Unlike Margaret Thatcher, miners believed in society
9 April 2013
Miners were the ‘enemy within’. Their communities were targeted for destruction. If there is rejoicing at her death, bear this in mind
In 1984 Britain had 186 working coalmines and approximately 170,000 coalminers. Today we have four coalmines and around 2,000 miners. They lived in close-knit communities built around and based on employment at the local colliery. Miners were a hardy race of people who faced constant danger in the cause of mining coal but underneath that they were caring, sensitive individuals with a commitment to the communities in which they lived. They looked after their old and young as well as those who were ill or infirm.
They built and provided their own welfare facilities and, well before today’s welfare state was built, miners created their own welfare systems to alleviate hardship. They rallied around each other when times were hard. They recognised the need for cohesion when at any time disaster could strike a family unit or indeed a whole community. The latest pit to close, Maltby in Yorkshire, still has a death and general purpose fund to help fellow miners and their families in times of hardship. In short, miners believed in society.
These values were the exact opposite of those Margaret Thatcher espoused. For miners, greed was a destructive force, not a force for good. From the valleys of Wales to the far reaches of Scotland, miners were, by and large, socialists by nature but this was tempered by strong Christian beliefs. Thatcher’s threat to butcher the mining industry, destroy the fabric of mining communities and in particular the trade union to which miners had a bond of loyalty, was met with the fiercest resistance any government has met in peacetime.
For those miners and their families to be referred to as the “enemy within” by Thatcher was something they would never forgive and, if there is rejoicing at her death in those communities she set out to destroy, it can only be understood against this background.
Miners had always known that eventually any of the colleries would close and were always prepared to accept that as a fact of life and find employment somewhere else within the industry, but Thatcher’s attack was wholesale. It was seen for what it was, nothing to do with economics, but purely an attempt to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers by wiping out the entire industry.
Thatcher exposed the sharp edges of class division in Britain and the strike of 1984/5 was as much a clash of values as it was about pit closures. Arthur Scargill and the miners represented the only opposition to the prime minister and her destructive and divisive values and, after the strike, the way was open for the most aggressive neoliberal policies. Thatcher and Reagan went on to facilitate a colossal transfer of wealth from poor to rich, leading to the world economic crash we now witness.
Thatcher was a divisive woman who created discord, not harmony.