No 1515 30th June 2017
Crude bribery of DUP to keep the Tory losers in power underlines the desperation and fearfulness of the ruling class in the teeth of the greatest capitalist Catastrophe ever, with economic disaster unrolling since 2008 and about to hit the buffers worse than before. Backpedaling on austerity a sign of their weakness. Grenfell tower fire horrors underline ruling class incompetence and indifference while also revealing working class stirring towards revolt. Bringing down this Tory arrogance and profiteering a first step but Labourism however “left”-posing (not very) is a disaster too, tying the working class back to parliament and disarming understanding, leaving them open to counter-revolutionary coup moves the ruling class is already plotting (and even hinting at on TV). Brexit chauvinism and “war on terror” hate frenzy feed the fascist atmosphere being whipped up, with the “left” cravenly going along with it in one way or another, tailending Labour reformism and “condemning terror”. Western warmongering wipes out city after city in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia etc and is stepping up war provocations, its only “solution”. Leninist understanding is needed more urgently than ever
The cynical bribery of the ultra-reactionary “Northern Ireland” DUP colonists, to rescue the Tories from election disaster, shows a ruling class floundering ever more desperately as catastrophic capitalist crisis deepens and public discontent reaches closer to boiling point.
The £1bn subsidy and other concessions suddenly “found” by the May government, despite pleas of deficit reduction necessity, to pay off the Democratic Unionist bigots in “Northern Ireland”, still sulking and petulantly dragging their feet over the now inevitable progress towards reunification of the forcefully ripped-out artificial statelet into the whole of Ireland (the agreed end result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement conceded by British imperialism after 30 years of dogged national-liberation war by the IRA-Sinn Féin had proved unbeatable and ever more costly) tramples in a dozen ways all over the pretence of parliamentary “democracy”, dangerously jeopardises the Irish peace settlement itself and sets going a dozen new regional and sectoral grievances and demands for “equal treatment” elsewhere.
That the ruling class even contemplates such a gross in-your-face contempt for public opinion and willingness to give the sick backwardness of the has-been Orange colonists a hand in dictating British policy – further exposing the lying fraud of already threadbare parliamentary “democracy”, as well as partly reneging on its international treaty agreements on Ireland – underlines its fearfulness.
So unstable is the British imperialist position in a world itself teetering on the edge of ever greater collapse and disaster that even the normal safe-hands “B-team” for running capitalism, the class-collaborating stoogery of the Labourites is deemed too “risky”, though it may have to be relied on eventually to head off the ferment.
Almost certainly the bogeyman “left” image that a hysterical capitalist press has demonised Jeremy Corbyn with in the past two years, (and at a low level for decades before that as a supposed “maverick”, doing the rounds of the “solidarity” and fake-“left” meetings) has been double-edged, initially to straightforwardly rubbish this tamest of “left” Labourism, but also to bolster it up and give it a certain credibility in preparation to capture and head away from revolution an inevitable anti-capitalist turn in popular opinion as crisis deepens.
And so it is going, with sudden mass and particularly youth enthusiasm for Corbynism in the election.
But for as long as possible the ruling class wants to keep a direct hand on the tiller, fearful that even the tamest (and already compromising - Trident renewal, Privy Council membership, etc) “left”ism might let the lid off too much.
That is certainly reinforced by the even more significant social turmoil around the horrific Grenfell tower fire disaster, another symptom of gigantic class pressure and discontent building up, with even some (as yet barely visible) revolutionary aspects in the community self-organisation which has spontaneously filled the vacuum of ruling class organisational paralysis and contempt over the disaster and its aftermath.
But none of this can go far until huge questions about the whole of capitalist society not only start to be examined, but are taken up more profoundly than ever in history.
The surge into “left” Labourism is precisely the wrong answer, tying back the working class to the parliamentary system and reformism.
Only a grasp of the total failure of the entire capitalist system and the need for its complete revolutionary overturn can begin to change things and no such leadership is coming, or will come, from Corbynism which offers exactly the opposite – a deliberately limited perspective that just saying “no to austerity” can change everything, with the capitalist economy revived into a “job creating recovery”.
It is deadly misleading reformist garbage, ignoring completely the intractable and unsolvable crisis failure of the entire profit making system which is inexorably imposing Slump collapse on the world and dragging it towards inter-imperialist world war conflict, the only possible end point for the cutthroat trade and currency wars of the “free market”.
Worse still it leaves the working class and ordinary people wide open to the fascist backwardness and repression which is coming as the ruling class is forced to crack down on growing disorder and upheaval, including potentially outright coups and “suspensions” of parliament etc. exactly as seen repeatedly in Latin America, archetypally in Chile against Salvador Allende in 1973 or currently being tried in Venezuela (and imposed in many other countries such as Egypt or, rarely-mentioned by the press, Thailand).
Public revolt, already seen in the 2012 riots, and close to surface in the post-tower block fire when Theresa May visited, will massively escalate as soon as the temporary economic salvation of Quantitative Easing runs out, as it must.
