Monday, 23 January 2012

Thatcher as a cop-out for failures of British Left

BLANCO POSNET on this blog has been bemoaning the prospect of a State Funeral for Lady Thatcher, meanwhile in the Financial Times, Richard Vinen, history lecturer at King's College, London, writes: 'Meryl Streep remarked that she had tried, in the film "The Iron Lady", to capture what it was about Margaret Thatcher that aroused such "venom".' All this endless venom against Thatcher for castrating a bunch of union bosses who were clearly past their sell-by date in the 1980s. Genuine anarcho-syndicalists should worship the woman for this victory and lesson, because it showed us the need to put 'anarcho' into anarcho-syndicalism. For years in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s, we deluded ourselves that somehow the simple-minded syndicalism perpetuated by the British trade unions would self-evidently bring forth power to the working people - we thought that we had identified a trend, a shopfloor syndicalist tradition in British labour relations that would eventually encroach control from the bosses.

We were wrong, because all that we got in those industries in which trade unions had dominant influence, such as down the pits and in the print trade, was another kind of bossism through the tin-pot union hierarchies. The question that 'pure syndicalists' like Blanco Posnet, Dave Douglass and Dave Chapple, must answer is 'why was it possible for Thatcherism and the Ridley Plan to triumph in the 1980's?' I suggest it was because Thatcher had a strategy and a vision, while the trade unionists and their leaders in the last half of the 20th century were hopelessly conservative, irresponsible, and self-serving: one of the major proponents of this school, the miner's leader Arthur Scargill, being a silly syndicalist tactician who had no serious strategy beyond 'miner's muscle' and a bone-headed Stalinism set in Barnsley. It is natural that such a short-sighted creature should now end up sueing his own union, the NUM, in an attempt to hang onto a union property in London. As one miner said of Scargill recently: 'For a socialist, Comrade Scargill, does have a strong penchant for property ownership!'

Thatcher and Thatcherism merely demonstrated the deficiency of 'syndicalism a la Grand Britannia': perhaps rather than castrate the trade unions Thatcher simply debagged them revealing they were little more than Eunuchs. The difficulty for Blanco and the two Dave's is that as much as we may admire their efforts to promote the cause of working people in this country, they don't seem to have grasped the significance of Thatcher's triumph in the last half of the 20th century. Dave Douglass, while his autobiography shows that he wrestles valiantly with the tactical threat of Thatcherism in the past, he does not offer a signpost to show how we should proceed in future; Blanco's most recent offering on this theme came in the Northern Voices' publication 'The Workers' Next Step', which flopped with slow sales figures over the last two years; meanwhile the trade union activist, Dave Chapple, despite his undoubtable skills and talents as a trade union organiser leading to the founding of National Shop Stewards Network which last year ended in tears owing to a power grab by the Socialist Party, has now turned to publishing 'Solidarity', a quarterly magazine aiming to give a platform to rank & file trade unionists.

These three veterans of syndicalism, rather than anarcho-syndicalism, do have a problem as do the young syndicalists around 'Liberty & Solidarity', and it is that they are too focused on the past glories and on tactics rather than on developing a vision or strategy for change and transformation of the workplace. They are altogether too conservative and defensive. In some cases, as Dave Douglass's autobiography shows, they suffer from nostalgia for a past age - sometime in the 1970's - when the trade unions seemed deceptively great and strong. In this respect they lack an understanding of what Thatcher accomplished when she defeated the TUC. As Ricard Viner writes in his FT comment entitled 'Blaming Maggie is just a cynical alibi for the left': 'Lady Thatcher has become a kind voodoo doll for a left that talks as though sticking pins in the image of its enemy will substitute for thinking about its own problems.'

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