In March 1984, the largest industrial dispute in recent trade union history took place – the miners’ strike. Debate about its causes and conduct, how theorists would have done it if they had been leading the strike, has continued ever since. I want to now describe why this is not just of historical interest, but how the links made at that time have provided knowledge which as at the heart of understanding today’s global power conflicts.
The government, led at that time by Margaret Thatcher, wanted to break the grip of the NUM in order to break the grip of trade unionism as a whole. Socialism would be rendered extinct and the threat of workers rights would be banished to the history books. Furthermore, with the pits closed, an alternative nuclear energy programme could be developed.
But something strange happened. The range of people supporting the miners became immense. First were the women from the pit communities, angry at the vilification, their anger fuelling a thirst for knowledge. There were banners at rallies demonstrating the support of Greenham women, gays and lesbians, the anti-apartheid movement, and of course, the many and varied miners’ support groups spawned in the cities of England and Europe, many of whom had never even seen a mine. It was at this time that links between the campaigns began to be identified. It all came to a head for me, a member of Women Against Pit Closures, as we were preparing evidence for yet another opencast mine application enquiry. While the government and British Coal were forcing through pit closures on the grounds that there was no market for the amount of coal being mined, more and more applications were being made to expand opencast mining. Even if we succeeded in opposing an application at a local public enquiry, the Secretary of State could, and usually did, overturn the local decision. We began to look at why this was happening. The government were phasing out the building of new coal-fired power stations on the grounds that the emissions from these power stations were adding to the ‘greenhouse effect.’ However technology was available to prevent emissions at coal-fired power stations. Why was it not being put in place? Why was the government so hell-bent on building new nuclear power stations, even after the accident at Three Mile Island nuclear power station in the USA, and subsequently the Chernobyl disaster? The very real contradiction in terms of market and economy were beginning to be exposed.
It came together for the women in the Northumberland and Durham Miners’ Support Groups in a small way. Bates Colliery in Northumberland mined coal for the Blyth Power Station. The colliery was closed by British Coal. Not far away, the beautiful Northumberland coastline of Druridge Bay was being threatened by a proposal to build a nuclear power station. Why was the proposal even being thought about when Blyth was so close? It was the discussions with the women at Greenham which gave the glimmering of an answer. The by-product of nuclear power generation was weapons grade plutonium. It began to make sense. A new industry was rapidly developing – weapons production.
The women of the Durham Miners’ Support Groups began to see links between our various campaigns – the anti-nuclear movement, the peace protesters, and the proposed decimation of the mining industry. Similarly, the National Union of Mineworkers were opposing the importation of cheap coal through the Rotterdam market from the apartheid regime of South Africa, which had invaded Namibia to exploit its mineral resources – the source of cheap coal to importing nations, including Great Britain.
The links made by the women during a time of struggle brought this information to the fore. A conference was arranged in the North East in 1985 to bring these separate groups such as the Durham Mining Support Groups, BAND (Billingham Against Nuclear Dumping), Peace Action Durham, Durham Anti-Apartheid group, women from Greenham Common, CND and others from the Anti-Nuclear movement together to explore strategies that could be used when working together. To do this, they formed a new network based on the organic linking of issues that affected all these campaigns. This network was effective in organising a petition and picketing electricity board showrooms immediately following the Chernobyl disaster.
The philosophy for action for Links clearly stated that “it merely attempts to understand and respond to the needs of existing campaigns by an informal network which will enable other groups to support initiatives by taking their own actions, in their own way, in their own area, under their own control.” Reading this, you may be asking why I am raising this issue twenty years later. However, we are now facing new threats to democracy with the globalisation of business, and the bitterness and hate of war is in our midst once again.
It is for this reason that the philosophy behind LINKS is so important to socialists, peace campaigners, anti-globalisation campaigners, fair trade exponents – in fact to all. People involved in a single issue campaign usually have a breadth of knowledge that could be useful to others campaigning on like issues. It is up to each one of us in struggle to look for and make these links and broaden our campaigns. It is an opportune time at the moment to build on the wave of revulsion in society against the Iraq war.
The LINKS philosophy also helps understand similarities over time. Mary Mellor, a member of a research group into changes in mining communities at Northumbria University, recently pointed out to me the similarities between the economic changes at the time of the miners’ strike and the war on Iraq twenty years later.
During the strike, the principal argument was about the price of coal. It was relatively easy for management to make a pit uneconomic by putting in new machinery so pushing up costs (Huw Beynon exposed this in his study of Horden Colliery in the Durham Coalfield, ‘(Mis)Managing Horden’.) But changes in exchange rates between world currencies also alter the relative costs of coal (or any commodity). This is even more true now when a lot of money is made gambling on currencies and altering exchange rates, which then have nothing to do with real trade at all.
When the euro was due to be launched in 2000, Saddam Hussein let it be known that he was going to price Iraqi oil in euros rather than dollars. He also negotiated trading arrangements with Germany, France and Russia. This was drastic news for the US, and consequently its domination of world currency exchange. There was also an implicit threat that other oil producing nations would follow suit, and this, in itself, would be a sound economic reason for President Bush to wage war on Iraq to defend the dollar and for Prime Minister Tony Blair to follow suit to defend the pound. If oil producing countries moved to the euro, the whole balance of world trade would shift away from the US.
At the Women Against Pit Closures celebration weekend, held in Wortley Hall in early October this year, American women mineworkers, members of the United Mineworkers of America, told how there were many coal mines being opened in the United States but most of those mines were operated by non-union labour. The USA has a no-build policy on nuclear power stations since the accident at Three Mile Island and so needs a pliant workforce to produce coal for its coal-fired power stations. Tony Blair recently spoke of the need to increase nuclear electricity generation from one fifth of the country’s requirements to 50 per cent. Taking into account the obvious danger of accident or terrorist attack, why would the government be contemplating a massive increase in nuclear power stations? Could it be for the weapons grade plutonium needed by the USA, which can’t produce enough itself? It is a chilling thought.
The LINKS Philosophy for Action stated that the only way to move forward is to refuse to work in isolation any longer. Can this be applied to issues of racial tensions in our cities and anti-social behaviour? Are we working too much in isolation? Can we use the LINKS philosophy to find common ground to work together? The sharing of information between issues is crucial towards our understanding of what is happening in our community, our country or our world today.
We had a saying twenty years ago – ‘Make the links, break the chain’. It is as relevant now as it was then.
Labour's 1983 election campaign has long been used to say it is impossible for a leader like Jeremy Corbyn to win any election from the left. Alex Nunns digs out the truth
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out