That is virtually all that has kept the economy afloat for a decade, even with devastating and callous workhouse level welfare and wage cutbacks, services restrictions and the advent of widespread foodbanks and homelessness.
But creating money out of thin air was never more than a gerry-built patch for the total collapse of the 2008 worldwide bank and credit crash.
Just how bad that was is occasionally spelt out in bourgeois economic journalism:
It is worth recalling just how close we were to unimaginable disaster after Lehman Brothers failed in September 2008. Since nobody in the sector knew what other banks’ real status, pure panic broke out. The entire global financial system threatened to collapse. As the then president of the European council, Herman Van Rompuy, admitted (years later): “We came within millimetres of a total implosion” – an implosion that would have meant hundreds of millions of people discovering that they had lost access to bank accounts, and that supplies to supermarkets, pharmacies and petrol stations had stopped.
With a lot of luck and very expensive emergency measures, an economic cardiac arrest was averted. At the time few insiders were open about the danger the world economy was in, for fear of provoking the very panic that threatened the system. This was probably wise: but the consequence is that few outsiders are aware of the threat posed by the system in its current form. And without public awareness of the need for a genuinely different financial sector, there is precious little political capital in truly taking on the banks and their accomplices.
So, the short answer as to why no top banker lost his (they are always men) fortune when their banks went bust and required bailouts or nationalisation? It’s politics. There was too little political capital and almost no political will among mainstream parties to break up the banks and make them small and simple again – let alone to take on the “top” bankers and at least take away the bonuses paid out to reward profits that in 2008 proved illusory.
...the bankers who played a central role in the worst crash of the postwar era walked away with their fortunes and freedom intact. Even worse, the fundamentals of the system that made it possible were retained intact.
It is feasible that some of the top brass at Barclays will now go to jail for the way they raised billions from Qatar to avoid a government bailout – though the accused deny breaking any laws.
Yet ultimately it is of little consequence how this case plays out. The main outcome of the crash is that the DNA of the system that nearly destroyed the world economy is still there. In 2015 Andrew Haldane, the Bank of England’s financial stability chief, suggested that not even the regulator can know what banks really own and owe because they are still allowed to hide so much off the balance sheet.
Indeed, as soon as the shock of the Lehman’s moment subsided, the banks went on the offensive again. In America the financial lobby has been able to make the Dodd Frank legislation – brought in after the crash to make things safer – all but unworkable. Huge campaign donations helped “financial business-friendly” politicians get elected and re-elected. Those presidents, prime ministers and finance ministers who stayed within the lines set by the financial sector were rewarded lavishly. Some got lucrative speaking engagements – Hillary Clinton’s $200,000 speeches to Goldman Sachs come to mind. Others found new work after their time in politics was over, with Tony Blair taking a reported £2m a year as a fixer for JP Morgan. George Osborne, Britain’s former chancellor, was the latest big name to join the industry, netting about £650,000 for four days a month at the US fund manager BlackRock.
Whether Theresa May ends up with a City job paying huge rewards remains to be seen. It can’t hurt her chances that the Tory election manifesto promised to scrap the Serious Fraud Office – the body that has now brought charges against the Barclays bankers.
Households in Britain have run down their savings to a record low in an attempt to maintain their spending in the face of falling living standards, according to official figures.
The Office for National Statistics reported that during the first three months of 2017 the savings ratio – a measure of how much money individuals are putting away for retirement or a rainy day out of their disposable income – fell below 2% for the first time.
But the ONS added that, despite the fall in the savings ratio, individuals also spent less in the shops and on going out, contributing to a sharp slowdown in the UK economy, from 0.7% growth in the final quarter of 2016 to 0.2% in the following quarter.
Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS/Markit, said: “The main drag seems to have come from weaker household spending growth, which dropped from 0.7% late last year … which can in turn be at least partly linked to a third consecutive quarterly fall in real household disposable income – its worst run since the 1970s, according to official statisticians.”
The UK’s balance of payments also fell deeper into the red in early 2017 as the trade gap in goods widened and the surplus in services widened.
Part of this is almost certainly the economic impact of Brexit but middle-class illusions that things would be on a “path to recovery” if only Britain had remained in the EU would equally be missing the point; it is capitalism which is collapsing and that is happening throughout the world.
Workers, of whatever kind in Britain (office or factory etc) will be hammered either way, inside or out of the EU.
The only economic system that can be “genuinely different”, as the first piece advocates, is one where the means of production are held in common and the guiding principle of the world economy is not the relentless drive for private profit, fostering dementedly wasteful consumerism and trampling over all rationality, genuine human need and balance with nature and the environment, but production planned and tailored on a world scale for the requirements of a rational society.
