Striking British miners' leftist connections
Barnsley, Yorkshire, England — ''Arthur Scargill's a sore point around here,'' says the waitress plunking down a plate of breakfast kippers at a local hotel in the hometown of the leader of Britain's striking miners.
''We've had no coal in coal house since strike began, and my husband's been with Coal Board for 29 years,'' she says in that distinctive Yorkshire accent that drops the definite article in conversation.
''I'm not for it,'' she says resolutely about the strike, ''but my husband and son are. I says to my husband, 'Why don't you go back?'
'' 'If I go back,' he says, 'they'll have my windows in, they'll break my legs. They'll have me in general (the local general hospital).'
''And my son. He's more for (the strike) than my husband. He's 21. I'm concerned with now, and no money for almost nine months; he's concerned about the future (of threatened pit closures).
''The trouble with Arthur Scargill is that if he told my husband and son to jump off that building,'' pointing through the hotel window to a building across the street, ''they'd jump. He's got that much power.''
Yorkshire is militant miners' territory. That, plus Scargill's class-warfare ideology, have earned the region such emotive titles as the ''socialist republic of South Yorkshire'' and ''Soviet Yorkshire.''
The latter is a reflection on Mr. Scargill's acceptance in Moscow as a Soviet-style workers' hero. He has endeared himself to the Kremlin by supporting the Polish government and denouncing the Solidarity union led by Lech Walesa.
According to Mick McGahey, a Communist Party member and Scargill's deputy, the Soviet Union has given more than (STR)1 million ($1.3 million) in money and food to assist Britain's striking miners.
As an expression of worker fraternity with the National Union of Mine Workers , the Soviet Union also gave a free holiday at a Black Sea resort this summer to a group of striking British miners and their families.
Scargill, who once had tea with former Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev and who has visited the Soviet Union on several subsequent occasions, has striven to internationalize the British miners' dispute.
''I make no apologies whatsoever,'' he says, at having met with Soviet representatives, as he and his union colleagues have done recently in Paris and London. Then he adds that he also has had contact with representatives from Canada, the United States, and West Europe.
For British trade unions, regular contact with their counterparts in the Eastern bloc is nothing new. Many left wing trade unionists resent what they see as attempts by right-wing media in Britain to seize on contacts with Communist-backed or Communist-sympathizing peace movements without indicating that similar overtures are made to Western groups.
Fears about Communist subversion and possible anarchy in such sensitive industrial areas as the Liverpool or London docks, or the Midlands car factories , have often been exaggerated. In time, many militant Communist leaders have softened their positions. This was true of the Transport and General Workers' Union leader Hugh, now Lord, Scanlon.
Some like Frank Chapple, the former leader of the electrician's union, did a complete about-face. A former committed Communist, he ended up as one of the most right-wing union leaders, and has never hesitated to heap scorn on what he sees as Scargill's Marxist demagoguery.
Scargill, however, has shown no signs of changing his political spots. The son of a Communist, Mr. Scargill was a Communist Party youth organizer, and is only thought to have abandoned the Communist Party and joined the Labour Party because it gave him greater political leverage. The cry of class warfare resounds loudly from his lips:
''We are fighting a class war and you don't fight a war with sticks. . . . You fight a war with the weapons that are going to win it.''
The man who has resorted to the strategy of strike-enforcing ''flying pickets'' which have come into violent confrontation with police, says, ''I believe that the only way you are going to get workers' control in the real sense is to take into control society itself.''
Scargill favors bringing all of Britain into public ownership. He says he does not feel Parliament really represents the people.
His strategy throughout the coal strike is regarded as textbook Marxism: keep all pits open to save jobs irrespective of the mines' economic viability, and don't compromise. Some critics have suggested that Scargill has taken Lenin's maxim to heart: ask for the impossible and you'll make your enemy appear intransigent.
The National Coal Board, under pressure from the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, has insisted on its right to close down uneconomic pits, offering large job-termination payments.
As worrying to the government as it is politically embarrassing to the trade union movement and the Labour Party, has been Scargill's clandestine dealings with foreign powers hostile to Britain.
A report in the London Sunday Times, subsequently confirmed, was a particular political bombshell. It described how Scargill had met with Libyan representatives in Paris, and how a senior National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) representative, Roger Windsor, had traveled on to Tripoli to meet with Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi. Few regimes cause more outrage in Britain than Libya. Earlier this year, a London policewoman was killed when a gunman in the Libyan Embassy fired on anti-Qaddafi demonstrators outside.
Scargill claimed his union was seeking support only from Libyan trade unions. To many British commentators, however, that was splitting hairs since the trade unions in Libya are under the thumb of the government.
The Libyan connection was a propaganda coup for the government, which has painted the NUM as an undemocratic union indulging in coercion and violence.
''Mr. Scargill's support is slipping away as increasing numbers of miners become disgusted with a political strike which relies on Libyan paymasters and Soviet backing,'' said minister of coal, David Hunt.
There are indications that the Libyan and Soviet connections have been instrumental in persuading some striking miners to return to work. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of the country's miners either have never joined the eight-month-old strike or now are back at work, some of them lured back to the pits by the Coal Board's Christmas cash bonus offer.
But one young striking miner, who was in a Barnsley soup kitchen waiting for his wife and two small children to be fed, wouldn't believe the reports of Libyan or Soviet connections: ''It's all lies I tell you.''
Even if they were true, say some miners, they wouldn't make any difference.
John Limbry, just surfacing from his early morning shift at Calverton Colliery in Nottinghamshire, says reports of Soviet and Libyan backing don't trouble him.
''You get help from anywhere you can; the government is selling goods to them ,'' says Limbry, who favors striking, but who is in the moderate Nottinghamshire coalfield that chose to work instead.
Paul Wilkinson, head of the department of international relations at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, suggests it is naive to assume that Scargill is only ''an overzealous trade unionist'' trying to save miners.
''Some woolly-minded people,'' the professor suggests, have ''misunderstood the commitment he has to revolutionary objectives.''