Margaret Thatcher against the miners: Symbolic and substantive victory

Read few comments.


1. Was it really important for Thatcher to break the power of NUM and would you say that the end of miners strike was really a political victory for her or not, and why?

2. If you look at the miners tactics would you say they did something wrong (e.g. Arthur Scargill asked for Soviet funds) and would they have been successful under the different PM than Thatcher?

3. What is the most important legacy of the strike in your opinion?


Tim BaleProfessor, Chair in Politics, Queen Mary, University London, Author of the book: The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron

1. It was a crucial victory. She was slowly strangling the unions by legislating against their power but the NUM was a hold-out, led by a Marxist intent on doing to her government what his union had done to her predecessor’s in 1973-4. It was both a symbolic and a substantive victory.

2. The miners went on strike knowing there wasn’t 100 per cent support and too scared to ballot their members to get approval. They also struck knowing that the government was prepared for the strike both in terms of coal stocks and policing. They were lions led by a donkey.

3. It killed union militancy in this country for decades to come and cemented Thatcher’s iconic status at home after she’d cemented her international reputation as a fighter in the Falklands.

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, PhD Student, Faculty of History, Cambridge University

1. Was it really important for Thatcher to break the power of NUM and would you say that the end of miners strike was really a political victory for her or not, and why?

Thatcher’s victory in the miners’ strike was important symbolically, as well as in practical terms — it had a detrimental effect on morale within the trade union movement.

2. Scargill’s key mistake was in resisting calls for a national ballot of miners to be held before calling the strike — he feared that he wouldn’t win a national ballot. Many people, including many miners working on the Nottinghamshire coal fields, which were in a better economic position than other British coalfields, felt that this undermined the legitimacy of the strike. Ultimately, some miners broke away and formed the Democratic Union of Mineworkers, a competitor to the National Union of Mineworkers which Scargill ran.

3.The most important legacy of the strike depends on your perspective — for many people who lived in communities which for decades had been based around the single industry of mining, the destruction of community which followed the strike and the closure of the mines was most significant.

Alistair Jones, Principal Lecturer, Department of Politics and Public Policy, De Montfort University, Leicester

1. Thatcher had to break the power of the unions. She was most successful in doing this. The miners were, arguably, the most powerful and most militant of the unions. They had brought down the Heath Government in the Feb 74 election, and Thatcher acquiesced to them in 1981 (a point that is often forgotten). She started preparing for a second confrontation by stockpiling coal. Legislation was passed (in a piecemeal fashion) limiting the rights of strikers, and requiring a ballot of all members before a strike could be held. Scargill ignored the latter (by not having a national ballot). In the end, it was a huge political victory for Thatcher.

2. The miner’s tactics were flawed. Calling a strike at the beginning of spring was not the best time. Not balloting members was also a problem, as there was no perceived ‘legitimacy’ of the strike. This is why the Democratic Union of Mineworkers was established, as an alternative union supporting those miners who wished to work. Asking for Soviet funds was a bit of a red rag to the British rightwing media. Having said that, the miner’s tactics had intimidated previous premierships, and had intimidated Thatcher in 1981. A different PM would probably have backed down. It must be noted that other possible PMs would probably not have prepared in the way that Thatcher did. Bear in mind, as well, Thatcher’s victory in the Falklands and the 1983 General Election result.

3. The legacy of the strike can be seen in the collapse of heavy industry in the UK. Admittedly, much of it had been nationalised and had to be subsidised. Yet, its function was as much social as economic – providing work and providing cheaper products for other industries. The miner’s strike was one of the last big (but doomed) ‘hurrahs’ of the big trade unions. What is also noticeable today is that many mining communities today are still divided over the strike, and are still decimated because of the collapse of the mining industry. Most of Scargill’s predictions have come true with regard to the future of the British mining industry i.e. it has collapsed. In my opinion, the strike showed the intransigence of the times – of both politicians and unions to talk to each other. Much of this was down to a total lack of trust, as well as a huge ideological gulf between the Government of the day and the union leaders. Thatcher’s victory over the NUM enabled her to continue neutering the trade unions. Today, they are a mere shadow of their former selves.


2 Responses

  1. I blame the Stalinst Scargill for a lot of what happened. You can’t say that you represent the unions if a) you refuse to call a ballot to find out and b) half of the workers ignore the strike. But Thatcher, rather than fight this corruption, fought the unions. That was my problem.

  2. Thatcher hated communism. She wanted to protect the profitable pits as any true free market capitalist would do. Just another reason for her being ousted by her own. Ousted by globalists hell bent on Agenda 21 and de- industrialising the UK aided by the EU

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