Tagged: Thatcher government

Thatcher v Miners : tories continue to rewrite history

THE trauma of the miners’ strike would have been avoided if Arthur Scargill had pursued “partnership” with the Government, a minister claimed today (Tuesday) – to howls of disbelief.

Matt Hancock, a business minister – answering an historic Commons debate – argued the real “betrayal” was the miners’ leader refusal to ballot NUM members before the strike.

And he told MPs: “It was a difficult process and it could have been done far better through partnership, rather than through an adversarial nature.”

The minister also argued that the pit closure programme which sparked the bitter 1984-85 dispute had paved the way for economic success in the decades since.

He said:

“The transition of an economy dominated by outdated heavy industry into a modern service-based economy was necessary and is the basis of the nation’s prosperity now – and that is not much disputed these days.”

> I’d say it’s very much disputed, just not by politicians with their heads up their arses.

The comments provoked angry Labour shouts during a three-hour debate into fresh evidence about the Thatcher Government’s conduct in the 1980s

Incredibly, Labour’s motion passed, after the Coalition failed to oppose it – despite it stating the 1980s Government “misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics”.

 Labour launched a ‘Justice for the Coalfields’ campaign after the release of revelatory secret papers about the strike, under the 30-year rule, at the start of this year.

Ministers were revealed to be aware that Ian MacGregor, the National Coal Board (NCB) chief, was plotting to close 75 pits, at the cost of 65,000 jobs – not the 20 that ministers and the NCB claimed.

The papers showed that Margaret Thatcher considered deploying troops during the strike, by declaring a state of emergency.

And MI5 was used to put union officials suspected of smuggling suitcases full of money donated by the Soviet Union under surveillance.

The debate heard passionate stories about the impact of the strike – both on the people affected at the time and on the “devastated” communities left behind.

Kevan Jones (North Durham) said: “It was vindictive and communities like mine are still suffering today.”

Roberta Blackman-Woods (Durham City) said, of the Government: “They have no idea of the devastation in these communities – and they are doing it again by cutting the funds to local government.”

Pat Glass (North West Durham) said: “The scars of 1984-85 are still there and they won’t be healed until all this is publicly exposed.”

And Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) – a miner himself in the 1980s, when a police officer “spat in my face” – said Lady Thatcher and other ministers had “lied from that despatch box”.

But John Redwood, the head of Lady Thatcher’s policy unit at the time, said he advised her not to use the Army, adding: “She said ‘Of course it won’t be’ – and it wasn’t”.

Source –  Northern Echo,  28 Oct 2014

Former Miners march on Parliament over 1984 strike

Former miners from the region will march on Parliament today (Tuesday, October 28) to demand more support for coalfield communities.

The protest comes as MPs debate the release of 1984 Cabinet papers which allegedly showed that the Government at the time misled the public about the extent of pit closures and tried to influence tactics used by police dealing with picketers.

Members from organisations including the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) and National Union of MineworkersYorkshire Area will travel to London to take part in a rally outside the House of Commons.

Dave Hopper, DMA secretary, said the impact of the pit closures was still being felt 30 years later.

“It is now only right that Parliament recognises just how badly ministers at the time treated the coalfield communities and acknowledges the full scale of the economic legacy of the pit closure programme,” he said.

The problems in the former coalfields are horrendous and made worse by the current Coalition Government’s policies.”

Parliament will debate a motion put forward by Labour which calls on the Commons to acknowledge the evidence that the Thatcher Government “misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics”.

It also urges Parliament to recognise the “economic legacy” of the pit closure programme in coalfield communities and back continued regeneration and support for areas affected.

Miners also want a full investigation into the so-called Battle of Orgreave, which saw brutal picket line clashes between police and union members, including many from the North-East.

What happened at Orgreave 30 years ago was a black day in South Yorkshire,” said Mr Hopper.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission needs to get its act together. If they can’t or won’t undertake a proper investigation, then Labour has said the Government should consider initiating a swift, independent review along the lines of the Ellison Review.”

Cabinet papers from 1984, released earlier this year under the 30-year rule, revealed Government plans to shut 75 mines over three years. The government and National Coal Board said at the time they wanted to close just 20.

Source –  Durham Times, 28 Oct 2014

Failure to back Miners’ Strike strike weakened union movement, says miners’ leader

Labour Party leaders and union chiefs who did not support the miners’ strike in the 1980s helped weaken the movement, a miners’ leader says.

Thousands of people will flock to Durham City on Saturday (July 12) for the 130th Durham Miners’ Gala, which marks 30 years since the start of the bitter dispute.

In his programme notes, Dave Hopper, general secretary of Gala organisers the Durham Miners’Association, says declassified documents reveal that the Thatcher Government was determined “to butcher the coalfields and smash the National Union of Mineworkers.

He praises politicians and unions who supported the strike.

