[Marxism] Protectionism, British mine workers, and air traffic controllers

Len Walsingham lha.walsingham at btopenworld.com
Thu Feb 5 10:13:36 MST 2004


Brian Shannon:
Reagan fired the striking workers and the labor movement played dead. I
have often thought that the leaders were bought off (and I do mean
bribed) and the lower echelons and rank-and-file workers were so
startled by their leaders capitulation that they were unable to respond.

LW:
	Apart from the 'Ridley Report', drafted by Nicholas Ridley, a
Tory Cabinet member, and quoted in the Economist as someone already
said, the labour movement had formally adopted 'New Realism' (open
support for business/capitalist policies) at the 1983 TUC. The British
Labour movement had always been reformist but this was a new, qualitive
departure in the context of neo-liberalism. To his credit Arthur
Scargill saw the significance of this in a lecture he gave to the South
Wales miners. Plus the Labour Party was changing under the leadership of
Neil Kinnock. Kinnock would not and could not go as far as Blair but did
far more damage than he is given credit for in hollowing out the Labour
Party. Without his work Blair would have not found it so easy.

	With 'New Realism' in place; the legal constraints on unions
especially with regard to solidarity action (called 'secondary action'
in legal terms) support from the organised movement was not going to
happen. By the 1984 TUC when the miners got plenty of hot air but no
concrete action the strike should have been called off IMO. It could not
be won and would only needlessly weaken the movement. But there was a
belief among the miners and others that with a harsh winter and
declining coal stocks that economic power would win the day. It might
have done in 'ordinary circumstances' but this had become a 'who rules?'
question. What they hadn't realised were the measures the government put
in place to ensure there would be no power cuts. A few years ago there
was a TV programme called 'The Men Who Kept the Lights On' where those
who did it like Marshall of the Central Electricity Generating Board
(CEGB) and other power engineers candidly revealed how and why it was
done. Nuclear Power stations were run beyond their safety periods and
all sorts of things. Some of these men saw this politically as a
struggle for the preservation of order and they knew which side they
wanted to win (the Government).

	This fitted with the Government's strategy which did not want a
left inclined union to have a hold on the nations power supply. Power
workers and Electricians had already been taken out by other means.

	On bribery: there are more ways of killing a cat than drowning
it in cream. It may be so crude in some cases; others are rewarded with
sinecures and easy lives. But if you subscribe to 'New Realism' then
capitalist logic is the only way 'there is no alternative'. You might
even believe, like Noske and Schiedeman, that 'someone has to be the
bloodhound'. When I once accused some union officials of being 'corrupt'
they seemed to think that corruption was attache cases full of bundles
of bank notes and so, because no such cases were present, they were not
guilty. However, corruption is always 'distortion of purpose' and they
were guilty as charged.

Brian Shannon:
However, the question I want to pose regarding the British mine workers
is
this: supposing the mine workers were threatened with the importation of
cheaper coal from, let us say, West Virginia or the Ruhr (this is
fiction, of course--I have no idea whether it would be cheaper or not)
or elsewhere. Is it in the interests of labor generally to protect the
British mineworkers? Or do they take the view of another person on this
list who argues that only the workers in the foreign coal industry can
take this position?

LW:
	Juriaann has really hit the nail on the head in a couple of his
recent contributions. But the point I'd make here is that it was not
about economics or protectionism but politics. British miners used to
produce the cheapest deep-mined coal in the world anyway. The Tories
used the argument that the pits were 'uneconomic' and this was an old
industry that was part of the past. This was not true but some on the
left, including the far left, agreed with this view to one extent or
another. Another error at the time was to say that there should have
been a ballot before the strike took place and this is what encouraged
the so-called Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), which were the main
scabs. But as Mick McGahey (NUM Vice President) said at the time to have
held a ballot would have allowed people to vote away other peoples jobs:
the NCB (National Coal Board) had closed Cortonwood Colliery and the
chips were down.

	The trade union movement was defeated and the Labour Party was
shifting further to the right by the day. This whole debilitating
experience is still with us. I do not support the analysis of groups
like the SWP and Socialist Appeal who say there has been a turn on the
industrial front, as evidenced by lefties being elected to union
executives and some unofficial industrial action. These things have been
inflated well beyond their actual significance and the 'turn' policy
exists to suit these groups own needs. We are in a dire situation and
there is a lot of work to do to overcome it.

Len






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