derbyshire illegal, declared five NUM leaders in contempt of court, attempted to impose fines on the leadership personally as well as on the union itself, and finally sequestrated those of the NUM funds it could locate, having declared Arthur Scargill ‘unfit’ to manage them. The union responded to this by saying it would operate from the street if necessary and defied the courts, evading the sequestrators not only by moving money through various accounts in Europe set up for the purpose but also by moving cash around the country in plastic carrier bags.
As for the kindly social services, they denied benefits to striking miners and their families, who were ‘assumed’ to be on strike pay, although it was well known to these benevolent authorities that no such payments were being received. Instead, miners and their families depended on a £2 per day picketing allowance from their local union branches, along with the now legendary communal kitchens run by miners’ wives with the aid of donations that came pouring in from all over the country.
The entire bourgeois media – newspapers, magazines, radio and television – heaped insults and lies on the heads of the miners and their leaders, using every means at their disposal to help the government bully, cajole, bribe and intimidate them into going back to work, as well as demonising the miners in an attempt to isolate them from the rest of the working class. Depicting the miners as work-shy yobs and their leaders as deranged, power-mad insurrectionaries, the hired hacks of such disinterested media moguls as Rupert Murdoch urged Mrs Thatcher and her government to come out from behind Ian MacGregor and the National Coal Board (NCB) and go on the offensive against the ‘threat to democracy’ (ie, to British monopoly profits) posed by the ‘hard left’ miners.
Mrs Thatcher duly took the gloves off on 19 July when, in a speech to the 1922 Committee of Conservative back benchers, she described the miners as “the enemy within” and Arthur Scargill as a greater threat to democracy than the former Argentine fascist dictator General Galtieri. Making clear that her government was aiming at castrating the entire trade union and labour movement, she added that once the miners’ strike was over “we have to take on the militants in other unions”.
From all the above, several lessons can be learned.
First, and most important, is the lesson that the state is not a neutral arbiter but a machine for the subjugation of one class by another; a tool in the hands of the ruling class that is wielded against the working class for the maintenance of their minority rule. The working class will never get ‘justice’ from such a state, nor can such a state ever be made to serve the interests of the majority. Those who talk about ‘changing the system from within’, or who busy themselves writing to their MPs about ‘miscarriages of justice’, etc, are simply fooling themselves and others, creating illusions in the potential and purpose of a state whose fundamental role is not to deliver justice, fairness, equality, etc, but to maintain the status quo, ie, the rule of the privileged minority.
Second, the working class must learn that all the talk of democracy and ‘peaceful means’ is just a part of the state’s weaponry, a trick to fool the credulous and keep the working class weak and powerless. The ruling class preaches democracy and pacifism to workers, but has proven time and again that it does not consider such ‘ideals’ to apply to itself, abandoning them as soon as its class interests are threatened. Therefore, the working class must also learn to reject the slavish mentality that has been forced upon it, whereby it can only respond to the daily injustices of capitalism by going cap in hand and asking the capitalists please to be kinder. We cannot expect the authorities to ‘play by the rules’ any more than we can expect a leopard to change its spots – since capitalism is incapable of being ‘fair’ and providing a decent life for everyone, the capitalist state, set up to preserve the capitalist system, cannot be expected to behave ‘fairly’ either. The truth is that the police would think twice about charging pickets who were properly organised to defend themselves.
Third, we must learn from the sterling example set by the miners that if the working class is to succeed even in defensive battles, it must make arrangements for welfare that are independent of the bourgeois state, setting up support groups, picketing groups, welfare organisations, communal kitchens, etc. In order to stand up to the onslaught of the state and effectively to bypass state sanctions, these groups must not be insular, but must have the deepest possible connection with the wider working class movement, both nationally and internationally. Without the support network that sprang up around the miners in 1984/5, they would never have been able to hold out as long as they did in the teeth of the state’s policy of starving them back to work.
