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July 15, 2008


Tristan Mills

I thought Thatcher's pit closures were about taking on the Unions more than anything else.
If it was class hatred, it was hatred of another member of the political classes - the Unions rather than hatred of the working class.

Tim Worstall

As I recall it there has already been a move to change UK law to encompass something similar to Chapter 11. Administration or something, rather than straight bankruptcy?
What I can't remember though is how long ago this was done....

Devil's Kitchen

"* Of course, it’s possible that Thatcher’s pit closure programme was motivated not by economics but by mere class hatred. But no-one believes this, do they?"

Perhaps it was a hatred of the Welsh. Or of dirty people. Or maybe, Thatcher really didn't like the government being held to ransom by a bunch of people who had been rather more than troublesome over the previous decade and a half by attempting to play politics...

We wouldn't what our government being held hostage by a foreign power: having them held hostage by a home-grown special interest group -- salt of the earth miners or no' -- is no more desirable.


john b

Yup, far better to be dependent on the Russians.


Devils Kitchen -

Can you really not see the difference between being invaded by a foreign country, and domestic political debate about the direction of the economy?

Peter Risdon

There's no greater class hatred than between the petite bourgeoisie and the working class; it's the hatred of cousins.

But it's worth remembering that Scargill was elected President of the NUM, abolished elections declaring himself President for Life, then declared a strike, refusing to ballot members, with the express, stated intention of bringing down the government. These are not mere details. Scargill stated specifically that HIS motives included class war.

Your main point is right enough. Neoliberal thinking of all stripes has forgotten the Classical Liberal strain from Smith to Friedman, that explicitly advocated support for the weak and failing. This does not exclude the Darwinian; Chapter 11 doesn't last forever and companies that enter into it can subsequently fail entirely. It's a breathing space, not a get-out-of-jail card.


But it's worth remembering that Scargill was elected President of the NUM, abolished elections declaring himself President for Life, then declared a strike, refusing to ballot members, with the express, stated intention of bringing down the government.

Wrong, actually. He was elected lifetime president after the strike, not before.
And there was a lot of rhetoric on both sides: "enemy within", remember?


"Of course, it’s possible that Thatcher’s pit closure programme was motivated not by economics but by mere class hatred. But no-one believes this, do they?"

Of course not. As an archetype of the Lower Middle Class or, as the Marxists amongst us insist, a petit bourgeois, Maggie's class hatred was reserved for the Upper Class, only then going on to deal with their allies in the Working Class.

'Twas ever thus, cf. French, Russian, American revolutions, etc., etc..

Mrs Blogs

..straight from the horse's mouth..

Alan Budd, Professor of Economics at the London Business School and "erstwhile advisor to Mrs Thatcher" described the strategy of Thatcherism to restore profitability and competitiveness to Britain as follows:

"raising unemployment was a very desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes... what was engineered - in Marxist terms - was a crisis in capitalism, which recreated the reserve army of Labour, and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since".

cited in Huw Beynon and Pandeli Glavanis (eds) Patterns of Inequality (1999)

Marcin Tustin

Chapter 11 is great for shareholders. Chapter 11 is a purely capitalist, rather than market-oriented institution. In a UK insolvency, whether by way of administration or liquidation, the firm can be reorganised, and then sold on to someone else, leaving the shareholders wiped out. Chapter 11 leaves the shareholders with their shares, and other people "reorganised" into taking losses.


"attempting to play politics"

Its always a scandal in a democratic society when somebody, or a group of somebodys, attempt to play politics.

Bob B

Just a mo': the coal mines were privatised by the Major government in 1994, not by the Thatcher governments 1979-90.

The world price of oil halved during 1985/6 which inevitably meant there would be even more loss making coal mines. At the time the strike started in 1984, the mines had been producing so much coal above requirements in preceding years that there was a problem finding enough space around power stations to pile it up.

Of course, the huge stockpiles of coal were one of the reasons the strike failed. Another main reason was that other trade unions backed off supporting the NUM.

For those interested, the scale of subsidies to support the nationalised coal industry can be inferred from the data for the external borrowing requirements of the nationalised industries reported in David Butler: Twentieth-century British Political Facts 1900-2000 (Palgrave 2000) p.444. The fact is that the Thatcher and Major governments were pouring billions of taxpayers' money into subsidising the nationalised coal industry.

Ultimately, the violent strike was to bully the government and the public at large into putting even more taxpayers' money into the coal industry - and there was certainly active speculation at the time about whether the 1984/5 mining strike would bring down the government which had been elected in June 1983.

For info about external influence:

"Also named is Vic Allen, a retired professor of economics at Leeds university, who was a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and went on the first Aldermaston march. A firm Stalinist, it is alleged he passed on information about CND to his East German handlers.

"After the revelation this weekend that he had been 'an agent of influence', he said he had no regrets. . .

"Prof Allen was an ally of Arthur Scargill during the 1984-85 miners' strike. In 1987 he published a book, The Russians Are Coming. His pro-Soviet views were well known. . ."


