Warning :

Although this review has been printed after the NUM's decision to call for a return to work, the article on the miners' strike was written 4 months earlier. Since the general outlines of the strike, which we've analysed in this article, remain valid, and moreover, are confirmed by the (provisional) outcome of the struggle, we've decided to publish this text anyway without reactualising it. We'll complete it by drawing up, in a separate leaflet, the balance-sheet of this strike, because the proletarian struggle, in spite of this severe setback, goes on, be it through different means. Undoubtedly, the consequences of this strike will be numerous for the struggles to come. Not only negatively though: more precisely concerning the bourgeois nature of the unions, especially of radical unions and on the rank-and-file level, we'll do everything in our power so that this most crucial lesson from the miners' strike will never be forgotten!

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In all countries, the bourgeoisie continually steps up its attacks on the working class. Everywhere, austerity plans have to be imposed: redundancies, speed-ups, expulsions of immigrant workers, industrial rationalisations, wage-cuts... it all mounts up to an intensification of misery, an increase in exploitation and in the end... the destruction of proletarians on a world-scale.

In Brazil, hundreds of thousands of starved proletarians spread over cities and started looting: they attacked shops, storehouses, trains,.. In Spain, steelworkers clashed violently with police. In Tunisia, in Morocco, in Algeria, in Egypt, in Belgium, in Holland... the proletariat has been refusing, for reasons which are fundamentally identical, the measures governments have taken against them. All these struggles, even though they are limited and contingent, are expressions of the proletariat's tendency to universally organise itself against capital.

The miners' strike that has been going on for many months now is part of this world-wide proletarian attempt to refuse and oppose the impeccable logic of the dominant system.

We have to analyse this struggle as such, which means we have to put all actions, all violence, all organisational attempts into their general framework, i.e. the total comprehension of the communist perspective.

In the first part of this article, we'll analyse the positive elements of the miners' strike, its characteristics that constitute a step forward considering today's balance of forces between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. But must of all, we want to analyse the general weaknesses of this strike. In opposition to many groups who think their role is only to be able to explain weaknesses (for this reason they analyse each particular struggle "in itself" without linking it to the historical communist movement), which finally comes down to accepting the status quo under pretext that weaknesses can only be bypassed when all workers have become conscious of them, we claim that our internationalist solidarity with all proletarian movements must express itself through the pitiless criticism of their weaknesses. It is only through this criticism (with all its practical implications) that we can try not to be as powerless as before in front of always the same enemies, of always the same deadlocks. So one of our specific tasks must be to fight those weaknesses. More generally, to draw up the balance-sheet of historical as well as of today's struggles, in order to transform it into practical arms for tomorrow's struggles, is one of the fundamental tasks of revolutionary militants. This way we can also see that weaknesses are not specific to one or another struggle, be it on a national level, but that they are determined by the world-wide and historical balance of forces between the two classes. The weaknesses of each particular struggle are a materialisation of the general state of non-preparation of our class; if a particular struggle is not radical enough to bypass the general weaknesses, it not only reproduces but also reinforces them!

Massiveness and determination

Miners have been on strike for nine months now. Although it is clear that the overall direction and control of the strike remains firmly in the hands of the NUM. In spite of NUM propaganda on the sense of responsibility of strikers, of their care for the health of British national industry, those tens of thousands of workers show, through their daily practice - be it for a majority of them in a passive way - that they don't give a shit about neither Britain nor its economy. Their failure to make common cause with capitalist interests remains mainly passive - they don't oppose union militancy for national economy - but it nevertheless constitutes an important feature of this movement. It explains why the NUM, the NCB and the government have not been able so far to put through their rationalisation plans. Scargill will just have to wait for miners to get demoralised before he is able to impose his new productivity plans for British coal.

After nine months of struggle many miners are realising that they haven't got much more to lose in this system of wage-labour; on the contrary, through struggle, and in spite of all hardship that comes with it, they have experienced relationships, activities based on class solidarity instead of humiliating bourgeois competition.

