Socialist Worker

Onto the defensive

Issue No. 1

We report from a meeting last Sunday of Socialist Workers Party members from 15 pits across the country. They discussed the present stage of the miners' strike, and how to combat scabbing.

'The miners' strike has entered a new phase over the past few weeks,' said Alex Callinicos introducing the discussion. 'Tactics which were appropriate at an earlier stage no longer fit the present, much more defensive situation.

'Until the battles of Orgreave in May and June the dominating issue was how to make the strike effective, how to make it hit the economy.

'Steel was the key - if the miners could halt the steel plants, as they did in 1972 and 1974, then the rest of industry would be rapidly affected.

'Orgreave was a turning point. Up to then the Tories seemed genuinely uncertain about whether or not they should come to some face-saving compromise with the NUM.

'But Orgreave made Thatcher scent blood. Their success at Orgreave convinced the Tories that they could use the same methods which they had used to keep steel going - the riot police, scab lorry drivers - to move coal from the pitheads to the power stations if necessary.

'The result is the present phase in the strike, one in which the miners have been forced back onto the defensive. Instead of trying to hit steel they have been driven back onto their own ground, picketing their own pits to keep the scabs from getting in.

'What's happening is a softening-up operation. The Tories are using the scabs to test the miners' defences, to identify weaknesses.

'The miners must picket their own pits to stop the scabbing. That's the key to the present phase of the strike.'

(15 September, 1984)

Picketing pits is the key

The new defensive stage of the strike has meant that tactics have to change. Much of the meeting was taken up with discussing how miners could step up the picketing now they are being forced back to picketing their own pits.

Steve Hammill

Steve Hammill

Steve Hammill from Silverwood in South Yorkshire explained what this meant. 'As we entered this phase of the strike you could see the police activity building. It was obvious that they were on the offensive and rolling us back.

'Therefore the key has become the pits and stopping the scabs.

'It's very appealing to think that we can go on the offensive, but it's not the time. Therefore we have to build the pickets by doing things like knocking on doors, and we've got to do it consistently.'

Norman Strike from Westhoe Colliery explained the softening up process which the police are carrying out. 'We've now had over 100 arrests at Wearmouth, where there has been a sustained picket. The police have taken the most militant people away, those who were prepared to get involved in the pushes at the front. There's no rank and file leadership and we've got to start filling that gap.'

Ian Mitchell described how they got more people out picketing at Silverwood. 'We went round knocking on people's doors trying to get them out picketing. The response was good, people would come out now they felt they had to fight.

'When Scargill called for a mass picket at every pit, we said to the branch officials we've got to respond to this call and they agreed. It wasn't just SWP miners.

'We began to suss out some of the problems. There are people who are basically scared, and for every miner who says it there are ten that think it. We're scared, but we're used to it. Many sit at home watching the police violence on the TV and it terrifies them. We've got to be understanding about that when we try to get people out picketing.'

(15 September, 1984)

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