But he continues:“At the same time, these revelations should shame those trade unions and Labour Party leaders who did not support our strike.

“Those who refused to come to our aid bear a huge responsibility, not just for our defeat, but for weakening the whole trade union movement.

“They will be remembered in the former coalfield of Britain just as we remember those so-called leaders who betrayed the 1926 General Strike.

“The refusal of New Labour, during 13 years of government, to repeal the anti-trade union legislation, which was used to defeat us, only compounds their shame.”

 Mr Hopper goes on to say that the “lack of a radical alternative” is turning hundreds of thousands of people off politics and that he believes Labour would regain support if it campaigned “with passion and commitment”to reverse privatisation.

Five new banners will be on display at the Gala – Fenhall Drift Mine, Lanchester; St Hilda Colliery, South Shields; New Brancepeth Colliery, County Durham; a UNITE Community Membership Banner and West Rainton Primary School’s Adventure Pit banner.

The parade through the city to the racecourse will start at about 8.30am.

There will be a funfair, various stalls and entertainment, including folk singer Benny Graham, on the field throughout the day.

Speeches will be made between 12.15pm and 2.30pm.

The speakers are Bolsover Labour MP Dennis Skinner, Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, Prison Officers Association general secretary Steve Gillan, NUT general secretary Christine Blower, and Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF.

Mr Hopper says Labour leader Ed Miliband was “sounded out” about attending the Gala, but nothing had been heard from him.

The blessing of banners service in Durham Cathedral starts at 3pm.

Delegations from Germany, Ukraine and Ireland are expected to attend.

Details, including events marking the strike anniversary, are at http://www.durhamminers.org

Source –  Durham Times,  10 July 2014

Miners’ Strike 30th anniversary reunion

A reunion aims to bring together former picketing pitmen as they remember the strike 30 years on.

 Durham Miners’ Association is inviting its friends and supporters, particularly those who took part in the industrial action, to gather at its headquarters in Red Hill, Durham, to “renew old friendships and celebrate the spirit that endured a year long battle”.

The gathering will be held on Saturday.

Three decades on, the hostilities generated between the miners and the authorities remain an issue.

Its general secretary Dave Hopper said: “The recent release of the Thatcher Government’s Cabinet papers has exposed the falsehoods and deceit used to defeat the miners’ strike of 1984/85.

“Now everyone knows that Thatcher deliberately lied about the full extent of her pit closure programme and was so determined to butcher the coal industry and smash the National Union of Mineworkers that she was even preparing to use the army to break the strike.

“None of this, of course, will shock our mining communities, which fought so bravely to resist the Tory onslaught.

“We thank those unions and members of the labour movement and all who gave us unstinting and invaluable help.

“At the same time, these revelations should shame those trade union and Labour Party leaders who did not support our cause.

“Those who refused to come to our aid bear a huge responsibility, not just for our defeat, but also for weakening the whole trade union movement.

“They will be remembered in the former coalfields of Britain just as we remember those so-called leaders who betrayed the 1926 General Strike.

“The refusal of ‘New Labour’, during 13 years of government, to repeal the anti-trade union legislation, which was used to defeat us, only compounds their shame.

“Now we have to fight, with a weakened trade union movement, against draconian Tory-Liberal austerity measures which are impoverishing working people while the rich, who caused the economic crisis, have doubled their wealth since 2008.

“We need the fighting spirit which sustained us through that year-long strike more than ever because the fight for our communities which started in 1984 is still ongoing.

“I hope everyone will come on Saturday 21st and have a great time.”

The event will include refreshments and folk music performances, with a marquee to be set up in the grounds of the association’s base.

For more details visit http://www.durhamminers.org

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  19 June 2014

Wearside MP demands the Government apologise over the Miners’ Strike tactics

MP Sharon Hodgson has called on Ministers to apologise for the Government’s treatment of striking miners during 1984/5 dispute.

The Washington & Sunderland West MP  has joined a new campaign to seek an apology from senior politicians.

The ‘Justice for the Coalfields’ campaign has been launched after the release of previously-confidential cabinet papers revealing that the Thatcher Government had a secret plan to close 75 pits at the cost of some 65,000 jobs, sought to influence police tactics to escalate the dispute, and actively considered deploying the Army to defeat the miners and unions.

Mrs Hodgson has joined colleagues in writing to Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude demanding a formal apology from Ministers for the actions of the Government during the time of the strike, and for the release of all information on collusion between the Government and the police at the time, particularly around the Battle of Orgreave, the pitched battle between miners and police in South Yorkshire in 1984.

Mrs Hodgson said: “The Miners’ Strikes may be a distant memory for some, but the wounds are still raw for many people around here, with communities and families torn apart.

“It was no surprise when these Cabinet papers showed that the Government had been lying about its plans for widespread closure and the use of force against striking miners, but that doesn’t let them off the hook. The very least that coalfield communities deserve is an official apology and complete transparency from the Government about the secret plans being made at the time. Any less would just be one more insult.”