But that is not achievable without a gigantic class war struggle against the ruling class to take over everything, farms, factories and finance, establishing workers state (dictatorship of the proletariat) control under which the inevitably violent minority counter-revolution (see post war history of dozens of coups, Western stooge dictators, CIA-run bourgeois “colour revolutions”, massacres, and outright wars like Korea and Vietnam) can be suppressed while the huge majority are gradually drawn into a growing rational scientific socialist society.
It is not going to happen without a revolutionary leadership developed with a purpose built party of open polemical debate to take up every kind of question.
Particularly the coming great debate needs to examine all the giant achievements of the working class so far, particularly in the twentieth century workers states, with the USSR at the centre, and to examine equally their flaws and the mistakes they made, with Stalinist revisionism eventually leading to a retreat from revolutionary grasp and then the liquidationism under Gorbachev that led to the current oligarch restorationism (run by the shallow anti-communist Bonapartist balancing act of Vladimir Putin, trying to prevent total capitalist anarchy from collapsing everything and the revived revolution it would cause).
All that means the greatest of battling against the defeatism, anti-communism and wooden revisionist Stalinism that makes up the fake-“left” of all kinds, and its refusal to take up the polemical struggles needed to clarify and take forwards revolutionary theory (see eg EPSR Books Vol 21 - Unanswered Polemics against museum Stalinist revisionism).
Critical issues right now include the whole of the “left”’s treacherous capitulation to imperialism’s “war on terror” and the craven “condemnations” they all dutifully issue after every Third World inspired attack on the West, playing right into the hands of capitalism’s drive to war as its escape route from crisis.
Far from explaining that the entire “war on terror” is a capitalist excuse for whipping up world conflict, (and which is the sole real cause of war and cause of this “terrorist” turmoil against its domination), using it to inflame chauvinism and hatred in every country, while establishing draconian domestic repression against “extremism” (notionally “jihadism” but actually meaning the rebelliousness and class war consciousness that the ruling class knows is brewing), the Labourites and all the fake-“lefts” behind them present the great revolt in the Third World as some “new reactionariness”, thereby lining themselves up with capitalist hatemongering and war, however much they protest and sloganise their “No to war” formulas.
Equally they are all tangled up in the Brexit debate and the Little Englander chauvinism it has fostered.
Taking sides on it either plays to the inevitable protectiveness and clannishness that some of the working class communities have turned to (including those in traditional Labour areas who refused to vote for Corbynism) by going along with import control and anti-migrant calls; or it indirectly fosters the same illusions by offering only hopeless daydreams about a fanciful “United States of Europe” which is supposedly to be won over to “more democracy” and thereby socialism, while everyone “welcomes all migrants” because they are “just workers”.
Neither version is going to solve anything, the first simply reinforcing the backward nationalism (and racism) inculcated into deep layers of the working class over two centuries of collaboration with imperialism, and the second failing to recognise the genuine fears and doubts of a working class facing competition for jobs and hard-to-come-by services and housing etc from economic migrants. Most of these are far from communist or even trade union minded, and often are those from the former workers states most filled with individualistic attitudes, prepared to undercut wages and conditions; even if they were more conscious, their efforts would be better applied at home in taking up the revolutionary struggle to transform (or re-transform) things there.
Of course there are sometimes cases of real need for asylum but even then a working class approach would be to try and set them up with help and aid, hopefully to be able to return and pursue the struggle.
Moralising against racism and offering an “open door” to all who want to come is a totally unrealistic fantasy and one which will only leave hard pressed workers open to the backwardness of reactionary groups such as UKIP and more overt fascist scapegoating and reactionary nationalism.
Only seeing the entire migrant issue as a deliberate tool of capitalism, used to undercut workers' solidarity, and undermine revolution elsewhere, leads on to the only real solution of taking on and challenging all of capitalism – but that is precisely what the “left” groups never do.
Right now a critical issue that needs exploring is the great Grenfell fire disaster which has exposed multiple levels of capitalist venality, incompetence, greed, callousness and indifference to the poor.
These emerge both in the slow accumulation of wrong and cheapskate decisions over decades and their escalation through the hidden cuts the post-2008 “austerity” period, all of which led to the horrifying conflagration itself, and subsequently in the hopeless inadequacies and failures of the emergency and humanitarian response, laced with contemptuous evasions and refusal to accept responsibility by the double-barrelled Tory snobbery in Kensington (now forced to resign to head off the ferment).
The shocking images of people burned alive because of the profiteering and contempt of the ruling class across the board has rightly stirred a seething anger and empathy that has catalysed all kinds of local responses; the initial community organisation to gather help and aid; the groups building their own database systems for tracking and tracing the missing because they cannot get satisfactory answers from the authorities; the groups now emerging in other boroughs to demand political answers as the full scale of the problems emerges and thousands of people have to be evacuated.
And all this is raising a mass of questions about safety and protection cutbacks which goes deeper and wider with every passing day.
But it will not be answered by an “inquiry”, even if such a mechanism was remotely likely to come near to finding out “what went wrong” etc.
