Margaret Thatcher dead: Thatcher bashed miners but backed yuppies


Margaret Thatcher 1925-2013: How she bashed miners and the unions but backed yuppies

9 Apr 2013

Margaret Thatcher's second term saw Britain's economy boom... but prosperity for the rich was paid for by millions of working men and woman.

The result was that the 80s saw Britain under Thatcher bitterly divided - while champagne corks popped in the City, the unions reeled from her assault on organised labour.

In the spectacular stock-market boom of the late 80s, Britain's rich became even richer.

Half of all the tax breaks brought in during Thatcher's 11 years in office went to the top 10%.

The Big Bang which revolutionised the way the City of London operated, throwing out hundreds of years of safeguards, brought untold riches to City spivs as Thatcher sold off the family silver, privatising state-run utilities such as British Gas and British Telecom.

A flurry of privatisations followed - of electricity and airlines - which raised a fortune for the Treasury.

City whizzkids, nicknamed yuppies, short for Young Upwardly-mobile Professionals, made huge bonuses by shifting money around the globe, contributing nothing but their ability to play a market.

All the while, government-backed ad campaigns like "Tell Sid" promised more easy money by urging ordinary folk to become shareholders and gamble their savings on the stock market roller-coaster.

"Loadsamoney" was the mantra of the era and, in a move that would decimate social housing for decades to come, Thatcher encouraged tenants to buy their homes at knock-down prices to cash in on the property boom in the hope that former council renters would be transformed into Tory voters.

But before she could bring in these changes, Thatcher had to rid the country of worker power - the Enemy Within, as she scandalously described ordinary members of trade unions.

With a landslide majority, she ruthlessly attacked the trade-union movement, leaving British workers exposed to exploitation, and destroying whole industries.

For some, it remains the greatest achievement of her years in office. She was a free marketeer and to achieve her aim she cared little for the lives of theworkers and their families.

Problems with the unions were endemic: Labour governments suffered from them as much as the Tories. But they had more difficulties dealing with them, as any action against the unions was seen as treachery. Thatcher had no such divided loyalties.

But she knew the pitfalls - she had served under Edward Heath and seen his government ground down by the unions.

So she started her industrial reforms slowly, with small changes. She did not want to confront the unions, she wanted to outflank them by appealing above the heads of their dyed-in-the-wool left-wing leaders to the rank-and-file membership. She marginalised their leaders, refusing to meet them.

The first legislation in 1980 banned secondary picketing but not secondary strike action.

It did not go far enough for her right-wingers - there was no withdrawal of benefits from strikers' families, no opting in to the political levy for the Labour Party.

But it was clever. It was mild enough to leave the union leaders, baying for confrontation, isolated. A call for a "Day of Action" failed dismally as the vast majority went into work.

But when the steel unions started a bitter strike against the British Steel Corporation's plans to rationalise the industry and cut jobs, she defied her cabinet by announcing plans to cut strikers' benefits, and from then on her attack on the unions escalated. More legislation followed in 1982, 1984, 1988 and 1990.

The biggest beast in the union jungle was the National Union of Mineworkers. From the moment Thatcher took office, she started laying down plans to defeat them. She backed down from a confrontation in 1981, finding funds to keep uneconomic pits open, biding her time until she was battle-ready.

She won the minor skirmishes. In 1982, both the NHS workers and the railwaymen lost out after lengthy strikes and it seemed, for a time, as if some of the other unions were scared of taking her on. The NUM three times rejected the calls of their new President Arthur Scargill to strike, and British Leylandworkers also voted to accept a pay offer their leaders wanted to reject.

But in 1984, the gloves came off. Thatcher's government had secretly built up large stocks of coal at the power stations and had converted as many as possible to burn oil.

Fleets of road hauliers were recruited to move coal if the railwaymen came out on strike with the miners. The strike was precipitated by the appointment of Ian McGregor, a hardliner who had been running British Steel and who had a track record in America of beating a two-year mineworkers' strike.

To stem £250million-a-year losses, he proposed closing pits in Yorkshire, Scotland and South Wales. Scargill came from Yorkshire, his equally left-wing deputy, Mick McGahey, came from Scotland. Battle was inevitable.

Yorkshire, Scotland and the small Kent coalfield were solidly in favour of strike action. When Scargill called for an all-out strike, he set miner against miner, pit village against pit village.

In some cases he even set father against son, brother against brother. What followed was appalling. Police were recruited in huge numbers from forces across the UK.

There were pitched battles between them and the striking miners. Newspapers and television showed picture after picture of battered and injured men.

Miners' wives, in the meantime, set up soup kitchens and appeals were launched nationally for food to feed their children.

The worst fighting happened at Orgreave, near Sheffield, where 5,000 pickets tried to stop coal being moved to the Scunthorpe Steelworks. Even greater numbers of police, many on horseback, battled with them daily for three weeks. On the first day alone 104 police officers and 28 pickets were injured.

By the end, several hundred, including Scargill, had been arrested.

Tony Benn, MP for Chesterfield at the time of the strike, said: "They were skilled and courageous men who had built the prosperity of Britain. They were treated like criminals by Mrs Thatcher, and they were right economically as well. It's a story that will never be forgotten."

And Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, said: "It was an honourable dispute. It was the only strike I can recall that wasn't about pay but was about saving jobs for other people."

While there was much sympathy for the strikers, Scargill attracted hostility. He was too rabid, too unprepared to reason, too much of a bully. When he was discovered to have asked for money from Libya's notorious Colonel Gaddafi, it was a spectacular own goal. Labour leader Neil Kinnock and the TUC joined Thatcher in condemning him.

