Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Thatcher funeral: an alternative eulogy

As Margaret Thatcher is seen off with pomp and circumstance, John Millington says her real legacy lies in the hollowed-out factories of Britain

April 16, 2013
4 min read


John Millington is a freelance journalist specialising in industrial relations and social movements


  share     tweet  

A Miners’ Strike rally in 1984. Photo: Wikipedia

The death of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher last week has prompted a predictable stream of condemnation from her opponents and praise from her political allies. In order to ensure people don’t get the wrong idea about the former PM, the British public have been subjected to a turbo charged and rampant propaganda offensive which is all designed to do one thing: produce conformity.

There have been gushing tributes from the world of big business and the prime minister, ‘sincere condolences’ from the opposition Labour leadership and glowing personal tributes from sycophantic liberals who will caution that she was a ‘divisive character’ but someone who nonetheless should command respect.

In order to achieve this middle of the road consensus, the most extreme ‘Thatcher Haters’ are quoted, their ‘celebrations’ of her death taken out of context and genuine debate over her lasting legacy reduced to one liners, mudslinging and arguments over whether a certain song from the Wizard of Oz should be aired.

So what is the Thatcher legacy? Destruction, death and fascist appeasement. She supported fascist dictator Pinochet. She labelled ANC leader Nelson Mandela a terrorist whilst refusing to put sanctions on the South African apartheid regime.

Shackling workers

However she will be most remembered for her famous battle with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). It was a purely ideological struggle which even in capitalist terms made no economic sense, destroying Britain’s industrial base forever and laying waste to communities up and down the country.

The announcement of 20 pit closures in March 1984 was a deliberate provocation of Britain’s most militant and well organised trade union. Billions of pounds of taxpayers money and the proceeds from North Sea oil were squandered to beef up state and security forces to crush the miners strike and achieve the pit closures. Striking miners Davey Jones and Joe Green both paid for the strike with their lives with questions remaining unanswered over their tragic deaths during the dispute.

While striking miners showed courage to defend British industry, community spirit was showcased by their wives who set up support groups providing food and support for the strike which lasted a year.

Thatcher on the other hand introduced anti-trade union laws around secret ballots which have been built upon. Today they are used to shackle workers from taking effective strike action making it very difficult to ensure employers properly negotiate during trade disputes.

Veterans of the miners’ strike who I have interviewed over the years regularly point out that Britain is 25 years behind the rest of the Europe in terms of clean coal technology. Domestic coal reserves could power Britain for 100 years. Instead we have been left with an energy crisis while continuing to import over 40 million tonnes worth of coal annually today.

Social destruction

But away from statistics and big politics, there is a deep social destruction that engulfs the country, in the industrial ghost towns and hollowed out factories, particularly in my home town of Wolverhampton. Anyone who has taken a train into Wolverhampton from the North can have a front row seat on the ‘tour of destruction’ that is a direct result of Thatcher’s neoliberal economic policies.

Once a productive centre of industrial strength, well paid and highly skilled employment, the area is now a wasteland of storage depots and decaying former factories. The local 79 bus route which runs for a good few miles was once famous for employing 250,000 workers. Not any more.

Thatcher’s brand of ‘Laissez Faire’ economics where market forces are allowed to run riot, puts the state as a willing partner in crushing anyone who stands in the way of private profit. There is no thought to long term investment or the social cost, all of which lives on in Britain today.

Personally I am not a fan of celebrating anyone’s death. But to ask people to show respect to someone whose whole world view caused their relatives to lose jobs, to suffer mental health issues as a result of long term unemployment or drug addiction due to increased poverty in the former mining heartlands of North Wales and South Yorkshire, is asking the impossible.

Thatcher’s funeral is an opportunity to tell the victims’ story; the story of Davey and Joe, the miners’ wives and ultimately the story of the modern day working class in Britain. They have all been burnt but they are not broken.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

John Millington is a freelance journalist specialising in industrial relations and social movements


Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright