Opposite Reaction

The TARDIS Eruditorum blog recently took the opportunity to connect ‘The Caves of Androzani‘ with the 1984-85 Miner’s Strike.  In the process, Philip Sandifer (the author of the blog) writes:

…Arthur Scargill, head of the NUM, made an egregious political miscalculation. Faced with an accelerated schedule for closing the pits and afraid that he’d lose the vote, Scargill declined to submit the strike to a national vote. This was against NUM rules and allowed Thatcher to delegitimize the strike, which she wasted no time doing, comparing striking miners to Argentina in the Falklands. 


The propaganda war, combined with Scargill’s inept politicking, kept the strike from gaining broad support with the public, and it ended in failure a year later, leaving the mining industry and union a shadow of its former self. 

Sandifer mentions police savagery and also the wholesale media propaganda assault against the NUM (though he talks about the ‘redtops’, as though it was a purely tabloid phenomenon).  Ultimately, however, he seems to imply a plague upon both Thatcher’s and Scargill’s houses.

In the various permutations that this view takes, the heroic resistance of 150,000 workers and their families over a year of struggle is always deemed to have been overshadowed by the lack of a formal vote on it.  Here’s a vital corrective to such apparently reasonable ‘even-handedness’, courtesy of Paul Foot in The Vote: How It was Won and How it Was Undermined:

Scargill had failed to win three strike ballots because of the divisions among miners caused by the incentive agreements that had been pushed through by the employers in spite of a ballot vote against them.  The ballot results left NUM leadership with the agonizing prospect that pits could be closed piecemeal, one by one, or two by two, and that the union would be prevented by hostile ballot results from responding.  This was the background to the confrontation that was started by the closure, without consultation, and in defiance of all agreements, of Cottonwood colliery in Yorkshire.  Encouraged by the executive, and by a wave of flying pickets from the threatened pits, strike after strike led very quickly to a massive national confrontation, in which pretty well all the pits in Yorkshire, Scotland, Wales and most of the Midlands were on strike, leaving only traditionally less militant areas, Nottinghamshire and Leicesterhsire, at work. 

To those who bleated, ‘I wish Scargill had had a ballot’, there was a prompt reply: ‘Suppose he had had a ballot and lost it – what then?’  Were the miners leaders expected to stand aside while the Government and its newly appointed Coal Board laid waste to the British coal industry?  The truth was that actions spoke louder than ballots.  The sheer size and breathtaking solidarity of the mass strike was the fact, and the suggestion that the action should have been put at risk by a ballot was an argument that could be sustained only by the enemies of the miners’ union.  Very soon, moreover, the democratic potential of the miners’ strike was every bit as obvious as it had been in 1921 and 1926, if not more so.

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