25 years on….what if the miners had won?
Today is the 25th anniversary of the defeat of the miners strike by the Thatcher government. By a cruel twist of fate it is also a sad day in the history of the Labour Party as Michael Foot has passed away; the two events remind us of an era of historic defeats that afflicted not just Labour as a Party but also the class it was formed to give a political voice too.
In the case of the miners it is worth dwelling on the consequences of the historic defeat inflicted on them by the Thatcher government. What would have happened if things had been different the dispute had been won by the NUM? It’s tempting to conclude not alot in the grander scheme of things; communities would have been better protected and many peoples lives would have been different for the better but its hard not to see the Thatcher government having remained in place, at least in the medium term.
Not only had Thatcher just received a fresh democratic mandate but Labour was divided and in disarray. Furthermore, the strike was defensive in character; the major industrial battles having already been fought and lost in the 1970’s. So, while Thatcher would have been weakened; her government would have survived at least until the next election.
No doubt the reforms she wanted would have been stalled; however, I doubt they would have been entirely halted. The edge would have been taken off as the government would have had to avoid another major industrial conflict. However, had some other major industrial conflict occurred and this time; emboldened and radicalised by the NUM’s victory the union movement would have probably have been more supportive as a whole than they were of the NUM. If this had happened a Labour government may well have resulted and the entirety of history would have changed.
It’s tempting to gauge the miners strike purely in terms of the consequences it had for the communities it decimated however, set in the context of the decline of organised labour as a fighting force it had much broader implications. This decline has in many real ways set the scene for the current economic malaise we suffer from; depressing wages (and conditions) and, of course, a priori increasing the debt burden. Climbing out of this crisis will not be achieved through placing greater burdens on the shoulders of those who have already suffered enough. Labour would do well to remember that….