The Miners and Industrial Democracy: Is This Why Thatcher Destroyed the Industry?

I found this passage in G.D.H. Cole’s Fabian pamphlet, Guild Socialism (London: Fabian Society 1919) in which he discusses the way some of the trade unions and their shop stewards, particularly the railwaymen and the miners, were wishing to transform the negative control they had in their industries towards positive control. By this, he meant that they wished to change from simply telling the management of those industries what they could not do, to becoming active participants in the management of their industries. Cole wrote:

Perhaps the most remarkable tendency in that direction in recent years is the growth of the Shop Stewards Movement. it has been principally in the Engineering and allied industries, where it represents a definite attempt by the workers to convert their negative restrictions on industry into a form of positive control over industry. You may say that that was not consciously so. So far as many of the Shop Stewards are concerned it was not; but I am dealing not with what was consciously present in the mind of every Shop Steward, but with the general tendency of policy behind the Shop Stewards’ Movement as a whole. In that sense, what I say is undoubtedly true. During the present year the big control movement of the railwaymen and the miners have been obvious expressions of the tendency I have been describing. Both the railwaymen an the miners no longer content themselves with the imposition of restrictions on the way in which industry is run, but demand that they shall be admitted to a share in the control of industry, and shall have the right to a certain extent to lay down the conditions under which industry is to be organised in the future, and to share in the positive task of reorganising it. There is the second big difference between Trade Unionism as it has existed in the past and the Guild of the Future. (p. 10).

Thatcher was determined to smash the unions, and particularly the miners’, because of the way they had overturned Heath’s government with the three-day week. She was also terrified of them ‘ratcheting down’ of success reforms by the Labour party, which she believed would result in the complete socialisation of industry. 1975 was also the year of the Bullock report, which recommended a system of workers’ control, where the trade unions would place worker’s representative in the boardroom. Reading that passage and its remarks on the desires of the miners and railwaymen now nearly a century ago to run their industries, whether that was what she was also scared of. And the result was her privatisation and destruction of the mining industry, and John Major’s destructive privatisation of the railways.

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