So far it looks unlikely. Ruling class contempt and indifference is immediately compounded even in setting up a judge’s investigation, choosing a chairman whose past record on housing issues is one of favouring the local authorities against poorer tenants, notoriously upholding the right to “relocate” tenants to housing far away from where they have been living, 50km outside London for example.
But even if the communities were to get the wider terms of reference they want rather than the seemingly narrow terms offered so far, and even if this judge or another were to deliver the most probing of inquiries, finding all “those who were to blame” and “bringing them to justice” – it would still not be getting to the real point.
As indifferent and negligent as some might be proven, the real issue is that this is a problem of the entire capitalist system and its way of doing things.
Layers and layers of failure, inadequacy, and “wrong” decisions are involved, all made inevitable by the very nature of a society driven by the “free market” which even at the best of times forces “money saving” and profit to the fore and in crisis imposes draconian cutbacks.
Just after the event some of these were outlined by an architectural expert:
It was not an act of God, but the tragic outcome of a growing void in the responsibility, expertise and single oversight of large construction projects. This has largely come about due to the breaking up of what I would call the triple safety lock around project delivery.
The first is building control, ensuring that increasingly complex building regulations are properly implemented. Building control departments in many local authorities have been eviscerated. They are invariably under-resourced with no teeth. Often a subset of planning departments, they lack the authority to carry out what is arguably the most important part of a local authority’s remit – to ensure the safety of its residents.
Furthermore this function has been partly privatised, with a range of companies competing for the business. It is often those companies with a reputation for gaining “easy” approvals that increasingly dominate the market, further undercutting the council building control.
The morale among many council building control officers is extremely low. I completed a small complex project in an inner London borough last year. The council building control officer I worked with was excellent, but told me that he could not cope with his workload, and was unhappy with the way the department was run. He has since left the council.
Second, fire officers play a crucial role in ensuring that all fire regulations are met, and devising a fire strategy for a project. Building control acts as a conduit to local fire departments to assess that all fire regulations have been met, as well as bringing their own experience to bear.
In early 2007 I was working on a large refurbishment project in the West End. We were informed by the fire officer who was reviewing the project with us that in the near future fire officers would no longer play an active role.
A new form of self-certification was to be introduced, with the onus on the developer/owner to ensure a project met all fire regulations. This took no cognisance of the fact that different buildings could have very different fire requirements. The fire officer looked me straight in the eyes and told me that in his opinion this was a recipe for disaster.
The third part of the triple lock is to ensure that all materials used in a building are fit for purpose – obviously particularly important in the case of fire safety. In the past, architects have specified construction materials and have then been in a position to ensure that the specified materials were used. This is increasingly not the case as performance specifications enable alternative materials to be used, often selected by the developer, contractor or sub-contractors.
With architects now seldom having the authority to insist on specific products being used, there is a tendency to go for cheaper materials, without necessarily understanding the impact or potential knock-on effect.
Public safety should not be privatised. Putting a monetary value on human lives is unacceptable. The triple lock should be recognised and strengthened.
Bring back building control to its rightful place in local authorities, working independently of the planning function and the private sector. Bring back fire officers working closely with council building control to scrutinise proposals and carry out proper inspections on all projects. Bring back the specification of materials to a single point of responsibility under the architect or engineer responsible for the specification of materials, working with the building control officer and fire officer.
Allow the experts to do what they know best without interference from politicians or those who tend to take shortcuts or the cheapest option. Look where that has got us.
Deon Lombard has a private architecture practice.
Others have pointed to the cutbacks to legal aid which have prevented tenants challenging the tenancy management bodies or the councils, and others to fire regulation failures:
The extent to which government ministers failed to act on expert warnings about inadequate fire safety rules before the Grenfell Tower disaster in London can be revealed by the Observer.
As public outrage mounted and political pressure grew on Theresa May over the tragedy, former chief fire officer Ronnie King – who is secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety – said urgent requests for meetings with ministers and action to tighten rules were stonewalled.
King also revealed that ministers had failed to insist that life-saving sprinkler systems were mandatory in the design of new schools in England, despite clear recommendations in reports commissioned by the government itself, which advocated their use.
His criticism came as the prime minister admitted on Saturday that although the emergency services had been “heroic”, support for families of Grenfell Tower victims who needed help after the fire “was not good enough”.
King, who was a chief fire officer for 20 years, said: “They seem to need a disaster to change regulations, rather than evidence and experience. It was the same with the King’s Cross fire and the Bradford City football club fire. They always seem to need a significant loss of life before things are changed.”
He said that requests for meetings with former housing minister Gavin Barwell, now Theresa May’s chief of staff, were turned down. King said: “We have had replies, but the replies were to the effect that you have met my predecessor [the previous Tory housing minister James Wharton] and there were a number of matters that we are looking at and we are still looking at it.
“They are politicians and I am a professional fire adviser. I understand the difficulties they have with this,” King said. But he repeated: “They always seem to need a significant loss of life before things are changed.”