The fourth lesson to be learned from the behaviour of the state during the miners’ strike is that the working class must cease to acquiesce in the implementation of anti-working class legislation. The miners’ brave defiance of anti-union laws proves that organised resistance to unjust laws renders those laws meaningless, and we must follow their example by learning to rise above the popular reverence for bourgeois legality and bourgeois respectability. The law, like the state, is not neutral; it does not represent any eternal truth, nor does it offer any neutral arbitration; it is simply another anti-working class weapon in the armoury of the British ruling class.
Role of the women
It is said, and with some justification, that Margaret Thatcher did more to emancipate the women of the pit villages than all the bourgeois feminists of the 60s and 70s put together. Mining communities had traditionally been very conservative, particularly since mining to date has always been the kind of heavy manual labour that excludes all but the toughest women, but all that changed in the course of the struggle.
With not just their own futures at stake, but also the future of the entire working class, the women of the pit villages came out to join the battle, bringing old people and children with them. Together, they set up and ran support groups, organised communal kitchens and made other welfare provisions, organised meetings, pickets, etc. Like the miners, they were getting a crash course in the nature of the state and the realities of the capitalist system and women who had never taken an interest in such things before found themselves motivated to travel the length and breadth of the country, and even to travel the world, speaking on platforms to raise support for the strike and explain the importance of their cause.
Without the tireless work and support of these women – wives, girlfriends, mothers and daughters, the miners could not have hoped to hold out for so long. In this instance, we cannot help mentioning the tireless work done by women such as Anne Scargill, Betty Heathfield, Ann Suddick and Ann Lilburn and many others. Since the strike, Bridget Bell has also played a great role in keeping the Miners Support Group movement alive. As a result of the work done by Women Against Pit Closures, and the Miners Support Group, etc, many miners learned to cast aside their previous old-fashioned notions about the limited role and abilities of women.
The truth is that women are half the working class – they have every bit as much brain power to apply to the struggle and every bit as much interest in its victory. The struggle to overthrow capitalism will never be victorious if women are not convinced of its necessity and involved in the fight, nor will socialism be built without their input. More than that, women left isolated at home are likely to have a narrow, individualistic outlook and to pass that on to the children they care for, thereby turning them into a reserve of reaction instead of training up a new generation of revolutionaries. For all these reasons, it is imperative that we make every effort to bring women into the struggle, that we help them develop their understanding and facilitate their involvement in all levels of political life.
Who are the friends of the workers?
The year-long strike helped to open the eyes of the miners as to who their real friends were. While Labour and trade union leaders were evasive at best and downright hostile at worst, solidarity came instead from the most oppressed sections of the population. Despite suffering routine racism at the hands not only of the British state but also of much of the white working class in Britain, many black workers offered unstinting support to the strikers, whose fight against the injustices of the system they correctly identified with. In this context, the Indian Workers Association (GB) played a leading role, holding meetings with striking miners as guest speakers and collecting money. Even religious institutions, such as Sikh temples, gave out food and collected huge donations for the strikers. This had the effect of breaking down decades of systematically induced prejudice and miners realised that racism is yet another weapon of the ruling class used to divide worker from worker, keeping them isolated and weak.
Republicans in the north of Ireland were equally generous in their support for the strike, despite the difficulty of their own situation at the height of the liberation war, for they understood that the miners were fighting on another front of the same battle against British imperialism in which they were engaged. Miners who had previously been tainted by British imperialist prejudice against the Irish liberation struggle began to question the lies they had been fed, especially when saw how the media, military and other state forces were used against the Irish and compared it with their own experiences.
These lessons in the realities of imperialism and the need for international solidarity of the oppressed were reinforced by the generous donations received from workers all over the world. While the Labour Party and TUC leadership were busy ignoring the resolutions of support that had been passed by rank and file members at their congresses, workers all over the world offered not only paper resolutions, but material solidarity, sending large donations to help foil the ruling class’s plans for starving the miners back to work. Miners in the USSR even voted to send a portion of their salaries to Britain to help support the strikers until such time as the strike was over. Only the Gorbachevite leadership, which was intensifying its efforts to restore capitalism in the Soviet Union, prevented these vast sums of money reaching the needy British miners.