While Scargill and his men remained isolated, Thatcher knew she could win. There was enough coal at the power stations for 18 months' electricity: she was confident the NUM would crack by then. Although other unions expressed support, few did anything to actively help the strike, largely because many miners were still working.

The Government treated their pay claims leniently to keep them sweet.

By the end of October 1985, the miners started to drift back to work. It was clear the Government could sit out the winter, and they were given deferred bonuses for returning to work. But it was not until the following March, a whole bloody and bruising year since it started, that the union ordered the rest of its men back to the pits.

Thatcher had prolonged the strike by her unwillingness to compromise: she was as stubborn as Scargill. The difference was, she was the winner.

The following year more battles broke out between police and pickets, this time outside Rupert Murdoch's newspaper plant in London's Docklands.

Murdoch, a long-standing ally of Thatcher's, moved the workforce for his four newspapers, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World, to Wapping without including the print workers in the deal. It provoked another bloody and violent struggle, which again lasted for a year. Before it began, Thatcher had assured Murdoch he would have the police manpower needed to ensure victory.

While manufacturing industries went to the wall, Britain became the bargain basement where third-world countries came to buy machinery that was standing idle.

But a year after the miners' strike ended, a rare attempt by Thatcher's government to save a British company split her cabinet apart. Her legendary intransigence forced Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, her long-standing Conservative Party foe, to resign over the notorious Westland affair.

Heseltine stormed out of a meeting at No10, saying his views on the future of the struggling Westland helicopter company, which had attracted rescue packages from the US and Europe, were being ignored.

Two weeks later Thatcher's trusted Trade and Industry Secretary Leon Brittan was forced to resign after admitting he had authorised the leaking of a government law officer's letter which criticised Heseltine.

Thatcher won the battle but in some ways Heseltine won the war. In 1990, he unsuccessfully challenged Thatcher for the Tory party leadership, triggering the series of political events that would ultimately lead to her downfall.


Thatcher's death: Thatcher created discord, not harmony


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.


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Thatcher's death: Party in London


London neighbourhood throws party on Thatcher's death

9 Apr 2013

London: Hundreds of people took to the main square in Brixton, an area of south London which suffered serious rioting in the 1980s, to celebrate the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Holding notices saying "Rejoice -- Thatcher is dead", around 200 people gathered in the neighbourhood, a hotspot of alternative culture, and toasted her passing by drinking and dancing to hip-hop and reggae songs blaring from sound systems.
"I'm very, very pleased. She did so much damage to this country," said one man brandishing an original newspaper billboard from 1990 announcing Thatcher's resignation. Others scrawled "Good Riddance" on the pavement.
"We've got the bunting out at home," said Clare Truscott, a woman in her 50s wearing a sparkly beret and holding a homemade sign reading "Ding dong, the witch is dead".
"I'm from the north, where there were no jobs, where the industry was rapidly disappearing, and her policies ensured it went more quickly."
Brixton was the scene of fierce riots in 1981, two years after Thatcher became prime minister. Carole Roper, a full-time career in her 50s from north London, said: "We're here to celebrate her death."
Sipping from a can of beer, she insisted: "I don't think it's vindictive -- it's not so much about the death of Thatcher but what she has done, the policies she introduced to this country.
"Compare the coverage to that when Chavez died -- she's being eulogized. It's been wall to wall coverage on the BBC but she did nothing to help the poor people of this country."
Meanwhile, in the Scottish city of Glasgow more than 300 people gathered to hold their own impromptu "party". Anti-capitalist campaigners shouted, "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie" while the crowd replied "dead, dead, dead". The crowd also broke into a chorus of "So long, the witch is dead" while drinking champagne.

Thatcher, the controversial "Iron Lady" who dominated a generation of British politics and won international acclaim for helping to end the Cold War, died following a stroke on Monday. She was 87.


Photo: Police take action as violence flares with miners at Daw Mill colliery in Warwickshire, UK, in this 1984 file photo. It was a defining moment in British industrial relations, and its defeat significantly weakened the British trades union movement. It was also seen as a major political and ideological victory for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party. The miners’ strike ended 28 years ago and there has been no softening of the anger toward Thatcher, according to John Kane, a miner for 37 years and now a guide at the Scottish Mining Museum, south of Edinburgh.


Margaret Thatcher: Iron Lady who remade Britain


The UK is a democratic country; its citizens enjoy freedom and equality. It is both one of the richest countries in the world and one of the most expensive countries to live in. You may think that a country such as this would be practically free of poverty. However, almost one-quarter of the population lives in poverty – this accounts for nearly 13 million people, including a third of all children. At the same time some of the richest people in the world live in the UK. Does this make Britain an equal society?

What is poverty?

The United Nations defines poverty as a 'lack of capabilities to live a long, healthy and creative life, to be knowledgeable, and to enjoy a decent standard of living, dignity, self-respect, and the respect of others'.

If someone's household income in the UK is below 60% of average household income, then they are considered to be living in poverty.

Effects of poverty in the UK

Children living in poverty are less likely to do well in their education than children who are from wealthier households.

They are also more likely to suffer from health problems, lower life expectancy and low employment prospects. 18% of children go without two or more essential items such as warm clothes and three meals a day. Just under ten million people can't afford safe, warm housing and have to live in cold, damp conditions.

Children, women and the elderly are the worst hit by poverty. Those living in poverty often have to face humiliation and a feeling of helplessness as they are judged and seen as second-class citizens, with many people expressing the view that those in poverty are to blame for their difficulties.

Photo: Children living in poor conditions in Stetchford, Birmingham, UK