Posted on Thu 18th April 2013 by admin2
“The best memorial would be to rebuild a strong union movement from the bottom up,” writes the secretary of the Durham Trades Council. “She would hate that.” – Ben Sellers
The death of Margaret Hilda Thatcher leaves me cold, to be honest.
Not that there isn’t a deep burning hatred of everything that she stood for, but in the sense that, deep down, she was merely the talking head of a much deeper evil, cooked up by the likes of Keith Joseph in the 1970s.
It has infected every part of our society and virtually destroyed our communities in the North East.
I can understand – and would never condemn – people for celebrating her end, but while we live with that legacy I see no particular reason to celebrate. There is too much Thatcherite ideology ingrained in our political culture.
It’s not even, in my view, about Thatcher herself.
It is about the legacy of Thatcherism, the foundation for which was laid in the development of what Stuart Hall called “authoritarian populism” in the shadowy think-tanks like the Centre for Policy Studies during the 1970s and in reaction to [previous Conservative Prime Minister] Edward Heath’s defeat by the Miners.
This is what we still live with, especially so in County Durham and the North East: de-industrialisation, the erosion of the manufacturing base, the attack on workers’ rights and the casualisation of employment.
Let’s not let Maggie off the hook, though. She may not have been the only architect of this ideology, but she was certainly its willing figurehead in the UK. Thatcher brought a personal vindictiveness to a much broader movement for neo-liberal, laissez-faire economics.
Tony Benn, of course, has put it as well as anyone: “Her whole philosophy was that you measured the price of everything and the value of nothing – and we have to replace that… there is good and bad in everyone and for 10 years it is the bad that has been promoted and the good that has been denounced as lunatic, out-of-touch, cloud cuckoo land and extremist.”
Thatcher, of course, had a particular hatred for union militancy and came to power with the aim to ‘smash’ the trade unions. She made it a personal mission to destroy the NUM.
To me, this hits at the heart of why she is so hated in the North East.
I was recently reading Peter Crookston’s “The Pitmen’s Requiem” – a book about Gresford (the miners’ hymn, which commemorates the 265 miners killed in an explosion there in 1934) which beautifully explains the sense of solidarity which developed between miners who literally depended on each other for their lives in incredibly dangerous conditions.
This sense of solidarity extended to the pit villages themselves and when people say “everything revolved around the pit” they really did mean it.
What Thatcher and her hard-right ideologues and spooks set out to do was to smash that solidarity and to do that they also had to destroy those communities. Not only did people lose their jobs and futures, many of them lost their friends, their marriages and some their lives (suicides in pit villages during and in the aftermath of the strike were far too commonplace).
So, the heart of these Durham communities has been ripped out.
Nobody connected with mining will ever forgive Maggie for branding the miners “The Enemy Within”.
Of course, Margaret Thatcher was also the political leader who supported Apartheid South Africa while describing Nelson Mandela as a terrorist; who was a close ally of General Pinochet and invited him to Downing Street; who privatised our national assets; who introduced the Poll Tax; who led us into the Falklands War principally for electoral gain and who said there is no such thing as society and meant it.
However, here it is for her destruction of the coal industry that she will be remembered – and hated.
As her lavish and publicly-funded funeral cortege winds its way up to St Paul’s Cathedral, no doubt some will protest, some will turn their back, but I think the best memorial for Thatcher would be to rebuild a strong and vibrant trade union movement from the bottom up – both in the former Durham coalfield and beyond.
She would hate that.
Ben Sellers is Secretary of the Durham Trades Union Council.
Originally posted on the UnionNews website