The legacy of the miners’ strike

Jon Trickett’s Speech on Coalfield Communities, Tuesday 28th October

This has been an extraordinary debate this afternoon. The wisdom, passion and experience of millions of people have been distilled by Labour Members.

Only three Government Back Benchers spoke, but they gave not a word of contrition. There was not even any body language, to show a sense of guilt, remorse or apology for what was done during those years of the miners’ strike. The passion expressed exemplifies the feelings that still exist in the mining communities.

From time to time, passion leads hon. Members to say things—I am referring to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Mr Hood). We recognise that there are ongoing investigations and it would be wrong to reference any particular individual. It would be wrong to prejudice those proceedings.

I was a plumber at the time of the strike. I was elected to the council in the middle of the strike in September 1984. I spent part of my time going round pro bono fixing the heating and plumbing systems of striking miners. I was repeatedly stopped by the police, both in the process of my election and going about my lawful business. That exemplifies the experience of many tens of thousands of people in the mining communities during that time.

There is a special dignity for those who work with their hands. The Tories simply do not share that belief. They have a different value system, one based on greed and hierarchy. They believe that the closed circle that runs our country—their spokespeople in the House—were born to rule, and that the rest of us were born to serve. That characterised their attitude during the strike. If hon. Members do not believe me, they can look at the Prime Minister’s comments in Glasgow in 2008, when he said, effectively, that the poor are responsible for their poverty. He should tell the mining communities that they were responsible for their poverty. Hon. Members should look at the next leader of the Conservative party, Boris Johnson, who only last year when talking about inequality said in The Daily Telegraph that some people are too thick to get ahead. He should tell that to the mining communities after their experience.

The miners had a totally different set of values from those of the Tories. The Tories despised their values. Their values were of community, and of mutual support and solidarity. To this very day, there is an elemental sense of equality in mining communities. The miners did not know and never would accept the meaning of the word “deference”, and rightly so. The age of deference should have died long ago, but the Tories hated the idea that working people—any working people, but in this case the miners—should organise themselves around those values of community and solidarity and create the most powerful trade union this country has seen.

The 1984 Cabinet papers reveal the truth, the underhand tactics and even the lies of the Government of that time, both out in the communities and in the House. People talk about miners who continued to work, but they were lied to about the Government’s intentions. That is what happened.

The Government launched a full-scale assault on the mining communities and, in doing so, destroyed the independence of the police force. There were trumped-up charges all over the coalfield communities. Criminal justice was reduced to a political instrument. There is even evidence that members of the armed forces were dressed in police uniforms by the then Government, all this to achieve Tory party political objectives.

But we are not simply speaking today about history. The Tory attitude to the miners and the former mining communities is symbolic of a wider view that they have of working people as a whole. We need only look at the explosion in the use of zero-hours contracts, temporary work and false self-employment to see that the Conservatives have not changed. They are still the same old nasty party.

Once again the Conservatives are turning their back on mining communities. In my constituency, and I guess elsewhere too, the same women who worked in the soup kitchens during the miners’ strike, and their daughters, are now working in the food banks. How can that happen in one of the richest countries of the world in 2014? Nobody would believe it was possible. The Government have failed to understand that if society asks people to work with their hands in the bowels of the earth to help to create the wealth of our country, that society—our country—owes those people a debt of gratitude, which we might describe as a social contract. When mines are closed or industries die, we have a moral duty to look after the people who created the wealth of our country in such difficult circumstances.

The previous Government did much to honour the idea of a social contract. We spent billions of pounds compensating tens of thousands of former miners for miners’ diseases, from which many are still suffering today. In my constituency 12,500 miners or their families went through my office during those Labour years and received damages of over £100 million—in one constituency alone. The Labour Government invested £1.5 billion in coalfield regeneration, creating employment or training for 150,000 people. It was Labour that set up the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which assisted more than 400,000 people in finding jobs, accessing skills, getting education and improving their health.

Although much was done in those 15 years, the job is not finished. There are still high levels of ill health in my constituency and in all the coalfield areas, with 7.4% of people in the Yorkshire coalfield areas suffering ill health, compared with 5.6% nationally. Then, in mining areas with high levels of chronic diseases, we face the insult of GP cuts and hospital closures.

Unemployment is still 40% higher in coalfield areas than the national average.

Deprivation levels in coalfield areas remain at 43%.

Our society—our country—owes a debt to the miners and to all manual workers. Before I hand over to the Minister, I want to ask her four questions. First, will she on behalf of her party finally express some humility and apologise to the miners and the communities which it left devastated? Secondly, will she now authorise the release of all the papers held in the Government archives to find the truth about what happened in the mining communities, and will she authorise an independent inquiry into the events that surrounded the strike?

