[Marxism] Protectionism, British mine workers, and air traffic controllers II - how not defending the working class became expensive for Britain

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Tue Feb 10 21:11:51 MST 2004


(Ian drew my attention to this)

Two decades after the miners' strike, the full costs of the destruction of
the coal industry are only now becoming clear

Dave Feickert
Wednesday February 11, 2004
The Guardian

Never has any community of working people contributed so much to their
country and yet been so badly treated. Never has there been such a wilful
destruction of so many individual communities, of such a vast amount of
productive public capital, or of a nation's strategic energy resource.

Perhaps the real measure of the miners' sacrifice is this: since records
were first kept in 1850, more than 100,000 of them have been killed at
work. Countless others were injured or struck down by disease, with the
present generation only now being compensated for some of those diseases -
bronchitis and emphysema. Imagine what it must have been like to have had
one of those men as a son, husband or father. Now, at the point when
technology can prevent such destruction, that selfsame technology is being
removed from the few remaining pits.

On the 20th anniversary of the start of the miners' strike three key
points need to be understood. First, on energy policy: instead of being
the only European Union country that is self-sufficient in energy and a
net oil exporter, in a few years we will join the others in their energy
dependency. This time the UK will be at the end of the gas and oil
pipelines from Russia, central Asia, Algeria and the Gulf. Windfarms,
however welcome, will not save us.

Last year's energy white paper acknowledged this: "By 2020 we are likely
to be importing around three-quarters of our energy needs. And by that
time half the world's gas and oil will be coming from countries that are
currently perceived as relatively unstable, either in political or
economic terms." There are no major plans to build clean coal stations,
but that is what Spencer Abraham, the US energy secretary, advised George
Bush and Tony Blair in July 2003.

Second, the economic and social costs of destroying the British coal
industry have been huge - at least £28bn. This is nearly half of the North
Sea tax revenues of £60bn collected since 1985. Unless further support is
forthcoming, the horrendous damage to mining communities will take at
least two generations to heal, notwithstanding the work of the Coalfields
Regeneration Trust and the Coalfield Communities Campaign.

Third, the miners' strike could not have taken shape in the way it did in
any other EU country. It would have been negotiated to a settlement firmly
within the restructuring aid framework of the European Coal and Steel
Community treaty, the founding treaty of the European economic and social
model. Instead, in Britain we had the application of 19th-century
industrial relations to an industry that was at a technological watershed.

Arthur Scargill, the miners' leader, was right about two things in
particular: the huge scale of the redundancy and closure programme, and
the inability of the consultation procedures within the industry to handle
the issue. Restructuring had to be collectively bargained as well, but
neither the National Coal Board (NCB) nor the government wanted to
negotiate the substantive issues.

Scargill was right by instinct, but also because a group of us from
Bradford University had done the research. In 1982 we showed the National
Union of Mineworkers executive that automated, heavy-duty technology would
produce a productivity explosion. If the market for coal remained the
same, this would lead in the worst case to the loss of more than 165,000
jobs, or 74% of the 1981 pit workforce of 225,000. The first to go would
be the coalfields of Scotland, the north-east, Kent and south Wales, which
had received little investment. As Nelson Mandela observed with his
customary frankness at an international mineworkers' conference in
Johannesburg in 1992: "Scargill and the NUM have been vilified for trying
to defend their members."

At the famous meeting of March 6 1984, James Cowan, NCB deputy chairman,
admitted only reluctantly that around 20 pits and 21,000 jobs would be
hit. Scargill's initial figure of 70,000 job losses was attacked as
scaremongering. Only in her 1993 memoirs could Mrs Thatcher admit the
truth. Ian MacGregor, NCB chairman, had told her in September 1983 that he
wanted to cut 64,000 jobs in three years and extend the redundancy scheme
to include miners under 50.

The huge hi-tech Selby coalfield is due to close by June this year. Then
there will be fewer than 5,000 miners working in Britain's pits. While the
second phase of pit closures arose in the 1990s from market displacement -
mainly by the new, privatised gas power stations - the majority of job
losses had earlier flowed from the productivity revolution. To illustrate
this point: just one hi-tech coalface, at Kellingley colliery in
Yorkshire, was producing 42,000 tonnes a week in 2003, almost as much as
the 46,000 tonnes a week the whole pit was producing in 1983 from six
faces, with six times as many men.

Many have argued that the miners' strike could have been settled well
before that terrible year had run its course. This was made immensely
difficult because the NCB would not negotiate. True, the NUM was forced
into tactical options that made matters worse. And a civil war fought
against the mining communities generated such pressure that an internal
civil war broke out inside the union, at a time when members in the
Midlands did not understand that their jobs were at risk.

There was always another way. The union had tabled a draft technology
agreement in 1983. The NCB rejected it as "inappropriate". When NUM
negotiators raised this in 1984 they were accused of moving the goalposts.
A new technology agreement would have cut working hours and allowed older
men to leave, to be replaced by their unemployed sons. Anywhere else in
Europe it would have been seized upon as a basis for settlement. The
October 1984 agreement with the pit deputies' union, Nacods, added an
independent review body to the colliery review procedure. But it dealt
with consequences, not causes, and was not binding.

Britain suffered a needless civil war and the mining communities were
destroyed. Many thousands of managers and breakaway UDM members lost their
jobs. And now the country is about to lose one of its founding industries,
just as it is on the point of being modernised.

· Dave Feickert was the TUC's Brussels officer from 1993-2003, and NUM
national research officer from 1983-93

d.feickert at ntlworld.com

If you think Marx's analysis of the capitalistic ratio of surplus-value is a
joke, just have a read of this SWP story how, even although the mine work
force was reduced to 8,000 workers, UK Coal management tried to get mine
workers to work 12 hour shifts:
http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/1764/sw176435.htm . This story would have
been even more persuasive with an analysis of how the net revenue from sale
of coal output was actually appropriated and distributed. If you oppose
particular capitalist decisions, it doesn't have to be out of Marxist duty
to the working class, it could just be that those decisions were terrible
from any macr-economic point of view - i.e., on the ground that destroying a
particular industry because it did not create enough private profits for
some disadvantaged a nation's economy as a whole. A sexy story is one thing,
but if you have to work 12-hour shifts and have no other option of work, may
it's not so sexy anymore, and, to be sure, once you've worked your twelve
hour shift, sex is probably the last thing on your mind.

Jurriaan











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