The biggest lesson to be learned from all this is that the Labour Party does not represent the interests of the majority of British workers, but only that section whose privileged way of life has been bought for them by the superprofits of imperialism. The ruling class keeps a section of the working class in relatively decent conditions and in return for this bribe, its leadership works hard to keep the working class movement away from real proletarian politics and revolution. These privileged workers, described by Lenin as the labour aristocracy, will always fight on the side of imperialism; they are the real “enemy within” the working class movement, and while the movement remains tied to their leadership, the working class will never be able to free itself from the shackles of capitalism.
The lesson that follows on from this is that the working class needs a party of its own, one that is independent of the ruling class not only organisationally but also ideologically. This party must be able to explain to the working class what capitalism is and why it can never meet the basic requirements of a decent life for all; it must be able to organise the best elements of the working class and train them in the science of Marxism Leninism, the science of proletarian revolution; it must be able to bring together the many small rivulets of anti-imperialist struggle into a mighty torrent; and it must ultimately lead the working class in overthrowing monopoly capitalism once and for all and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat – working class rule.
Working class solidarity and imperialism
We have referred above to the treachery of the TUC and Labour leadership during the strike. Instead of working for the victory of the miners, most of these gentry were busy working to prevent the spread of the strike into other industries. For example, the pit deputies’ union, NACODS, accepted a separate deal for their membership and cut short their own strike – a most short-sighted move, since with the subsequent closure of British pits, their members have also lost their jobs. The steel workers’ union reneged on the deal they made in the first days of the strike. Railway and teachers’ unions also accepted pay deals, while media workers carried on producing the filth and lies churned out at the behest of their employers and against their own interests. On one glorious occasion, print workers at the Sun showed the rest the way when they refused to print a particularly scurrilous front page attack on Arthur Scargill, but sadly this solidarity was not repeated or extended among other media workers.
Meanwhile, the members of the TUC liaison committee, officially set up to monitor the strike and give aid to the NUM, publicly blamed the miners’ union for the continuation of the strike. While the police were beating the hell out of the pickets, wielding batons and launching cavalry charges, the brave leadership of the Labour Party – Willis, Kinnock and Hattersley – was denouncing the miners for violence! Instead of defending the right of the NUM to accept financial help from workers and trade unions around the world, this same Labour leadership were busy condemning the miners for their so-called ‘Libyan connection’.
After the strike, when the question of amnesty for the 718 miners sacked by the NCB came to the fore, Kinnock again sided with the ruling class, repeating their tired old refrain that there should be no amnesty for those who “committed serious crimes of violence”, thereby signalling that the NCB was free to victimise union leaders and the most conscious and active strikers without any objection or interference from the Labour Party. And despite all of this, we are still expected to swallow the old story put out by the Troto-revisionist fraternity that the Labour Party is the party of the working class, and take as proof of this its connection with the unions!
It need hardly be said that the strike would have ended quite differently (and much more swiftly) if transport workers, pit deputies, energy workers, media workers, etc had refused to cooperate with the state’s attempts to isolate the miners and had instead joined the strike. The miners were, after all, fighting not just for their own jobs but for the basic right to work. It is for that reason they were so mercilessly attacked, and it is for that reason that the cowardice and treachery of the leadership of the wider union movement has been proven to be so short-sighted.
The working class has suffered immeasurably from the defeat of the miners and it was the TUC that clinched the government’s victory. Thatcher was perfectly clear that a win against the miners would provide the basis for an attack on all unionised workers, which in turn led to a downward spiral in the overall condition of the working class in Britain, not just in pay packets but also in the social wage: housing cost and condition, job security, pensions, health care, education, etc, all of which has led on to massive increases in unemployment, poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, prostitution and crime, not only in the formerly proud mining communities but for working people all over Britain.
