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View Full Version : Possibly stupid questions about the 1984-85 UK Miners Strike


Sampiro
06-22-2009, 03:18 PM
I'll admit I don't remember it when it happened (living in the US with a lot more going on in my life than the plight of British miners) and mainly learned of it from Billy Elliot, but I've tried to figure out exactly what happened and why it left Thatcher so beloved by some/hated by others. I've read the wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_miners'_strike_(1984%E2%80%931985)), but it presupposes probably more knowledge of the UK political and economic systems than I have. So questions:

From what I understand: prior to the strike, the British government evidently subsidized the coal industry, and in the early '80s began privatizing them, I presume to save public money. Because business of course has to work on a profit, the non-profitable mines were marked to be closed or downsized and thousands would be out of work, causing an almost nationwide mine workers strike (I say almost because evidently a few remained open and worked by the original laborers [not scabs] throughout).

Questions:

Did miners everywhere, including the profitable mines, go on strike to show solidarity with those who would have been discharged from the non-profitable mines?

If so, did the miners whose jobs weren't in danger vocally resent those who were endangered for whom they were striking?

The wiki article states that by the end of the strike most of the public was against the strikers/miners. Did this have much to do with the violence and the cab driver who was killed, or was it because the coal miners were seen as bullies after their previous strikes?

Per all sources, the strike was a complete defeat for the miners, who ultimately went back to work for pretty much exactly the same wages as before after being basically starved for a year without pay, and privatization continued. Thousands were laid off by the privatization. Did this result in many "ghost towns" in England and Wales, or did other industry take the place of the mines? Or did the people laid off just go on the dole for years and years?

And Keseltine- he and Thatcher seem to have been on the same side, but they also seem to have hated each other, and both were hated by the miners. Was there enmity twixt him and Thatcher?

Thanks for any info.

Tapioca Dextrin
06-22-2009, 04:07 PM
Questions:

Did miners everywhere, including the profitable mines, go on strike to show solidarity with those who would have been discharged from the non-profitable mines?

No. There was a lot of oppositon to the strike in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. In part, this was due to those pits being mostly profitable and in part due to the fact that the NUM (and its president Arthur Scargill) didn't hold an actual strike ballot.

Tapioca Dextrin
06-22-2009, 04:19 PM
If so, did the miners whose jobs weren't in danger vocally resent those who were endangered for whom they were striking?

I think resent is the wrong word. Most of the miners (at least in my experience) weren't particularly political. They just wanted to work. What happened in other areas wasn't their business.

Tapioca Dextrin
06-22-2009, 04:35 PM
The wiki article states that by the end of the strike most of the public was against the strikers/miners. Did this have much to do with the violence and the cab driver who was killed, or was it because the coal miners were seen as bullies after their previous strikes?

The miners themselves were played for fools by both the NUM and the Government. Arthur Scargill wanted to use the strike to gain political power (not a revolution, but to demonstrate that trade unions were able successfully oppose the Government). Mrs. Thatcher was very popular (after winning the Falklands War and a landslide election victory in 1983) and she wasn't going to back down. In the end, though, the public wsan't so much against the union and its members, but thought the whole thing was boring and irrelevant. The mass protests at the beginning of the strike grew smaller and less frequent and the whole thing eventually faded away (much like the coal mining industry itself)

Malacandra
06-22-2009, 04:54 PM
I don't know if "Keseltine" above is a typo or a mishearing from the movie, btw, but that should be "Heseltine".

Scargy misread the public opinion, imo. Britain was chronically strike-ridden throughout the Seventies, and when it wasn't the miners it was the power workers or the train drivers or whoever. Many of those who weren't hard-line socialists were pig-sick of it.

Una Persson
06-22-2009, 04:58 PM
From what I understand: prior to the strike, the British government evidently subsidized the coal industry, and in the early '80s began privatizing them, I presume to save public money. Because business of course has to work on a profit, the non-profitable mines were marked to be closed or downsized and thousands would be out of work, causing an almost nationwide mine workers strike (I say almost because evidently a few remained open and worked by the original laborers [not scabs] throughout).
Like a lot of coal-related subjects, the answer is a little more convoluted. British coal was incredibly subsidized at the time - in 1984,the subsidy amounted to more than a billion pounds per year to produce British coal (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1984/feb/20/coal-subsidies). British coal was a resource that was getting rapidly more and more expensive to mine, and which was not at all competitive with world-market coals. Any (steam) coal on the planet that was loaded on a Panamax ship was cheaper than British coal at the time.