Another important feature of this struggle is its massiveness. The strike has spread to all pits, to all areas, except for some (F.i. Nottinghamshire). It spread because of spontaneous class-solidarity (based on the class-interests all workers have in common) actively organised during the first few weeks of the strike - when the NUM had not yet recognised the strike on the national level - by miners who efficiently picketed indistinctly on mines and factories of other sectors. Later on these pickets were replaced by union organised pickets, disorganising and confining the strike (see later on), but nevertheless the strike remained massive, and on some occasions managed to draw workers from other sectors into action, despite the unions' efforts to prevent this. Workers of other sectors recently have been showing signs of discontent and militancy (hospitals, railway workers), but this mobilisation from more or less large sectors of the working class remains far below the level it reached during the 1979 strike-wave.

The attempt of Dockers to come out on strike twice already (July, August) each time sabotaged by the unions, is most clearly the sign of workers' solidarity. By trying to join this movement and making it more massive, other workers not only reinforce the miners' pressure on the NCB, on the unions and on the government, but they also take advantage of the uncomfortable position of the bourgeoisie which is scared to death at the thought of a general paralysis of production. Thatcher, usually so firmly opposed to all concessions, all of a sudden recommended important rises of wages to directors of other working class sectors (steel, railways,...). This shows that the proletariat's strength lies in the generalisation of its struggles to all working class sectors. But a fundamental condition for all generalisation, as the first few weeks of the strike showed us, is the autonomous organisation of the working class, a condition which today is -nearly- completely absent from the strike. This allowed the NUM to take a -nearly- full control of the strike.

The unions against the strike

As always, as everywhere, the unions have been attacking workers' militancy for a generalisation and a radicalisation of their struggle, as well directly by opposing it face to face, as indirectly by deviating the struggle from its proper aims. Especially when a union is radicalising its policy, when it is calling for generalisation, for mass picketing, as it is the case in today's miners' strike, it just means they're having a tough time trying to control and finally destroy workers' militancy.

The strike, at its very beginning, started in spite of the unions (Yorkshire and Scotland). Unlike last year when the NUM openly and directly sabotaged wildcat strikes (involving l5,000 miners) in Scotland (Polmaise Pit, Solsgirth, Comrie and Seafield), this time one week after the start of the strike the unions decided to officialise it, be it, at that moment, only in the most militant areas. At that stage, Yorkshire miners started picketing every Nottinghamshire pit, trying to get miners there to come out on strike also. But the NUM's backing the strike in Yorkshire only and the deal worked out between the unions whereby Yorkshire miners wouldn't picket Nottinghamshire in return for a "2 day strike" of Nottinghamshire miners until a ballot was held, demobilised pickets and allowed for the NCB and the government to use this most precious time to bring in 8.000 policemen. The following Monday the Nottinghamshire coalfields were under police control. This is how the NCB was enabled to keep 38 pits working!!!

This shows clearly that even if we are separating -in this article- the different aspects of the strike so as to analyse in detail the specific role of each bourgeois party (left, right, unions, police, media, NUM's counterinformation...) - and also for the sake of the clearness of our explanations - we must never forget that all these aspects are linked together organically, because they are determined by the same class reality, by the same need for maintaining the system of wage-slavery.

Each party can play a specific role, specific roles (repressive, conciliatory, civil, military, informative,..). But also each party, at any time, can play each role, all roles. For instance, the unions usually rely on the credit they have within the working class to put through their plans for austerity; as soon as the credit they have is melting away, they have to rely direct1y on their repressive capacities to continue to defend their interests and those of the capital. Many strikes have shown this, the unions in Eastern European countries (including Solidarnosc***) show this, and history has shown this. It is the class reality that determines their practice.