Reports into a previous fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London in 2009, in which six people died, and a subsequent coroner’s report led to urgent calls from the fire sector for action. But seven years later those calls had still not been acted on and a long-awaited review of building and safety regulations had not even begun.
Another leading expert, David Sibert, fire safety officer to the Fire Brigades Union, who was told he would sit on the review, confirmed to the Observer that he had yet to be invited to contribute to it. It is believed that at most only a limited start was made and then abandoned as civil servants were directed on to other matters, notably the need to secure Brexit.
Last week Barwell declined to comment on when the review would be ready. Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Brinton, who also sits on the all-party group, said: “We could have had new regulations ready to go last year as the refurbishment work on Grenfell Tower was completed.”
...With the crisis threatening May’s already shaky hold on Downing Street, concerns about fire safety were widening to include regulations governing building of schools, student accommodation and care homes. King said: “The Department for Education have their own strict guidance for schools. Last July they issued their amended document as a final draft. Previously they said automatic fire sprinklers would be installed in all new schools except for a very few low-risk schools. They then issued revised guidance, which said that because of XYZ they are removing the requirement for sprinklers in all new schools.”
The Department for Education said that fire safety in schools was paramount but suggested sprinklers were not mandatory in all buildings. “All schools, like other public buildings, must adhere to stringent fire-safety legislation,” a spokeswoman said.
But simply blaming “politicians for murder” as the opportunist John McDonnell, Corbynite Labour shadow chancellor has done, is to evade the point too.
It is an entire system which is to blame both in past actions going back decades under every kind of bourgeois parliamentary regime and now.
It is not just in preventing fire or collapse that it is culpable, as one more bourgeois piece partially explored:
There are moments in which nations come to realise the cost of state-sanctioned inequality – of the belief that certain citizens should have safety, dignity and wellbeing and that it is perfectly permissible that others do not. The Grenfell Tower fire is increasingly being understood as such a moment, a brutal indictment of a housing system by which – in one of the richest boroughs in the country, in one of the richest countries in the world – children, fathers and grandmothers were crammed into a death trap.
Tenants are said to be being told they will be rehoused as far away as Preston and threatened with being declared “intentionally homeless” if they refuse – meaning that Kensington and Chelsea council will have no duty to house them. That’s the latest symbol from Grenfell of how social housing, and the tenants who need it, are seen: a problem to be hidden from sight.
It would be easy to convince ourselves the events of last week were purely a sign of this country’s housing failures. But housing inequality doesn’t exist in a vacuum – a dark spot on an otherwise humane society. Rather, it’s one part of a pervasive system of inequality – a widespread abandonment of Britain’s poorest.
As the smoke was still clearing from the black skeleton of Grenfell Tower, the United Nations released a major report stating that the UK has some of the highest levels of hunger and deprivation among the world’s richest nations. One in three children in the country is in what Unicef calls “multi-dimensional poverty”: that’s deprivation in housing but also in clothes, social activities and food. This is the reality told by countless organisations on the ground: social workers, nurses, welfare rights advisers and debt charities.
The day before the UN report came out, one debt charity quietly released its own findings of how low-income families in the UK are now going without beds, cookers and meals. A third of Christians Against Poverty’s (CAP) clients had considered suicide. A third feared eviction. A small minority – predominantly single mothers – had turned to prostitution to make ends meet.
These are the residents of Grenfell multiplied: families who have not been put through the horror of fire but nonetheless are being harmed. In their new book, The Violence of Austerity, Vickie Cooper and David Whyte argue that austerity is a form of systematic violence: that years of cuts have led to a dismantling of the social systems that operated as a buffer against economic hardship.
In the days after the fire, David Lammy MP, whose friend, the young artist Khadija Saye, died in Grenfell, said: “This is about the welfare state.” He continued: “We need to live in a society where we care for the poorest and the vulnerable … It’s about the welfare state. Do we believe in the safety net or not?”
When CAP released its report this month, it dubbed its clients the “new destitute”: citizens who would previously have managed to avoid absolute destitution with the help of the welfare safety net but who now – caught in an era of falling wages, cut benefits and rising prices – can easily find themselves in a position where they can’t afford even the basic essentials to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean. Poverty – and with it, inequality – are not fresh stains on Britain; nor is the failure of successive governments to adequately respond to it. But austerity is more than simply citizens in hardship: it’s the wilful abandonment of the government’s duty to help. Kensington and Chelsea council – the Conservative council responsible for Grenfell – for its part is sitting on £274m in reserves, according to the latest accounts.
While poor children in the borough fell below the breadline – and Grenfell residents slept in a tower without sprinklers – the council handed £100 council tax rebates to millionaires.
The social tenants housed in an unsafe tower block are casualties of the same thinking that leaves families to exist with skipped meals and torn clothes: the anti-state, anti-welfare culture that allows human beings in one of the world’s richest nations to suffer hunger, insecurity and indignity. If we are to learn lessons from the trauma of Grenfell, it is not only the scandal of how the state allows some citizens to die. It’s the scandal of how the state now expects them to live.
