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The British press has been marking the 25th anniversary of the start of the miners’ strike of 1984-5, a shattering event for many of us who lived through it. The strike was one of the major events of postwar British history, marking a turning point for owners and managers, supported by the state, in exerting their authority over working people.
The strike was ignited by a government programme of pit closures aimed at breaking the power of the National Union of Mineworkers, and thereby weakening the entire British trade union movement. In this, the Thatcher government was largely successful.
What has been missing from the media coverage is the revelation uncovered by Seamus Milne, now comment editor at the Guardian, that the miners nearly won.
In his book The Enemy Within: The Secret War On The Miners (republished by Verso in 2004), Milne revealed that the government “came within a hair’s breadth of defeat in the autumn of 1984”. The combination of a squeeze on power station coal stocks through solidarity action and a vote by pit deputies to strike (threatening Thatcher’s lifeline, the working pits in Nottinghamshire) brought the prime minister to the point where she believed she was “in danger of losing everything” and planned to send in the army – which, in Milne’s view, “would have undoubtedly led to a wider stoppage and large-scale power cuts”.
In other words, the image of invulnerability and invincibility that Thatcher displayed was false, and the defeat of the miners was far from inevitable. We, the grassroots movements for justice of today, have been affected by the long shadow of the miners’ defeat, not realising how close they came to victory.
There is an unavoidable parallel with the long shadow of the defeat of the 2003 anti-war mobilisation, which, as a movement, we still do not fully appreciate as a near-victory.
A brief word about the Luton affair.
Since the 7 July 2005 attacks, the great and the good of British society have been urging British Muslims to engage in the usual channels of political action, to vent their anger at British foreign policy without exploding bombs or shooting guns.
Yet when a group of angry Muslims does just that, protesting in the time-honoured way, albeit in an unusual location, the home-coming parade for the 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment (British soldiers returning from Iraq), they have been vilified. Those who have condemned the demonstration so harshly should reflect on the conclusions that disaffected Muslims might draw from this incident.
We are glad to report that Ayman al-Najar, the 15-year-old Gazan whose wounded back was featured on the front page of PN 2506, is back in Khoza’a, home from extensive medical treatment in Egypt. We hope to carry an interview with Ayman in a future issue.