The NUM has been campaigning for "British coal", against pit closures, arguing that there were no "loss-making" pits. So workers shouldn't fight for their own class-interests, but should defend British coal, which comes down to defending the competitiveness of British coal against French, Belgian, Italian or Russian coal. The NUM's watchword "British coal!" synthesises the whole program of counter-revolution: accept to sacrifice yourself for the sake of the competitiveness of the national economy on the world market, and this logically will lead you to accept the sacrifice of your life to defend "your" bourgeoisie in the war that opposes you to other proletarians who are also sacrificing their lives for "their" bourgeoisie! In all countries, the bourgeoisie has been rationalising the steel, coal, cars,... production and this each time has required thousands of redundancies, speed-ups and wage-cuts. In France, in Italy and in Spain it has been the socialist governments that have been managing these measures of economic "purification"; each time they have had them accompanied by social measures (like extra training for workers or public works for young unemployed) trying to prevent workers' reactions against these attacks on their living-conditions.

The NUM, the NCB and the government are doing exactly this: they all three agree about the need for British coal to be of high quality and of low cost. But it is the NUM's specific role to get these productivity plans through (which include pit closures, whatever Scargill may say about it). In 1978 already, it was the NUM that put through the productivity deal in mines, through which bonus became a larger part of earnings, and so miners in richer areas, like Nottingham, earned up to L 100/week more than miners in poorer pits, like in Yorkshire or Scotland. This productivity deal is responsible for a lot of dissension amongst miners during today's strike.

Another of the NUM's keystones in its attacks on the strike is its propaganda about the need for a change of government. They're deviating the class opposition, between workers and bourgeoisie towards an opposition between the left and the right (this is also what all the fuss about Kadhafi is about). Apart from the productivity deal already mentioned, the Labour Party and the unions have shown on many occasions that they have nothing to begrudge the Conservatives for, on the contrary! Should we recall that when the Labour Party was in government, they managed to enforce the biggest proportional fall in the living standards of the working class since the beginning of the century; that, during their eleven years of rule, they closed 300 pits!!! Because of their influence on workers, their constant references to the cause and struggles of the working class, they are still more redoubtable enemies. Most of all, what the bourgeois class is aiming at, is that workers leave the grounds of autonomous class-struggle and abdicate in favour of bourgeois politics, i.e. that workers rely on bourgeois society and bourgeois parties rather than fight them! A change of government always constitutes an attack against the proletariat and its struggles, independently from which bourgeois fraction is coming to power. Just like when the bourgeois class was claiming a ballot on the strike, they didn't hope workers would reject the strike, but most of all, they wanted workers to place themselves from within capitalist society (unions, elections...).

On pickets

From the very beginning the development of the strike has been at stake in the organisation and action of pickets. Pickets are an essential feature of workers' struggles; they can become a real centre of struggle since they allow more easily for all most determined workers, independently from the sector they belong to, whether they are unemployed or not, to organise their actions. Pickets can destroy the walls of factories in so far as those are real barriers against our struggles.

The flying pickets set up in the beginning of the strike, proved to be very successful. Workers picketed indistinctly on all factories. The NUM soon realised that the only way to go against this was by submitting and at the same time transforming those pickets, i.e. by destroying them as a means to generalise and centralise the strike.

So they started denouncing pickets they did not control, they allowed money only to pickets they had organised, they started organising symbolic actions against scabs, mobilising thousands of strikers against a handful of scabs (who were not able to do any work in the mine anyway) while at the same time letting pass through many highly qualified workers (who did continue to work in the mine - maintenance and security) alleging they didn't belong to the NUM.

Picketing has descended into a ritual shoving of pickets against police; the struggle has become a show of clashes with cops, when the latter are sure to win because they are well prepared and well organised. Fellow-workers, instead of being solicited by pickets and being allowed to join in the struggle, are being transformed into mere supporters. The huge stocks of coal that pickets can use as an important arm (paralysing other factories, distribution of coal to other proletarians,...) were used by the NUM as a means to negotiate union solidarity from other factories, bargaining coal "for heating only"(!) against some act of "solidarity" (sometimes money, more often moral support!).