The class Thatcher hated peopled the BBC, not the NCB.

That is why that class hates her.

Bob B

It's worth reading Peter Walker on the strike as he was the secretary of state with ministerial responsibility for the nationalised coal industry at the time:

"The Conservative Government wanted to avoid any strike or confrontation. . . "


Memories of the miners strike, from both left and right leaning commentators here, are bizarrely romantic. The main protagonists were deeply unpleasant and anti-democratic. Scargill's strike wasted taxpayer's money; Thatcher's dogmatic approach to pit closures wasted taxpayer's money. There was no glory on either side.

For info about external influence (and for the sake of balance), meet David Hart:

David Peace's book _GB84_ is a good read wherever you stand on the argument. Peace never suggests why so many right wing NUM regional leaders supported the strike, contrary to past behaviour from them, but a few people need to pass away before it can be discussed in public.

Bob B

Compare this news report in The Economist of May 27, 1978 (p.21-23) on the Ridley Report to the Conservative Party on policy for the party in government for the future of the nationalised industries:

Note especially this section towards the end relating to the energy industries:

"Every precaution should be taken against a challenge in electricity or gas. Anyway, redundancies in those industries are unlikely to be required. The group believes that the most likely battleground will be the coal industry. They would like a Thatcher government to: (a) build up maximum coa1 stocks, particularly at the power stations; (b) make contingency plans for the import of coal; (c) encourage the recruitment of non-union lorry drivers by haulage companies to help move coal where necessary; (d) introduce dual coal/oil firing in all power stations as quickly as possible."

The Ridley Report was eventually to become hugely influencial within the party in government after May 1979 although Mrs Thatcher was initially very cautious about privatisation of the nationalised industries - as Simon Jenkins reports in his book: Thatcher & Sons (Penguin Books, 2006).

The Economist report was in the public domain and it forecast very accurately the strategy deployed for defeating a mining strike. For all that, the NUM fell into the bear trap.

Note, too, that in government, Nicholas Ridley as transport minister, opposed privatisation of the railways. In the end, the railways were privatised by the Major government in 1996, after Nicholas Ridley had died in 1993. See this on rail privatisation:

Mrs Blogs

on the economics of the coal mines, Tower colliery was closed in 1994 for 'economic' reasons. But the management and workers bought it and reopened it in 1995 and continued to work it successfully for another 13 years.



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Bob B

"on the economics of the coal mines . ."

Agreed, but the economics depends on: (a) local geological conditions and investment in safety and conservation measures, (b) local pay rates and incentives, (c) the extent of mechanisation and whether the local geology permits mechanisation.

It seems not to be widely appreciated that the going price of coal is derived from the world oil price. With the oil price hikes of the 1970s, by the early 1980s average earnings of male manual workers in South Yorkshire - where the strike was triggered by the announced closure of the Cortonwood Colliery in spring 1984 - were the highest in the country outside London and the South East - and average female non-manual earnings were the lowest.

Academic studies of the consequences of mine closures for employment might pay better attention to: (a) what happens to local income distribution, (b) education standards in coalfield areas, especially the percentage of schools officially rated as failing with less than 30% of 16 year-olds able to get 5 GCSE passes A*-C grades, including maths and English because that matters with the trend towards a "knowledge-based economy".

Something the public tends to overlook is that many skills are needed to operate a coal mine, ranging from electrician skills, mechanical and construction skills through logistics management and so on. Also, the shearer-loader machines widely used in the mines by the 1980s were, effectively, highly sophisticated robots which required highly developed technical skills to set-up, maintain and operate. Whatever else, it's a (cultivated) myth that mining skills are specific to the mining industry rather than to manufacturing.

Bob B

Note present concentrations of failings schools in this news report:

And compare George Orwell in: The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), of which about a third is focused on South Yorkshire. Note the passage:

"The time was when I used to lament over quite imaginary pictures of lads of fourteen dragged protesting from their lessons and set to work at dismal jobs. It seemed to me dreadful that the doom of a 'job' should descend upon anyone at fourteen. Of course I know now that there is not one working-class boy in a thousand who does not pine for the day when he will leave school. He wants to be doing real work, not wasting his time on ridiculous rubbish like history and geography. To the working class, the notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown-up seems merely contemptible and unmanly."


Mrs Blogs, if the NCB was willing to sell the pits, why were so few of them sold?

Mrs Thatcher was happy to sell off BA, BP, BT, British Steel, so why did no one buy the NCB until after the closures program?


"Mrs Thatcher was happy to sell off BA, BP, BT, British Steel, so why did no one buy the NCB until after the closures program?"

Well at least one company bought a coal mine from the NCB. And it appears that they waited until after the closures in order to buy it at the lowest price.

WRT other pits that closed. Perhaps they were doomed businesses, or maybe a few were financial gems waiting to be picked up by an astute buyer. We'll know a bit more if deep mined coal becomes profitable in the UK in the future.

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