> All very nice, although I cant help feeling they’ve been all respectful and waited until Thatcher died before raising the point.

But what I’d really like to see is a few Labour MPs – especially North East ones – getting equally worked up about what is happening right now. Or do we have to wait another 30 years until they get around to that ?

Source – Sunderland Echo  29 Jan 2014

How the UK government hid 1 million jobless from unemployment figures

This is a few months old, but well worth reprising…

One of the purported achievements of the Coalition government’s disastrous economic policy of austerity, has been the unemployment figures.  Pundits say that at 7.8% (2.51m) they are nothing to shout about but not the disastrous rates seen in states such as Greece (26.9%) or Spain (26.3%). In reality, the unemployment rate is more than double this in many areas, while those in employment are facing ever worsening conditions to retain their non-jobs.

We have the Thatcher government to thank for the majority of the statistical trickery which currently renders the government released unemployment figures redundant.  Prior to 1979, the unemployment rate was anyone registered as unemployed, this was converted to a percentage of the total workforce and that was the published unemployment rate.  Then some changes came in:

  1. Redefining Unemployment:  originally defined as those ‘registered’ unemployed, changed to only count ‘claimants’ – this obviously reduced the number greatly as many unemployed people do not, for various reasons, claim benefits.
  2. Cutting Benefit Entitlements: By making changes to the benefit system (who is eligible and not) the government can magic away unemployment numbers by simply removing eligibility for benefits.  If the person cannot claim, they are not classed as unemployed.
  3. Training Schemes & Work Programmes: the conservative government of the 80’s began to double count those in training & work programmes.  First, they excluded them from the unemployed figures, then they added them to the total workforce figures – this means that simply by recruiting people into a work programme, the government has reduced the unemployment figures.  Prior to Thatcher, these schemes were not counted as employment.

The Thatcher government was able to show a drop in unemployment of 550,000 in July 1986, and 668,000 in 1989 by transferring those unemployed into work programmes.  They also kept an average 90,000 unemployed under 18 year olds off the books by making them ineligible to claim benefits.

Sadly, none of these changes have since been reversed, giving the UK public a much skewed view of unemployment and underemployment.  If we look at the research prepared by other bodies without such downright deceitful exemptions, we reveal a more realistic picture of the economic woe being meted out across the country.

A study put together by Sheffield University last year set out to establish the real level of unemployment in the UK, given that there has been little change in the published unemployment statistic, we can suppose they still hold relatively true.  The study found:

  • For Britain as a whole in April 2012, the new figures point to more than 3.4 million unemployed. This compares to just 1.5 million on the claimant count and 2.5 million according to the Labour Force Survey – the government’s two official measures of unemployment. The difference is attributable to extensive hidden unemployment.
  • An estimated 900,000 unemployed have been diverted onto incapacity benefits. These are men and women with health problems who claim incapacity benefits instead of unemployment benefits. They do not represent fraudulent claims.
  • Hidden unemployment is disproportionately concentrated in the weakest local economies, where claimant unemployment is already highest. The effect has been to mask the true scale of labour market disparities between the best and worst parts of the country.
  • In the worst affected districts, the real rate of unemployment is often around 15 per cent. Knowsley in Merseyside tops the list with a real rate of unemployment estimated at 16.8 per cent.
  • The older industrial areas of the Midlands, the North, Scotland and Wales mostly have the highest rates of unemployment. In large parts of the south of England the rate is still only 3-4 per cent.
  • Comparisons with similar data for earlier years shows that Britain was still a long way off full employment before the 2008/9 recession. Full employment is now still further away and the real rate of unemployment is higher than at any time since 1997.
  • The report casts serious doubt on the likely impact of the Coalition government’s reforms, notably the Work Programme and Universal Credit, which are founded on the assumption that unemployment can be brought down by encouraging the unemployed to find work. The evidence points to large and continuing shortfalls in job opportunities away from the most prosperous parts of southern England.

One of the more worrying points in the survey is the widening gap between ‘claimant count’ and unemployed , as ever increasing numbers of people fund themselves without a job or eligibility to claim social security.  For this expanding pool of people, exploitation beckons.

The government is pressurising people into ever more exploitative work programmes in order to reduce unemployment figures by threatening withdrawal of social security for non-compliance.  In 2011, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government announced a plan to increase uptake of Workfare (the term given to these schemes) by 100,000.  They also made changes to the programme they inherited from New Labour as follows:

1. A jobseeker who leaves a placement after 1 week loses their welfare payments for 6 weeks.  If they do this a second time, they lose them for 13 weeks.  The third time, three years.