Thirdly, may we have a clear assurance that if the Government are still minded, even at this late stage, to find state aid to help the three remaining deep mine pits, that aid will not accelerate closure but will allow the pits to continue until the reserves are exhausted? Finally, will the Minister commit the Government to the full-scale ongoing process of regenerating the coalfield areas? Those people put themselves in harm’s way for the health and wealth of our country. Do we not have a responsibility to make sure that those communities are properly remunerated and regenerated in the future?

Jon Trickett MP is Shadow Minister without Portfolio and Deputy Chair of the Labour Party

The International Brigades

On 28 October 1938 the farewell parade of the International Brigades took place in Barcelona. Formed in September 1936 by the Comintern, 35,000 men and women from 50 countries served in all the major battles of the Spanish Civil War. While their motives may have ranged from idealism to ideology, from romanticism to a desire for excitement and adventure, what they had in common was exemplary courage. Thousands never returned.

Addressing them during the parade, Dolores Ibarruri – better known to history as La Pasionara – said:

You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk.

We shall not forget you; and, when the olive tree of peace is in flower, entwined with the victory laurels of the Republic of Spain — return!

Return to our side for here you will find a homeland — those who have no country or friends, who must live deprived of friendship — all, all will have the affection and gratitude of the Spanish people who today and tomorrow will shout with enthusiasm —

Long live the heroes of the International Brigades!

Excerpt from ‘Against the Grain: The British Far Left From 1956′

Against The Grain - The British Far Left From 1956Against the Grain: The British Far Left From 1956 is a new edited volume, put together by Evan Smith and Matthew Worley, which will be published this month by Manchester University Press. While not attempting to be a comprehensive overview of the far left in Britain over the last 60 years, the book looks to highlight new areas of historical research into these left-wing groups and movements that have often been overlooked by other scholars. The book includes contributions from activists, established academics and up-and-coming scholars, presenting chapters on a wide range of political organisations and the movements that they were involved with.

Although it has a hefty price tag for the hardback edition, the editors are hoping that a paperback edition will be published in 2015-16. A slightly cheaper hardback edition can be bought from here (if you are willing to buy from large corporations).

Below is an edited excerpt from the book’s introduction, giving an overview of the history of the British far left from 1956. The editors hope that it piques the interest of Socialist Unity readers and leads to a fruitful debate about how we look at the history of the far left in Britain. As Mark Perryman wrote about the book for Philosophy Football: “this is one for the activists, the old hands for the nostalgia trip of reading of old battles, the new wave to read of past mistakes and dream of not repeating them.”

The editors are also keen to hear of anyone doing research into the British far left, particularly on areas that have been overlooked in this volume. Please send them an email here.


In 1972, Tariq Ali, editor of the radical newspaper Black Dwarf and leading figure in the International Marxist Group (IMG), wrote in the introduction to his book, The Coming British Revolution:

The only real alternative to capitalist policies is provided by the revolutionary left groups as a whole. Despite their smallness and despite their many failings, they represent the only way forward1.

At the time, the British left appeared in the ascendancy. And yet, within a short while, the fortunes of the British left began to fall as sharply as they had risen. Certainly, by the end of the 1970s, the far left’s forward march, which had been gathering pace since the political eruptions of 1956 seemed – in the words of Eric Hobsbawm – to have ‘halted’2. Thereafter, the British far left continued to debate how best to react to the changes in the political, economic and social landscape that occurred under Margaret Thatcher and New Labour. In so doing, it realigned itself, fractured and evolved as new struggles emerged to test preconceptions and continually thwart the expected ‘breakthrough’. Whatever way you shape it, the revolution did not come around. Nevertheless, the far left played its part in shaping what remains an on-going historical epoch, challenging social mores and providing a dissenting voice within the British body politic.

Outlining the history of the British far left

The year 1956 may be seen as representing ‘year zero’ for the British left.  Prior to this, the CPGB had dominated the political field to the left of the Labour Party. The party had grown out of the unification of several socialist groups in 1920 and gradually built itself as the radical alternative to Labour during the inter-war period. By the end of the Second World War, its membership was over 40,000 and the leftwards shift by the electorate in the 1945 general election gave the Party hope that the transformation of British society towards socialism was imminent. The 1945 election saw the CPGB win two parliamentary seats and was soon followed by 215 communist councillors elected at a municipal level3. Simultaneously, the party began to suffer in the face of the anti-communist hysteria that came with the onset of Cold War. Even then, its promotion of a parliamentary road to socialism and a future Communist-Labour alliance ensured that it maintained a foothold in the British labour movement.

