Table of Content
2. Margaret Thatcher and the Trade Unions
2.2 Solving the Trade Union Problem
3. The Working Class in the Miners' Strike 1984/
3.1 Triggers of the Strike
3.2 Supporters and Opponents
3.3 Who is the Enemy?
There'll always be a happy hour For those with money, jobs and power. They'll never realise the hurt
They caused the men they treat like dirt.
Taken from "Coal Not Dole" by Kay Sutcliffe
Class consciousness is an ever existing element in the minds of the British inhabitants. In a class society people are mostly aware into which particular class they belong and into which class they would range other people. However, when making an attempt to characterise the English Working Class one inevitably comes across the theory of Karl Marx. In his philosophy the working class is defined by the means of production including two parallel groups of members. Those two groups are considered to be interdependent. Marx distinguishes the capitalists from the proletarians. When examining the latter more closely the proletarians cumulate together in a class which is actually the working class. The other one, the capitalists or burgeoisie are to be seen as the group that is leading the working class. This is also emphasised in a clear way in the prefixed stanza of the poem Coal Not Dole (Lyrics Time, 2002-2011) by Kay Sutcliffe, a striking miner's wife. It showes, from a perspective which is mentionably not quite objective, how different the two opposing classes are. In his theory, Marx proclaimed that any other class which is present in society will disappear over the course of time until the proletariat is starting to revolt against the authorities and finally manages to initiate the downfall of capitalism (Roberts, 2001, p.2). The last chapter of this paper is going to evaluate that theory.
This paper should bring three main topics into accordance because all three, be it Thatcherism, the miners' strike and the working class issue, are mutually dependend from each other. However, the purpose of this paper is not to retell every single event that occured during the progression of the miners' strike or to draw a chronological succession. Instead, it is rather concerned with the examination of the strike's prevailing circumstances. It is going to raise the question in how far the existence and the condition of the working class conscience in Britain had changed due to the occurences before, during and after the strike. Hence there will probably be no definite explanation, this term paper should at least try to give an overall view on the reasons for a shift in the British class structure. It is not to deny that the policies of Margaret Thatcher played a significant role in it. Therefore the first chapter is going to deal with her legislation period and attitude in general and also with the way the trade unions became an instrument of her deliberately formulated plan to weaken the coal industry. Then, by slowly approaching the topic of the working class the term paper is going to analyse the actual events that triggered the strike as there had been more than just the trade union issue that caused its outbreak. Chapter 3.2 is then dedicated to the perception of the strike from the working classes point of view. It is going to break down the questions on who was leading them, who was sympathising with them and who was opposing them. After having examined the representation of the working class, this paper is going to widen its perspective on to the general decline of the industrial spirit and the closely connected decline of the working class by targeting possible reasons that could have lead to it. Rounding off, the chapter preceding the conclusion is going to represent a critical view on Margaret Thatchers statement regarding the enemy within to justify the headline of this paper. There are different attitudes towards this issue and the chapter will evaluate both opinions - the one of Mrs Thatcher and that of the striking labourers. With drawing a conclusion the paper is going to make an attempt towards the above mentioned theory of Marx whether it has proven right or wrong in case of the miners' strike and what consequences can be drawn regarding the continuity of the working class.
2. Thatcherism and the Trade Unions
When talking about British politics and policies within the 1980s the term Thatcherism is absolutely unavoidable. Born in 1925 and raised as a shopkeeper's daughter in a small town in North-East-England, Margaret Hilda Thatcher has become the first female British prime minister, the first one who was winning three successive election victories over the course of 15 (1979-1990) years as well as the first leader whose premiership wears an- ism as an attachment to her name. It is mainly owing to her rigid, conservative and nationalisic attitude and not least because of her radical managerial and political style. In 1974 she overtook the leadership of the conservative party from Edward Heath who had been so to speak lacking luck during his period due to having lost two parliamentary elections.