Union mass picketing has become a means to canalise workers' class anger into the deadlock of sterile confrontation with police. That's why Scargill had to justify certain acts of violence. He says he understands the violence miners use to defend themselves against police brutality (!); but when he denounces police violence and supports the miners defending themselves, it is only in the name of democracy, for the better sake of law and order. Each time miners have left this bourgeois ground of democracy, as they have on many occasions, and have started organising their violence, i.e. attacking police offensively, destroying State and NCB properties, then Scargill just like all other bourgeois denounced the vandals, the hooligans, the provocateurs, calling for police and justice to put a stop on this. Not only do unions claim efficient, well equipped police forces, not only do they militate for the constant improvement, i.e. the reinforcement of the whole judicial body, but all this, so they say, is for the sake of the working class. To turn each worker into a delator, into a potential cop watching his fellow-worker, denouncing each manifestation of insubordination: that's their ideal! They really are the watchdogs of capital!

On repression

In England, but even more so abroad, public opinion praises the commendable understanding that seems to govern social relations. According to public opinion (the sum of ideas of all citizens, of all individuals dispossessed of themselves and of their activities and conscience), social conflicts are rare in Britain, workers have strong unions, representative of their interests, negotiating around the clock for workers' sake, and even when workers have to come out on strike, they proceed decently, without violence, respecting law and order! And isn't the British "bobby" also a gentleman?

Here, just like everywhere else, when they stand up for their interests, workers have to confront the cannibalism of society, organised centrally within the State. Not only do workers have to confront the violence of the State, all fractions united, but they also find in front of them the world-wide coalition of all bourgeois states!

During this strike, the State has mobilised all its forces against the working class. All parties, all unions, all police forces, all media, all specially trained riot-squads are on their feet 24 hours a day, trying to get miners to go back to work. We have already explained the role played by the unions in this struggle. We now want to insist on the role of the police and the media.

In order to deny and negate the class-character of society and of all conflicts that shake this world violently, capital has to deform, mystify and obscure the reality of today's commodity relationships constantly. The dominant ideology - mediated by all existing information channels, TV, papers, conferences,... - is a materialisation in thought of the terror the bourgeoisie imposes in practice on its class-enemy. All media, claiming to be organs of information on objective reality, on actual facts, on concrete events, on statistical data, pretend to allow for a true appreciation of reality. In fact, they are nothing else but the adequate vehicle - medium - to reflect a mystified world from which all social antagonisms have been evacuated. But in order to make class-reality disappear from social consciousness, it is not enough for the bourgeoisie to simply describe reality from a non-class point of view (point of view of the dominating system), it also has to simply hide (by not talking about it, by destroying all elements relative to this aspect of reality) the facts of class-struggle, especially when this reality is becoming more and more obvious through the aggravation of class-antagonisms (for instance, the anticommunist nature of war, the communist nature of workers' struggles).

Not one day goes by without all TV broadcasts, all papers spitting their filthy propaganda on our class struggle. All the fuss about some scabs continuing to work in some mines, about miners in other regions going back to work, all the campaigns on legal action as far as the preservation of the holy "right to work" of some scabs is concerned, all the filth and lies poured day after day on proletarians' attempts to resist and organise themselves against police action, all the propaganda about the threat of this struggle on the fate of the poor, of old people, of children, of hospitals and schools, all this serves only one aim, making workers go back to work! In front of this, the only reasonable reaction of miners has been to beat up press and TV hyenas!

At the same time those very reasonable gentlemen spit on all our attempts to organise our struggle and to radicalise it, they also try to deviate it from its proper objectives and to confine it to a conflict between different bourgeois fractions. Incapable of recognising the reality of our struggle, they can only see and interpret it as the difficulties of the unions to control their "rank and file". They, time after time, try to present our struggle as a conflict between the left and the right, or even as a dispute between miners, between those who want to work and those who want to strike! For sure we can count on sociologists' and psychologists' commitment to bourgeois society to find even more subtle explanations for our strike and our aggressiveness. More recently, the media have tried to transform our strike by depicting it as a conflict between the East and the West (about the NUM getting money from Libya and the Soviet Union). So the media, independently from the journalists' will to pursue untiringly the phantom of objectivity (the point of view objectively bourgeois!) necessarily and harmoniously completes the repressive role of police and unions.