Agonised “christian” welfarism can solve nothing either however; because the problem is endemic to capitalism which depends on the exploitation of the working class and ultimately wants to maintain a “reserve army” of the unemployed and destitute, as Karl Marx pointed out, the better to keep in line those “lucky” enough to be in work, to keep wages down, hours up and exploitation at a maximum, and all the more so as the crisis deepens the need to match cutthroat competition by market rivals.
Of course the struggle to get answers should go ahead but it needs to be lifted to a new level with an understanding of the revolutionary implications of this shattering event.
All those who fail to point out this issue are part of the problem, fooling the working class with the notion that it is possible to have “better regulations” or “more controls” or to find the “culpable” persons.
It is the ruling class and its entire system of monopoly exploitation which is culpable.
Nothing will be changed and decent lives will not be achieved for the mass population until that all of that is totally turned over.
The same applies to the heroic and dogged struggle of the Liverpool working class and its 30 year long fight for justice over the Hillsborough football disaster against the slanders, insults and contempt poured on the heads of the 96 crushed victims and their families:
Six people, including two former senior police officers, have been charged with criminal offences over the 96 deaths in the Hillsborough disaster and the alleged police cover-up that followed.
David Duckenfield, the South Yorkshire officer who was in command of policing at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989, has been charged with the manslaughter of 95 people.
The 96th, Tony Bland, died four years later after his life support was switched off; a manslaughter charge cannot be brought in his case because his death came more than a year and a day after his injuries were sustained.
Sue Hemming, the Crown Prosecution Service head of special crime and counter-terrorism, said the CPS would allege that Duckenfield’s failure to take personal responsibility on the day was “extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths of each of those 96 people who so tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives”.
Sir Norman Bettison, the former chief constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire police, who was an inspector in the South Yorkshire force at the time of the disaster, has been charged with four counts of misconduct in a public office.
Of those charges, Hemming said Bettison allegedly told lies about his involvement in the disaster. “Given his role as a senior police officer, we will ask the jury to find that this was misconduct of such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder,” she said.
Graham Mackrell, the Sheffield Wednesday chief executive and officially designated safety officer for the Hillsborough stadium, has also been charged with breaching the terms of the ground’s safety certificate and failing to take reasonable care under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The three other men are all charged with doing acts with intent to pervert the course of justice, for the process by which statements made by South Yorkshire police officers on duty at Hillsborough were subsequently reviewed and changed.
Donald Denton, the South Yorkshire police chief superintendent who operated in a senior role in that process, his deputy, chief inspector Alan Foster, and the then South Yorkshire police solicitor, Peter Metcalf, have all been charged.
The charges are the latest significant landmark in a 28-year campaign for accountability fought since the disaster by the families of the 96 people who died, survivors of the crush and the wider Liverpool and football supporting communities.
Trevor Hicks, president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group whose teenage daughters Sarah and Vicki were killed, said that families had wanted more people to be charged but that the news was a vital step forward.
“If I’m honest I didn’t think we would get to this day, no,” he said. “We didn’t think we would. This is a success for society at large. There are no winners but it sends a message out that nobody is above the law. After Grenfell Tower and others, the message is ‘watch out, families will come after you.’”
Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James was killed, said she felt the families had turned a corner. “The message this sends is ‘never give up. Carry on fighting’. This should never happen again. No one should go through this to get to the truth. That’s the legacy of this.”
Of the decision to charge, Hemming said: “Following our careful review of the evidence, in accordance with the code for crown prosecutors, I have decided that there is sufficient evidence to charge six individuals with criminal offences.
“Criminal proceedings have now commenced and the defendants have a right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”
She said that in order to bring the case against Duckenfield, the CPS will have to make a court application for a removal of the legal bar on further prosecutions imposed by the judge who heard the private prosecution brought by the families themselves in 1999. “We will be applying to a high court judge to lift the ‘stay’ and order that the case can proceed,” Hemming said.
Bettison is accused of having lied about his own involvement within South Yorkshire police after the disaster, including describing his role as “peripheral” to Sir David O’Dowd, then chief inspector of constabulary, when he applied to be the chief constable of Merseyside police in 1998.
Bettison is also charged with lying in a subsequent statement to the Merseyside police authority that he had “never attempted to shift blame onto the shoulders of Liverpool supporters”. The two further charges allege that he lied in September 2012, after the publication of the Hillsborough independent panel report, when he issued press releases saying he had never suggested Liverpool supporters’ behaviour caused the disaster, and had never “besmirched” supporters.
Bettison said he was “disappointed to be charged” and would “vigorously defend” his innocence. “The charge is not in relation to my actions around the time of the disaster but in relation to comments I made years afterwards. I will vigorously defend my innocence as I have been doing for nearly five years.