Thatchers political ideologies lay in the concepts of Monetarism1 and Neoclassicism.
Furthermore she held discipline, effort, achievement and thrift, which are all essential elements of the traditional virtues of the English middle classes, as her own political and moral values. Regarding her function as the chairwoman of the conservative party she broke with the latter in order to enforce her policies. Together with her mentor Keith Joseph with whom she led the Conservative Party's Centre for Policy Studies she recommended a radical reorientation (Hugo, 2001, p. 71.). It was a matter of greatest concern for the Iron Lady to free the key industries that had been up to her period controlled and owned by the state. In the 1950s Labour begun to to privatise the key industries like the coal-, steel-, electricity industries as well as the Bank of England. With her assumption of office the question of privatising stately-owned industries was raised again. However, her ideas regarding an economical split beween a public and a stately owned sector encountered agreement in the population to a great extent. Thatcher's privatisation programme counts as one of the most radical reforms in the United Kingdom since 1945. She intended to strengthen the competition within the economy and to increase the efficiency of output. All the important and indispensable key industries that once were the engine in the workshop of the world seem to be declining and running out of efficiency and productivity and worser: they are now involving losses, according to a study by Richard Pryke (Parker, 2009, p. 16).
2.2 Solving the Trade Union Problem
A poster for the election campaign of the conservative party saying that Labour isn't working - Britain's better off with the conservatives formulated Margaret Thatcher's most important aim, namely to get rid of socialism in England. Margaret Thatcher grew up in a lower middle class background and was indeed moved by the 'natural antagonism' towards the working classes and through that she probably developed prejudices against the latter and found a victim to fight against (Letwin, 1992, p. 21). Thatcher overtook premiership the first time in 1979. At this time, Britain's economy had come to its lowest point after a period of constant decline. In addition, disorder and chaos obtained almost every part of the country mainly because of strikes. The dimension of that chaos would be unimaginable in our modern times: in the streets the rubbish piled higher with every day the refuse collection was downing tools and especially in Liverpool dead bodys remained unburied (BBC News, 2004). This era is what it is remembered years after as The Winter of Discontent. Already at the beginning of the 1970s it was recognisable how the society suffered from the enduring riots caused by angry workers who are not willing to bear any further surpressions. According to this, Margaret Thatcher, when she was elected, intended to marginalise the trade unions as their actions became more and more incontrollable.
Ever since the bygone days of the industrial revolution trade unions had been developed to represent and protect the interests of the people from the working class. Instead of negotiating Thatcher had evidently weakening them with her economic policies. She enforced that a strike can only be accepted as legal if it follows a conflict between employers and workers and further, when there had been a ballot with a resulting majority that votes for a strike (Booth, p. 120). Toghether with her cabinet she intended to launch reforms stepwise in order to pretend that they are lesser radical. They wanted to avoid making the same mistakes as in the Heath government where innovations were introduced too fast. However, Thatcher brought not only new legislations for the work of the trade unions, she also made attempts to weaken them by ignoring unemployment and the decrease of the industries that took place in almost every part of England (Dorey, p.10).
Furthermore, they achieved cutbacks regarding the closed shop -system by banning the pre- entry closed shop2 to strenghten the rights of the individual worker and to weaken the unions. In a closed shop-system workers are quasi forced to join strikes. In case of their refusal they get their union membership automatically cancelled by the particular union and lose their job. Instead of a pre-entry closed shop two new institutions got introduced now in which the single worker had the choice between spending an emergency contribution or donating for charitable purposes (Hugo, p.126). Furthermore, the government under Margaret Thatcher formulated their aim to limit the influence of the unions on political and economical processes in the Ridley Report.
1 Theoretic economical and political concept developed by Milton Friedman in the 1960s 3
2 employers can only engage workers who are already registered within a trade union 4
- Quote paper
- Diana Kiesinger (Author), 2011, The Enemy Within. The Effects of Miner's Strike in 1984/85 on the Continuity of the English Working Class, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/296330