Thursday, March 05, 2009

Billy Bragg: The Miner's Strike-25 years ago

Historical illiteracy is endemic in the U.S. Mention something 25 minutes ago, and most dunces have little recollection.

Watching this video, and reading Bragg's thoughts took me back to a time when I was much less cynical, and still believing that the thoughts and sentiments of artists like Bragg might allow us to transcend the ideological divide of Thatcher (across the pond), and Reagan on these shores. I now realize how misguided I was in holding those beliefs.

While the comments in The Guardian are much more insightful than the typical drivel passing for thought in U.S. papers, it's obvious that historical whitewashing isn't confined to America.

I did enjoy reading through these, including this one by Peter Guillam:

This is exactly right. The defeat of the Miners was, in the UK, the pivotal moment in allowing the ascendancy of neo-liberalism with all the now manifest damage that has caused. It allowed the wholesale ransacking and selling off of huge swathes of public assets and did so not by winning the battle of ideas but by the brutal para-military suppression of alternative ideas. It unleashed the destruction of traditional jobs, security and the communities that grew out of those jobs - not just in mining but across the board - leading to the hollowed out, hedonistic and essentially immoral society we now live in. The society of McJobs, of sink estates, drug addiction, welfare-dependency, celebrity narcissism and failed and hollowed-out public institutions was all, not created, certainly, but certainly magnified by the destruction of traditional working class communities that stemmed from the defeat of the miners.

There is so much that could be said about the malign consequences of the defeat of the NUM, but just focussing on the economic aspect - the argument was that the pits were uneconomic and to continue with them would be a drain on the public purse. Well that was contentious in itself because, as was much-debated at the time, the economic viability of coal mining was very much dependent on what accounting measure were used. But even if that were not so, the ultimate consequence of the neo-liberal revolution has been to move from a situation of subsidising publicly owned productive domestic industries by spending millions to subsidising private, unproductive, offshore financiers by spending billions. Hardly an improvement even for the most hardcore accountant of the national balance sheet.

Almost all the things bemoaned by both left and right today arise from the looting and theft perpetrated against this country by the neo-liberals. The miners were the thin black line that might have prevented that looting and theft. I'm not saying that the world before 1984 was in any way perfect, or that the world after 1985 would have been perfect had the miners won. But when they were, literally, bludgeoned off the streets the possibility of a decent society was also kicked into the gutter by the anonymous, helmeted guards acting on the bidding of the neo-liberalism's gauleiter in Downing Street for a few long-ago spent overtime payments.

I fully expect on this thread and others about the Strike to see the ignorant and malign defending and celebrating the miners' defeat. As someone whose family and friends were amongst those on the receiving end I remember it very differently. But so what? As someone upthread said: "you lost: tough". But as the then victorious neo-liberalism now falls apart it becomes clear that it wasn't "we" who lost. It was just about everyone, and perhaps most especially those legions of 'ordinary, decent, folk', the 'silent majority' who thought that neo-liberalism spoke for their interests, who voted accordingly, and who have now seen their pensions, savings and job security wiped out by a revolution that in reality was never for them but always for the financiers and international corporations that they are now bailing out. They would have been wiser, to use the phrase of the time, to "support the miners".

For more on the '84 Miner's Strike, go here.

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