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- Author: Jim Phillips x
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This is a major re-evaluation of the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike, which was a central event in Britain's recent economic, industrial and political history, and the first book to show the pivotal and distinctive nature of the strike in Scotland. The book's particular strengths address the limits of current understanding of the meaning and character of the strike. It: • focuses on colliery-and community-level factors in shaping and sustaining the strike, which tends to be understood in overly narrow high political terms; • examines Scottish developments, which were central to the outbreak and longevity of the strike against closures; • demonstrates that the strike was a popular and socially-embedded phenomenon, with limited connection to the ‘Scargill versus Thatcher’ dispute of historical legend and much political literature; • explores the moral economy of the coalfields, and how this shaped attitudes to coal closures and the strike • provides immediate and highly engaging history from below perspectives on society and politics in the 1980s, using interviews with strike participants.
This establishes the central and related structural factors that shaped the character of the 1984-5 strike in Scotland: pit closures in the 1950s and 1960s; social changes in mining communities; shifts in trade union politics, with the re-emergence of militancy in the 1960s, and embodied in the leadership of Michael McGahey, Scottish Area President of the National Union of Mineworkers from 1967 onwards; and the character and meaning of the moral economy of the Scottish coalfields. The complex, highly contingent and fluid nature of coalfield communities is emphasised, and related to the process of industrial restructuring. The Thatcherite political economy of coal, and its transgression of the moral economy, is analysed.
This moves the analysis to the strike's origins and outbreak, with escalating workplace tension as management – led by Albert Wheeler, the Scottish Area Director of the National Coal Board – sought to cut production costs by closing some pits and attacking trade unionism in those that remained. Rule books detailing union involvement in daily operations were ‘torn up’, literally as well as figuratively. The moral economy of the coalfields, tested although not quite broken in the 1960s and early 1970s, was now explicitly transgressed, with decisions by managerial fiat, and closures and job losses damagingly felt in the context of unemployment, rapidly escalating under the deindustrialising impact of Thatcherite economic management. Workforce resistance resulted, observable in a sequence of pit-level disputes in 1983, as well as the outbreak of the strike itself in 1984.
This explores the strike's distinctive Scottish industrial politics. The chronological focus is mainly from March to October 1984, when support for the strike among miners was generally strong, but when the broader solidarity of the labour movement in Scotland was tested by the picketing of the British Steel Corporation works at Ravenscraig and Hunterston, the coastal terminal through which strike-breaking coal passed. Against the grain of existing literature, this picketing is presented as highly rational: Ravenscraig represented a rare opportunity for the strikers to exert pressure on the government, and its closure would greatly have weakened Conservatism's already fragile position in Scotland. The head of BSC, Bob Haslam, after discussions involving government ministers, it is surmised, pressed Strathclyde Police to disperse the pickets and ensure a steady flow of coal into the plant.
This moves the analysis to community level, examining organisational features: the strike committees and centres, the fund-raising and the soup kitchens; and the contribution of women, as both activists and breadwinners. It explains varieties of pit-level commitment in terms of differential access to factors that reduced the economic cost of striking and increased the social cost of strike-breaking. Moral economy considerations are again emphasised, notably the manner in which communal attitudes to coal, collieries and jobs shaped strike commitment. The gendered nature of this commitment is analysed, with the hounding by women of strike-breakers as deviant and lesser forms of men. Pre-strike performance was also important in building strike endurance, representing a resource around which strikers could organise, to protect something valuable with perceived long-term potential.
This explores the ending and aftermath of the strike at a macro-level in Scotland, from October 1984 onwards. The roles of the Conservative government, NCB management and the police are considered. Community- and colliery-level factors remained paramount, with substantial resistance from below, even as this official resumption was underway. The immediate aftermath of the strike is then detailed, through examining the pit-level tensions and difficulties that followed, including relations between unions and management, and former strikers and former strike-breakers.
This examines the longer effects of the strike, including deindustrialisation, the economic and social loss of employment in the coalfields, and the limited but perceptible reconstruction of gender relations. The book's core conclusions are then detailed.