Trotskyism and left-communism developed as two oppositional currents in the Communist Party during the 1920s and 1930s, but it was not until the post-war period that British Trotskyism really emerged as an alternative left-wing movement to the CPGB. The genesis of post-war British Trotskyism can be traced back to the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which contained all of the subsequent leading figures of the Trotskyist movement and held the position of the official British representative of the Fourth International between 1944 and 1949. The RCP made some headway in the rank and file of the trade unions, particularly by supporting strikes when the CPGB was still promoting co-operation with the government, as well as in the anti-fascist activism against Mosley’s newly-formed Union Movement. However, the RCP soon split over questions concerning entrism within the Labour Party and how the Fourth International should view the ‘People’s Democracies’ of Eastern Europe. By 1956, Gerry Healy’s The Club (soon after the SLL) was the main Trotskyist group in Britain, with the others being relegated to discussion groups or journals in this period.

Such alignments across the British left would change in 1956. Khrushchev’s denunciation of the ‘cult of personality’ that arose around Stalin and admission that crimes had been committed during Stalin’s reign had a major impact on the CPGB. While many party members wanted a discussion over the CPGB’s uncritical support for the Soviet Union, the leadership sought to quash any frank and open debate, particularly amongst the rank and file at branch or district level. Soviet intervention in Hungary later the same year only exacerbated matters, leading to some 8,000 people leaving the CPGB between February 1956 and February 1958.

Click to continue reading

CLASS conference

Class (Centre for Labour and Social Studies) was founded with the intention to come up with bold, brave and radical ideas to support the challenges facing working people.

Class is holding its second annual conference on Saturday, 1st November 2014 at TUC Congress House, London, commencing at 10.00am.

Taking place just six months before the 2015 general election, “What Britain Needs” promises to be one of the biggest gatherings of trade unionists and activists in the run-up to the next election, and may be one of our last chances to ensure the voice of working people is heard in the policy arena.

There will be sessions on many of the key issues of interest to trade union activists, particularly public ownership, public services and making work pay and GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny is one of the keynote speakers.

It would be good for as many trade union members and activists as possible to attend the conference and Class have launched a brand new conference website – http://classonline.org.uk/conference2014  and have also launched a campaign on social media. You can find out more on their Facebook page, on Twitter @classthinktank and via the hashtag #classconf14.

Kobane – we have met the enemy and it is us

Morning Star

On the Turkish frontier, around the town of Kobane in northern Syria, the world is witnessing the very best of humanity alongside the very worst.

The very best are of course the Kurdish defenders of the town, whose courage and heroism in resisting an onslaught by the forces of Isis is such that songs will be written about them in years to come.

The sight of those men and women, many barely out of their teens, holding the line with light weapons against the barbaric hoards of Isis fighters attacking the town from three sides with heavy artillery and tanks conjures up parallels with Barcelona, the Warsaw Ghetto, even Stalingrad in microcosm.

And given the medieval ideology of Isis, under which women are reduced to the status of slaves, the fact that women are playing such a key role in the town’s defence adds an extra dimension of defiance to the barbarism they are facing.

Isis has emerged and erupted across northern Syria and Iraq as a direct consequence of the West’s disastrous policy of military intervention in the region, going back to 2003 with the war in Iraq.

Click to continue reading

Left Unity – the limits of the personal and the political

You will recall that we recently discussed controversy in group, Left Unity, over the attempts by some members to seek clarification of the role played by Bianca Todd as an employer in the past, where her employees successfully took her to a Employment Tribunal.

Ms Todd has subsequently resigned as principal speaker of Left Unity, saying she’s going to re-stand in order to get a vote of confidence. She claims she’s been under sustained personal attack (because of course, worries about her withholding workers’ wages are just personal rather than political).

Below is the email sent out to Left Unity National Council.

Position of Principal Speaker

Following from what I can only describe as a systematic sustained attack on me for over the past six months. I have come to the decision that in order to remain true to the principles of the party, which for me is about accountability, doing politics differently and ensuring that members have a real voice within the party I feel that it is essential for me, to resign from the position of principal speaker.

I take this decision in order that the party can remain true to its principles, it will also allow those who have been my critics to nominate a person who they feel will meet the needs of the post, although it is my intention to stand for this position again at the re-election.

I apologise for the additional work that this re-election will create, however it is the only way that I can currently see to address the issues that have arisen and enable the focus of the work to move from personalities back to politics.

Yours in Solidarity,
Bianca Todd

Syrian Kurds need support

Morning Star Editorial

Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) battling to defend Kobane are effectively fighting on two fronts — against both Isis terrorist forces and Turkey’s corrupt government.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who presides over a big business administration with an Islamist tinge, has announced baldly that Kobane will fall.