2. Placements can be mandated for up to 30 hours a week for as long as 6 months.

3. The scheme has been opened up so corporations in the private sector can exploit this taxpayer funded, forced labour.

This means that someone who finds themselves unemployed must work up to thirty hours a week, for up to six months at a time, stacking shelves for Tesco or Poundland simply to receive as little as £53 per week, which they are already entitled to as part of the social contract of Britain.  Also, Tesco isn’t paying the £53; we are, through our taxes.

Although an interview is supposed to be guaranteed at the end of the term, it is not required that the workfare provider has a vacancy open.  An interview for a job that doesn’t exist is no interview at all.

Corporations get free labour, the government gets to massage the unemployment figures (Workfare victims are counted as employed) and the unemployed get shafted.

Anyone doubting this critique would do well to read the findings of the DWP’s own analysis of the performance of their work programmes.  These schemes cost the taxpayer £5bn, yet only 1 in 10 people found employment lasting up to 3 months.  The figures are even worse for the sick and disabled people forced into the work programmes – only 1 in 20 finding lasting employment.

The picture doesn’t get any rosier for those who have managed to find employment either.

Employers are less likely to provide real jobs than ever.  As the market favours the employer, there has been an unprecedented month on month fall in wages through the entire 36 months of the Coalition government, and wages were already falling before they arrived.

On top of hidden unemployment, the UK also has an ever growing problem with underemployment; the case of people unable to find jobs with sufficient hours/pay to meet their needs.

A recent paper by researchers at the University of Stirling revealed that underemployment rose from 6.2% in 2008 to 9.9% in 2012. The rate hit 30% among 16 to 24 year olds.

We have also seen the rise of ‘zero hour’ contracts. Almost unheard of a few years ago, more than a million UK workers are now under these contracts.  These contracts have no specified working hours – meaning that an employee is placed on permanent stand by until or unless the employer needs them.  While classed as employed, the person has no wage security as they cannot guarantee their pay from one week to the next.  They also receive no sick pay, leave or other basic terms and conditions.

The Resolution Foundation recently published a review of ‘Zero Hours’ contracts which found serious issues of the spike in their use:

  1. Those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts earn less than half the average wage (£236 vs. £482 per week) of those on proper contracts.
  2. Workplaces using ‘Zero Hours’ contracts have a higher proportion of staff on low pay(within £1.25 of minimum wage) than those who do not.

These factors have allowed the UK Labour Market in recent years to combine a relatively high level of employment and an unprecedented squeeze on wages.

  1. Those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts work 10 hours a week less, on average, than those who are not (21hrs – 31hrs).
  2. 18% of those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are seeking alternative employment or more hours versus 7% of those in ordinary contracts

These factors have contributed to the rise in underemployment in the UK since 2008.  An ONS survey last year revealed more than 1 million people had been added to the rank of the underemployed since the 2008 bailout of the banks.

  1. ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are hitting young people the hardest, with 37% of those on such contracts aged between 16-24.
  2. ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are more likely to be held by those without a degree, and with a GCSE as their highest level of education.
  3. Non UK Nationals are 15% more likely to be employed on such a contract than UK Nationals.

It is not difficult to see the advantages of ‘Zero Hours’ contracts to employers – they can achieve maximum flexibility of their workforce, effectively retaining them on a pay as you go basis.  It is also clear that in the short term, the government of the day also enjoy the advantage of hiding the true effects of their cut throat economic policies.  But the ordinary human being seeking to meet the rising cost of living is losing on all counts.

Between 2008 and 2012, inflation rose 17% according to the Consumer Price Index, while incomes increased just 7% – this translates to a real terms pay cut of 10% for working people.  But the Consumer Price Index measurement tracks the rising cost of an imaginary list of products and services that the poorest workers are unlikely to ever buy.  The UK Essentials Index however tracks inflation of the bare essentials that would the poorest would buy – and these have risen by an eye watering 33% during the same period.  This means that not only is the impact of unemployment hitting the country disproportionately, but underemployment and exploitative employment conditions are too – with the poorest being the worst affected.

There was a piece on the Guardian this morning talking about the triple boost to the UK economy of increased factory output, house prices and car sales, and trumpeting this as a sign of economic recovery.

But what is the point of this increased GDP if it is won at the expense of people wages and livelihoods?  Surely, if the inequality in the UK between rich and poor is growing, unemployment is rising, underemployment is rising and wages are falling – this is a recession.  It speaks volumes for the broken economic measures of growth at play here that a real world recession for the majority, is applauded as a recovery, when all that is recovered are the profits for transnational corporations and incomes of high earners, most of whom pay little or no contributions in tax.

Get Involved

Boycott Workfare – get involved in the campaign to outlaw workfare

UKUncut – get involved in demanding proper tax contributions from those corporations benefitting from these nightmare employment schemes.

DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts do extraordinary work highlighting the state’s assault on disabled people.  Please support them

Source – BS News,  07 Aug 2013