The Trotskyite Weekly Worker’s Ian Donovan says quite correctly of the trade union leadership that: “All of them feared the consequences of a defeat of Thatcher by a united and aroused working class more than they feared the defeat of the NUM and the likely consequences of that for the trade union movement as a whole.”
This corruption and pro-imperialist stance on the part of the Labour aristocracy is nothing new. The following passage from Aneurin Bevan’s book, In Place Of Fear, reveals clearly the Labour leadership’s terror of a militant working class, showing that they feared like the plague the possibility of the 1926 general strike becoming political and leading on to a revolutionary movement for the overthrow of British imperialism:
“‘But if you do so [ie, call a general strike], went on Mr Lloyd George, ‘have you weighed the consequences? The strike will be in defiance of the government of the country and by its very success will precipitate a constitutional crisis of the first importance. For, if a force arises in the state which is stronger than the state itself, then it must be ready to take on the functions of the state, or withdraw and accept the authority of the state. Gentlemen,’ asked the prime minister quietly, ‘have you considered and, if you have, are you ready?’
“‘From that moment on,’ said [TUC negotiator] Robert Smillie, we were beaten and we knew we were.'” (Cited in Weekly Worker, 18 March 2004)
Of course, the main lesson to be learned from all this is one already stated, namely, the urgent need for an independent party to lead the working class in its struggle against British imperialism. Hand in hand with this is the absolute necessity of removing the corrupt, opportunist leadership that has until now monopolised the trade union movement and replacing it with leaders who really represent the interests of the working class.
Even from a narrow trade unionist perspective, the short-sighted behaviour of the unions that allowed themselves to be bought off during the strike demonstrates the need for unions to stand together. As the old adage goes: united we stand, divided we fall – those who thought to serve their own interests by selling out the miners at the crucial moment have all suffered in the long term – the Nottinghamshire pits have also closed; the NACODS workers have all lost their jobs; all public sector pay and conditions have been under attack continually since the end of the strike and the entire trade union movement is a shadow of its former self, cowering and impotent in the face of continuing attacks.
British workers also need to learn this lesson of the importance of standing together against the common enemy and apply it to the wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ireland, Congo, etc. Just as the defeat of the miners strengthened British imperialism and was therefore a defeat for the entire British working class, a victory for British imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan would be very bad news indeed for those opposing it at home. On the other hand, a defeat for British imperialism abroad would mean a weakened British ruling class, giving impetus to the anti-imperialist movement in Britain as well as abroad. For this reason, we should be demanding that our unions take a stand and refuse to cooperate with the illegal war effort in Iraq, whether it be making and loading munitions, transporting weapons and troops, serving in the forces or helping to print and broadcast the imperialist media’s lies in support of the war.
Demonstrations are useful only in so far as they are an opportunity to educate people about the real cause of the problem and point them in the direction of the solutions. The war will not be ended by lobbying MPs, but by defeating the imperialist invaders, and that defeat will come either solely at the hands of the Iraqi people, or as a combination of the Iraqi resistance and our intervention at home. The British workers can play their part by exercising their collective veto over the war, for, like capitalism itself, the war cannot be run without workers. Most of our readers are familiar with the story of the Jolly George, the ship that dockers refused to load, thus frustrating British intervention against the fledgling Soviet Union in 1918. That action forced British imperialism to withdraw its forces from the anti-Soviet war and set the standard for international solidarity among workers of the world – an example that has tremendous significance today, when the current anti-war leadership would have us believe we are powerless to do anything against the war other than demonstrate or vote for one of the bourgeois or petty bourgeois parties – the Greens, Lib Dem or Respect.