“I will not be making any further statement so as not to prejudice any future proceedings.”
The CPS also considered bringing charges against Sheffield Wednesday football club, the South Yorkshire metropolitan ambulance service and the Football Association (FA). Hemming said Sheffield Wednesday could not face charges as a legal entity as it “only now exists on paper”. She added there were “no directors or others listed who form the company and therefore no one who can give instructions to answer any criminal charge or enter a plea”.
But while this determination is a useful lesson for Grenfell’s survivors and multiple tower block evacuees, it also has its limits.
Far from “nobody being above the law” the very opposite is the case.
Capitalism is throwing some of its own as scapegoats to the wolves (after suitably long decades of delay) because it has been forced to by this determined fight, and that is a victory, but it is done to head off any understanding of the real issues around Hillsborough or any attention focusing on those really culpable.
And who are they?
The very highest levels of the capitalist establishment and their pursuit of the most vicious calculated civil war against the working class.
The same police force which was responsible for the chaos in Sheffield and the deliberate cover-ups afterwards was deliberately trained and encouraged in its methods for the 1984-5 Great Miners Strike, the high point of reformist trade unionism and militancy.
Its crudeness, duplicity and offensiveness to the Liverpool victims – monstrously aided and abetted by the media and infamously the Murdoch press in particular, still hated in the city, – were the legacy of that complete class war offensive by the ruling class to try and break the miners, the vanguard of working class militancy and solidarity.
It is notable that demands for an inquiry on that issue, and particularly of the so-called “Battle of Orgreave”, when a calculated trap of state violence, barbaric mounted police brutality, and “fixing up” of miners for prison was pursued, have repeatedly been refused despite demonstrations in London.
And why? Because the lessons are critical for workers.
As the EPSR said at the time of Hillsborough (ILWP Bulletin 491 19-04-89):
Behind the appearance of individual mistakes lurks the unchangeable reality of relentless commercial pressures, deepening cultural anarchy, and above all the fraud that in a capitalist state, the police force exists to help the public.
Any help to a person hurt by violence, crime, or natural disaster is incidental to the real purpose of the law’s armed bodies of men which, from the Gestapo MI5 downwards is to preserve the propertied status quo, the existing bourgeois order.
The police’s crowd control is exemplary when it comes to keeping leftwing newspaper sellers or leafletting out of street market places. “Move along or I’ll nick you. There’s a danger of causing an obstruction”, etc, etc. The same with a march or demonstration, or a picket line. Unfailingly the police move in at once, fully confident of “how to disperse the obstruction danger” etc, even when tens of thousands of miners, or whatever have to be pushed around, and even when it is the police’s pushing around which is the obstruction itself, totally unnecessary, and forcibly resisted. The law never loses its nerve or drops the initiative. You either stay where you’re told to, or go where you’re pushed, or you get run off the streets.
At the Hillsborough semi-final game, a real problem of genuine crowd control difficulties was already apparent to many bystander-witnesses more than an hour before the kick-off. The dangers of serious crushing around the turnstiles just before the start of a big match are in any case legendary. The alleged whole point of nearly one thousand police earning overtime pay in Sheffield on Saturday was solely to ensure that 20,000 or so of the more youthful football supporters crowding the terraces behind the goals, particularly the Liverpool fans who had been allotted the Leppings Lane end, could do so in a safe and orderly manner without threat of any obstruction or disturbance to anybody.
But in spite of all the advance predictions of extra large and excited crowds at the prospects of such a semi-final as Liverpool v Forest, and despite early warnings on Saturday that there was a particularly large and lively attendance, — there was effectively no crowd control at all.
And what minimal police intervention there was (to inject some order into the frustrations of the milling masses who couldn’t get into the ground quickly enough to watch the start of the match) - was hopelessly out of touch and misguided, opening a floodgate to add to the sea of crushed humanity inside.
It is nonsensical to assume that this was the result of some oversight or inattentiveness by the police. It was the result of the entire philosophy of the police force in the British capitalist state (and under imperialism generally) having no interest whatever in seeing that football crowds get good supervision and a fair deal.
The real point to make clear to the working class is to what lengths the ruling class is prepared to go when finally it is being challenged - total violent counter revolution.
The miners at the time were not given a revolutionary perspective to understand what civil war thuggery they were up against; just the opposite, Arthur Scargill’s leadership, while heroic in traditional trade union terms, still clung to a perspective of getting in a Labour Government and seeing a reformist boost to the industry through major investment under the “Plan for Coal”.
But it was precisely Labourism (Old or New) and TUC class collaboration which refused to support or mobilise the working class behind the miners.
But as the ILWP analysed such reformist boosts were not any more possible in a world already experiencing the downward lurches of the post-war capitalist crisis which is now fully underway and heading for far worse disaster than seen yet.
The lesson to be drawn out then was that whatever the possible outcomes for the strike, which may not have been different materially speaking under the given circumstances, the miners themselves would come out of the experience with a hugely enhanced revolutionary grasp, in preparation for the inevitable oncoming crisis, now being imposed.