He is urged by Washington to help defeat Isis but remains indifferent because his priority is to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Erdogan makes clear that Turkish intervention will have clear guidelines — a Turkish buffer area on Syrian territory to corral refugees, a no-fly zone to ground Syrian warplanes and the explicit aim of replacing the Assad regime.

Millions of Kurds and their supporters are in the streets of Turkey and other countries demanding that Ankara ends its de facto collaboration with Isis.

The BBC informs us that the demonstrators demand Turkish army action to relieve Kobane.

Nothing like it. The last thing that the Kurds of Kobane or Kurdish regions of Turkey now subject to a state of emergency need or want is Turkish troops marching over them.

Kobane needs reinforcements and weapons supplies, but Ankara has closed the border to obstruct Turkey’s Kurds from assisting their cousins in Syria.

What a contrast to the Turkish government’s earlier stance of allowing thousands of jihadists, trained and financed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, free entry into Syria to join the anti-Assad struggle.

US Vice-President Joe Biden hit the nail on the head last week when he told a Harvard University meeting that these states had “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons against anyone who would fight Assad.”

All these supplies, together with the military assets surrendered by the corrupt and unmotivated Iraqi army, have ended up in the hands of Isis and the al-Qaida-affiliated Al-Nusra Front.

That’s why the siege of Kobane is fought between one side that has tanks, artillery and mortars and another with automatic rifles and grenades.

Washington’s much-touted anti-Isis military alliance has launched some air strikes around Kobane and may have eased the tightening stranglehold on the town, but it is window dressing that covers up a lack of clear thinking.

Nato-led imperialist forces, including Britain, have been up to their necks in boosting Isis and other obscurantist elements because of their hostility to Assad, Iran and their allies in Lebanon and Iraq.

If David Cameron had had his way, British bombers would have played the role of the Isis air force a year ago.

Barack Obama appears now to view Isis as a greater threat to the US than Assad, even though he forced Biden to apologise so as not to alienate his Turkish and Arab allies.

The US president understands what a propaganda boost it would be for Isis to capture Kobane in the face of US air strikes and what a humiliation it would be for Washington and its allied air armada.

Kobane will not be saved by token air strikes. Nor will they rid Syria and Iraq of Isis.

The Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi governments are key to resolving this issue, as is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is falsely labelled a terrorist organisation.

Nato member states, including the US, have to rethink previous self-defeating positions, drop their sanctions against the anti-Isis alliance and send arms to those in the front line of this epic struggle.

A breath of fresh air

Mark Perryman reviews an exceptionally strong list of autumn political reading

This autumn has been dominated already by two lots of morbid symptoms. The unseemly sight of Labour Unionism cosying up to theTories, Lib­Dems, the financial and media establishment in defence of the ancien regime. Accompanied by Ukip’s spectacularand seemingly irresistible rise, now fracturing the Tory Right’s vote more effectively than ever, the protest vote that just won’t go away.

What possible cause for any optimism then? Because outside of the parliamentary parties’ mainstream there is a revived freshness ofideas. Two writers in particular serve to symbolise such brightness of purpose. Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things is the latest collection of her writing. The spiky subversiveness of Laurie’s journalism best summed up by her book’s sub­title ‘sex, lies and revolution’. This is feminism with no apologies given, no compromises surrendered and a sharp­edged radicalism all the better for both. The Establishment by Owen Jones is every bit as much a reason for igniting readers’ optimism but also the cause of a quandary. Owen is an unrepentant Bennite, a body of ideas and activists with next to no influence in Miliband Labour. The organised Left outside of Labour in England at any rate, borders on the non-existent. Owen is described on the book’s cover by Russell Brand no less as ‘Our generation’s Orwell’ a bold yet fitting accolade. Yet Owen’s writing aims, like Laurie’s, at something beyond being simply a critical media voice. Quite how, is the quandary for both.
Click to continue reading

The spirit of 1945 revisited

Politics is a cruel game, and there is a developing narrative from some in the Labour Party that next year’s general election campaign is in trouble. According to this sorry tale, all the money has been spent in Scotland, Ed didn’t make a good enough conference speech, and the party is either to rash or too cautious on policy depending on your preference. It is therefore worth stepping back and looking for some perspective.

First of all, while it is fashionable to nostalgically look back at the landslide of 1945, which with the benefit of hindsight was our greatest achievement, how did that election look before the event.

The 1944 conference had a particularly flat mood, as the party was pessimistic about its prospects. And the period of 1943 and 1944 had seen the party riven by factionalism. In 1943 the party had a furious row over the implementation of Beveridge that led to Ernest Bevin withdrawing entirely from party life, and effectively withdrawing the support from the biggest union, TGWU, from the party. This rift was not healed until March 1945. Bevin continued in government, but not as part of the Labour Party.
Click to continue reading