Role of leadership

An essential lesson to draw from the miners' strike is the vital role of leadership. The miners' leaders stood head and shoulders above the majority of British trade union leaders at this time. Arthur Scargill in particular demonstrated an unbending will to struggle in the face of the most appalling personal abuse and character assassination. In this sense the leaders of the union were a source of inspiration for the miners in the areas. At the same time these leaders were inspired by the courage and determination of the rank and file miners, of their wives and their communities. Unfortunately courage alone is not enough to win such titanic battles. It must be accompanied by correct tactics and strategy. Mistakes in these vital areas were made even by the best NUM leaders.

Twenty years ago on March 5, 1984 the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) embarked upon the most important class struggle in Britain since the general strike of 1926. Over the following twelve months of ferocious battles billions of pounds were spent by the ruling class to crush the miners' militancy. More than ten thousand miners were arrested; two were killed on the picket lines and countless others injured. Decades of so-called consensus were obliterated and the real and ugly face of British capitalism was exposed for all to see. The masks of Democracy and the Law, behind which the ruling class try to conceal the rule of capital, were shattered as the veil of so-called independence of the courts, the police and the media was lifted to show the real role of the state in capitalist society.

An interview with Nigel Pearce, a member of the National Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers and working miner. He explains how the strike developed and the turning point that it represented for labour relations in Britain. In spite of the defeat he says, "We were right to fight, we had a duty to fight, and I'm proud to have fought, and I'm proud of all those I fought alongside."

The Civil Contingencies Bill which is to come before the present session of Parliament has as yet attracted little attention except from civil rights campaigners. However its implications need to be taken seriously by the trades union movement.

This firefighters' strike - whatever the eventual outcome - represents the opening shot in a new stormy period facing Britain. It is a fundamental turning point. Socialist Appeal has repeatedly explained that we have entered the most turbulent period internationally since the second world war. A series of general strikes have rocked Europe, from Greece, Spain and Italy. France has been shaken by mass demonstrations against privatisation. Now Britain has become affected by this changing mood, reflected by the shift to the left in the trade unions.

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