With the lessons of the strikes of 1972 and 1974, and of the strike-wave of 1979 followed by the unemployed's riots of 1981, still fresh in its mind, the ruling class has been able to develop its understanding of workers' struggle, i.e. to more clearly seize the real objectives of workers' struggle as well as the different means of achieving them. They've been able, mainly because the union is keeping a strong hold on this strike and preventing miners from organising efficiently against repression, to use to the full their whole apparatus of repression, which they've been developing since the struggles five years ago, including the involvement of army forces, the intervention of special trained, riot-squads, and the use of modern electronics in this class war. When social peace is in danger, the essential nature of democracy becomes clear: crushing the class-enemy! Is there a clearer image of the true nature of democracy, than this daily ritual of scabs using their right to work, trying to get into the mines escorted by a few hundreds of riot police!!!

Police systematically have been establishing precise lists of all strikers (names, addresses, phone numbers, car numbers,...) so as to be able to phonetap miners and identify the more militant among them, to identify cars moving around the mining areas in the early morning hours and to break into miners' houses, knowing exactly who to find, who's been staying overnight, so as to arrest pre-emptively the more radical miners.

Each time workers have been arrested (7O00 of them have been since the beginning of the strike), they have been sentenced to pay huge fines in case they ever got caught again on picket lines. This way, the State is sure miners will think twice before joining picket lines again.

On top of that, the State has taken hostages amongst the strikers, imprisoning those miners who were particularly isolated from their fellow-workers, mainly because they've been caught in one of the many minoritarian and sometimes individual sabotage actions. Strikers have been unable, except for some specific cases, to counteract this and to react to the imprisonment of fellow-workers.

The State has used cavalry charges by club wielding mounted police, they've brought in riot-squads set up after the inner city riots, they've set up road blocks to prevent miners from leaving their home areas - for any reason! They have intimidated, beaten up and arrested miners trying to make their way to picket lines, they've imposed a military siege on many pit areas, cordoning off coalfields. At night, they've been going into pubs to arrest miners.

Should we add the "agents provocateurs", the informers they have used, the video cameras to film pickets and identify people later on, should we mention that they have "handcuffed, photographed and locked up miners for twenty-four hours, merely for being on a picket line"? (Sunday Times) This strike shows that democracy means to beat up strikers, to starve them, to kill them!

Perspectives for this struggle: the need for workers' autonomy!

We have already said that the overall direction of the strike remains firmly in the hands of the NUM. In the 1979 steel strike workers tried to picket in spite of the unions and they sometimes succeeded (the violent picketing at Hadfields against the dispensation issued by Bill Sirs exempting Hadfields from the strike!). Even four years ago, in February '81, Welsh miners, and also miners in Kent and in Scotland, decided to ignore Scargill's appeal for a return to work when they came out as soon as they had heard about the plans to shut down twenty pits. When the strike collapsed a few days later (Scargill sabotaging all generalisation attempts, telling Yorkshire miners he had received "assurances" from the NCB) angry Kent miners went to the NUM headquarters in London, and Scargill needed police protection to get in.

In today's miners' strike, since the very beginning workers have been placing all their faith in the actions of the NUM and of other unions to help them in their efforts to spread the strike. The whole episode of the NACODS "mobilisation" about getting paid for crossing picket-lines' illustrates just this when workers don't take into their own hands the organisation of their struggles, they remain at the mercy of the unions' intrigues. When the NACODS finally cancelled its strike threat, many miners became discouraged and even more passive. If the strike had been organised more actively by miners, like during the first few weeks, the scabs from the NACODS would never have been allowed to cross picket lines in the first place!

All calculations about how to use for one's own interests the contradictions between different bourgeois parties always fail to becomes true: on the contrary, they disorganise! When workers don't organise, don't act for themselves, directly against all bourgeois fractions, the only thing that's left for them to do is to implore the "aid" of humanists, democrats, progressists, leftists, Socialists and Communists (!) to protect them from the all-out State repression. Capital will be merciful towards its subjects but only on the condition that democracy reigns again, i.e. that workers, after having the most radical amongst them being terminated, "accept" to return to work for lower wages. Our class has witnessed this scenario all throughout the long history of its struggles.