The billions spent by the Thatcher government during the dispute will surely be considered by the bourgeoisie to have been an excellent investment that has paid dividends, but the cost to workers has still to be counted. Some 10,000 arrests were made and more than 7,500 people dragged through the courts on trumped-up charges; two were murdered (David Jones and Joe Green) and many thousands were injured at the hands of the police during the strike, while no-one has bothered to keep count of the suicides and deaths from widespread drink and drug abuse that have since devastated those centres of unemployment that stand now in place of the formerly thriving mining communities.
Twenty years of continuing attacks on the jobs and living standards of British workers is proof enough that the lessons of the miners’ strike remain largely unlearned. Until the conclusions drawn from them are put into practice, however, the working class will remain demoralised and impotent in the face of the ever more ferocious onslaughts of capitalism.
During the strike, the miners gave the lie to those pessimists who would have us believe that the working class is not capable of becoming politicised, or of helping itself. Hundreds of thousands of workers were radicalised by the strike and it is to the eternal shame of the leadership of the British working class that not much has been done to build on that political energy, allowing it to dissipate instead of channelling it; allowing the solidarity networks around the miners to disintegrate instead of harnessing them for the continuing struggle.
Lalkar has always praised Scargill’s leadership of the 1984/5 miners’ strike but we also made it clear that, if he was really fighting for socialism, he had no business remaining a member of the imperialist Labour Party. When he launched the SLP in 1996, we applauded the organisational break he finally effected with Labour, explained its huge historical significance and joined the party, working inside it for seven years in the hopes that it might eventually fulfil its potential to become the truly Marxist, independent working class organisation that the British working class so desperately needs.
Sadly, that door has now been slammed shut , but all sincere and thinking elements of the party will no doubt regroup and continue the struggle for socialism. Labour was never a party of the entire British working class – it always represented the better-off sections, whose privileges rely on imperialist plunder and war. If Scargill did not understand this before the strike, he certainly ought to have known it by the end, but he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge this truth, and the failure to acknowledge it has been one of the stumbling blocks to his political development. Hence his constant hankering after ‘old’ Labour, which was as much a party of British imperialism as is Tony Blair’s ‘New’ Labour.
Lenin once said, “defeated armies learn well”, but this can only happen if the leadership of the defeated armies is willing and able to learn from its defeats. In Scargill’s case, instead of learning from the defeat of the great miners’ strike, he has criminally squandered the impetus that had been given to the movement by the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of British workers. It took him a whole 11 years after the defeat of the strike to make an organisational break with the imperialist Labour Party. The working class of this country will forever treat with respect the role played by Scargill during the 1984/5 coal strike. It will, however, condemn him for his failure to learn the lessons of the strike in the interests of the furtherance of the working class movement.
Marxism teaches us that the working class is the ruling class in waiting, but the working class will never become the ruling class unless it masters the science of society, of history, of economics and of revolution – in a word, it must master the science of Marxism-Leninism, which alone shows the way out of the imperialist spiral of poverty, destitution and war. It is the job of socialists everywhere to fight to bring this understanding to the working class, in order that the latter may fulfil its historic mission.
Let us learn the lessons of the miners’ strike, and let us take our inspiration for the continuing struggle from the courage and dedication of the miners, who fought not just for themselves but for the right of all to jobs and security. But in carrying on that fight we must take it to its logical conclusion, for those basic rights can never be guaranteed under capitalism. The workers are beginning to realise that this system has no future to offer them, and while the task of overthrowing such a wily and well-established ruling class as the British bourgeoisie may seem daunting, the truth is that when Marxist theory and the British masses join together, there is not an army in the world that will be able to stop them.
We have nothing to lose but our chains – we have a world to win!
 For details of the illegal expulsion from the SLP of Harpal Brar, Zane Carpenter, Robert Morris, Ella Rule, Carlos Rule and the entire Yorkshire regional committee, on 8 May 2004, see the Lalkar website www.lalkar.org.
Subsequently, on 3 July 04, those expelled and those who resigned from the SLP in disgust, have formed a new party, known as the CPGB-ML. Its publication is Proletarian – see advert elsewhere in this issue and its website www.cpgb-ml.org.