In addition to this, a not-so-publicized concern that the CEGB had was that British coal mines pushing deeper and deeper and trying harder to get more coal in less desirable conditions would lead to serious safety problems, and there was a concern that a major coal mining disaster was due to happen (I do not have a cite for this, this opinion was expressed to me directly by a former Engineering Manager in the CEGB who I trust).

Alive At Both Ends
06-22-2009, 05:56 PM
Scargy misread the public opinion, imo. Britain was chronically strike-ridden throughout the Seventies, and when it wasn't the miners it was the power workers or the train drivers or whoever. Many of those who weren't hard-line socialists were pig-sick of it.

Scargill made many mistakes, mostly because he was so far left that he lost touch with reality. He refused to hold a strike ballot, as has already been said. He had himself made president for life of the union - no democratic accountability for him! He denounced the Solidarity union in Poland because they were "trying to overthrow a socialist state" - with the result that Polish miners worked double shifts to keep Britain supplied with coal. He antagonised the Nottinghamshire miners to the extent that they left his union (the NUM) and set up a rival union. He allowed the picket lines to become violent confrontations, seen daily on the TV news. By the time the strike collapsed most people outside the mining areas, not just supporters of Thatcher, felt that it served them right.

Really Not All That Bright
06-22-2009, 06:10 PM
Did this result in many "ghost towns" in England and Wales, or did other industry take the place of the mines? Or did the people laid off just go on the dole for years and years?
Yes, though probably not to the extent you're thinking. Some of the mining areas, like Yorkshire- Bradford and Leeds in particular- had already been decimated by the disappearance of other industries, like the wool trade. Thus, they'd already started diversifying their economies (and losing a sizable chunk of their populations). There are areas which are almost abandoned now, though.

The Yorkshire village in this Top Gear bit, for example. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgG1wF7OZn4) (skip to about 5'00".)

Sampiro
06-22-2009, 11:32 PM
Thanks to everyone for answers. I was curious because it's unusual for movies not to be more sympathetic to the underdog that I was surprised neither the movie nor the musical goes out of its way to show it as a "little man crushed again" story. (They show the rage and the social problems it brought about but don't really take sides. (There's the anti Thatcher number (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2og7P1S-joA) but it's sung by pissed off strikers and not as the musical's point of view.)

I don't know if "Keseltine" above is a typo or a mishearing from the movie, btw, but that should be "Heseltine".

A misremembering. Thanks for correcting.

[QUOTE=Really Not All That Bright]The Yorkshire village in this Top Gear bit, for example. (skip to about 5'00".) /[QUOTE]

Wow. I'd be extremely shocked if they actually got the 7,500 minimum bid on that townhouse.

Malacandra
06-23-2009, 02:37 AM
A misremembering. Thanks for correcting.

You're welcome, it's what I do best. :D

Heseltine was quite a stand-out figure for, oh, ten years or so I'd say - he was quite prominent in my late school years as an Opposition minister, and then in the Thatcher government itself. But ten minutes on Google will tell you far more about him than I could accurately recall. :)

Pushkin
06-23-2009, 06:38 AM
In the end, though, the public wsan't so much against the union and its members, but thought the whole thing was boring and irrelevant

Do I remember correctly that the government bought a large amount of coal and stockpiled it so that the miners couldn't try to hold the country over their issues?

Sizzles
06-23-2009, 06:40 AM
IMO the Thatcher government encouraged the miners to strike by antagonising Scargill, with the aim of breaking the NUM. Don't forget the miners brought down the Heath government in the 70s, it was payback time. Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain has a good account of this period.

Really Not All That Bright
06-23-2009, 08:43 AM
Wow. I'd be extremely shocked if they actually got the 7,500 minimum bid on that townhouse.
Almost certainly not. They're called terraced houses in Britain, FTR, and they're everywhere - go to the suburbs of any city older than Milton Keynes and you'll see mile after mile of them.

Keep in mind that average land values in Britain are more than double what they are here, which isn't that surprising when you consider how densely populated it is.

Capt. Ridley's Shooting Party
06-23-2009, 09:58 AM
IMO the Thatcher government encouraged the miners to strike by antagonising Scargill, with the aim of breaking the NUM. Don't forget the miners brought down the Heath government in the 70s, it was payback time. Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain has a good account of this period.

Not so much payback, rather "ensure a union never has the power to bring down a democratically elected government ever again".

Jerseyman
06-23-2009, 04:30 PM
The Heath govt. I hadn't thought of that. In the end it was a grudge match between Scargill and Thatcher, each as bad as the other. But Thatcher loathed Heath. She saw him as almost a Party traitor and gained herself a bad reputation for stopping free school milk for teens as his Minister for Education. (Probably quite sensibly I don't suppose many actually drank it).

I wonder if part of her determination was to show that she could succeed where Heath failed?

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