In spite of the NUM' control on the strike, workers, to some extent, have been organising actions that the unions disavowed, especially as far as sabotage actions and attacks on police are concerned. The extent these actions have taken in recent months (and this will probably continue) indicates a growing dissatisfaction with the way the strike is going:

- there have been full scale riots, with arson attacks and with barricades being set up;

- there were attacks on police stations (at Hemsworth, Maltby, Armthorpe, Plexborough, Garv, Betws, Easington); during the Fitwilliam riot workers laid siege to a Police station to prevent police from arresting a miner, they later on destroyed NCB offices.

- there have been organised attempts to bypass the unions' set piece mass picketing, more particularly by workers ambushing police in guerrilla style operations (Silverwood pit near Rotherham)

- scabs have been efficiently intimidated, terrorised!

- on many occasions, there has been organised sabotage, ignoring union pleas to respect private and State property! "Vandals caused an estimated 250,000 damage at NCB offices at Cadeby, St.Yorkshire" while police didn't intervene "because of violence from pickets at Cadeby colliery opposite and other vandalism by strikers" (The Times, 20/11/84). In Liverpool, a transport company has been attacked! Pits have been flooded by miners (making them inexploitable for a long, long time, like Polkemmet pit in Scotland).

- the NCB has been reporting on "pickets wearing paramilitary uniform, building barricades and stoning any vehicle passing through". "Hit squads" have caused vast amounts of damage.

So miners have been trying on many occasions to organise themselves against the NCB, against police, but without ever attacking the NUM; actions have been organised parallelly to NUM's actions, never against them. That is the main reason why these actions have remained isolated, never have been centralised, in spite of their multiplication in recent months. This is criminal for the future of the strike, because it means the NUM will be able to remain in control of the struggle, "tolerating" these violent actions!

The future of the strike depends on the most militant workers' capacity to clearly designate the NUM, like all unions, as a class enemy and to take into their own hands the conduct of the struggle, i.e. to give clear directives, to designate clear objectives to strikers. This is essential, especially today, when more and more miners are getting pissed off about the way the strike is going, and need more than ever a clear centre of direction, of struggle. All proletarian efforts and actions must not remain scattered, and isolated (making it more easy for the unions and police to repress them and, by their filthy propaganda, to isolate them even further) but have to be united, centralised into one clear direction of confrontation with the whole State (unions, bosses, Labour, government and all bourgeois parties) and of generalisation of the struggle to all workers!

There is no need for waiting for all miners to agree on the true nature of the NUM; it is now that the most radical workers must organise themselves, on a national level, against the unions, and become a centre of struggle. All the proletarian actions we have mentioned have been assumed and organised by workers or groups of workers, in spite of the other miners' opinions about it! Those actions have been assumed by the most determined workers, because they are indispensable to the development of the strike. Today's development of the strike requires more than ever the autonomous organisation of strikers and the centralisation of all actions. This will also be a decisive condition for workers from other sectors to join the struggle.

Note

*** Solidarnosc has expressed its solidarity (!) with the miners' strike by sending the following message to the Polish government denouncing the exportation of Polish scab coal to Britain: "The conquest of foreign markets through the practice of competitive prices, i.e. prices below world market prices, is a denial of the Jastrzebic agreement, where it has been admitted that coal is a national source of wealth which has to be exploited in a rational manner. With such prices, investments in the coal industry can only increase the deficit of our national economy. Only bad capitalists (sic!) and dictators act like this!" (Labour Focus, vol.7, No 2,London).

"What Marx and Lenin emphasised about the state - that despite the formal democracy that it professes, its organisation makes it unsuited to serve as an instrument for proletarian revolution - applies equally to the trade-union organisations. Their counter-revolutionary strength cannot be destroyed or diminished by a change in personnel, by the replacement of reactionary leaders with left-wing or revolutionary people." (Gorter, p.6 of "Oppositionist" edition)


 


 


CM2.1 March 1985 : The miners' struggle: the need for autonomous organization against the unions