The need for that revolutionary understanding remains, and some latest revelations about the stitch-up against the miners and the links to Hillsborough can help build it. It is worth quoting at length from a recent bourgeois press account (with a second part to follow):
On 26 April last year, after the longest court case in British history, the jury at the new inquests into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster finally delivered their verdicts. They determined that the 96 men, women and children crushed to death at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest had been unlawfully killed...principally owing to the serial failures of South Yorkshire police – and specifically the gross negligence of the officer in command, chief superintendent David Duckenfield...
The landmark findings blew away a ruthless 27-year campaign waged by the South Yorkshire police force to blame the victims – people at the match supporting Liverpool – for having caused the disaster, alleging that they were drunk and behaving recklessly. .. This time, the jury exonerated the supporters of Liverpool completely, finding that the behaviour of the spectators had not contributed to the disaster.
The false case, constructed by a police force that had grown increasingly powerful through its policing of the social and industrial strife of the 1980s, was finally demolished. After these revelations, a long-buried question rose in prominence and urgency: how had this northern English police force, over the course of the 1980s, become so hardened, high-handed and detached from its citizens?
In 2012, the Guardian had made the link with a previous South Yorkshire police operation, this one against thousands of striking miners, which took place near Rotherham on 18 June 1984 and was notoriously dubbed the Battle of Orgreave. Scenes of police violence, including horse charges and officers beating miners with truncheons, dominated television news that day. No police were charged for their actions. Instead, the incident led to the prosecution of 55 miners who were arrested at Orgreave and charged with riot.
But the prosecutions collapsed after the trial of the first 15 fell apart a year later, on 17 July 1985. What the court case had revealed was not the guilt of the accused, but rather the failings of the South Yorkshire police operation. The miners’ lawyers accused the police of bloody, unprovoked assaults at Orgreave, then of perjury and perverting the course of justice in compiling the case for the prosecutions. It was, according to Michael Mansfield QC, “the biggest frame-up ever”.
Even after the trial collapsed, following revelations of what appeared to be serious police malpractice, Margaret Thatcher’s government opposed any inquiry. Its support for the police was unconditional. In March 1985, just after the National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) strike had ended, Thatcher attended a drinks party at the Home Office to congratulate the chief constables of forces who had helped defeat the miners.
The South Yorkshire police force was not held to account, nor was there any reform. Four years later, Peter Wright, the chief constable who had overseen the operation at Orgreave, was still in charge. It was Wright who was responsible for the catastrophic appointment of David Duckenfield to police the match at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989, and for the campaign after the disaster to deny responsibility and blame the victims. Many of those whose loved ones were killed in the disaster came to believe that the force’s inhumane response was bred and given official sanction by the harsh policing of the miners’ strike. For years, they fought for accountability.
Last April, when the Hillsborough verdicts were delivered, Theresa May was home secretary. During her six years in office, the Hillsborough families, who always felt Thatcher’s government had been complicit with the police in the original denial of justice, found May to be surprisingly supportive.
May had taken office just as the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP), an initiative of the previous Labour government to examine all police and other documents relevant to the disaster, was starting its work. In September 2012, she and David Cameron, then prime minister, fully accepted the panel’s report, which was damning of the South Yorkshire police and exonerated Liverpool supporters. Then, in December 2012, after the bereaved families’ 21-year fight against official indifference and opposition, the government itself applied for the 1991 Hillsborough inquest verdict to be quashed. May’s Home Office funded the families’ legal costs throughout, including at the new inquests, at which their lawyers had to challenge the same police evidence against Liverpool supporters all over again. Margaret Aspinall, the chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose 18-year-old son James was one of the 96 dead, says she found May courteous, attentive and sympathetic.
Against expectations for a Conservative home secretary, May developed a tough stance against police wrongdoing, delivering confrontational speeches about the need for reform to dumbstruck Police Federation conferences. According to her biographer Rosa Prince, May was encouraged to pursue this agenda, and to shape the presentation of herself as she still does – as a supporter of “ordinary working-class people” – by her chief of staff Nick Timothy.
In parliament on 27 April, the day after the Hillsborough verdicts, May condemned “the authorities” for their campaign of “hostility, opposition, obfuscation” and blame. She said lessons had to be learned, and that the government would continue to support the families in their “quest for justice.” Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow home secretary, who had initiated the HIP process in 2009, welcomed the jury’s findings, then called for an inquiry into the Orgreave scandals. ...
In the following days, strong signals that May had indeed decided to hold an Orgreave inquiry grew in momentum. On 17 May, just three weeks after the Hillsborough verdicts, May went to the Police Federation’s annual conference and made another forthright speech, stressing that the police must accept the “enormity” of the jury’s determinations. She delivered a stern lecture, stating – in a tone of certainty that has since become more familiar to the nation – that inquiries into historic police wrongdoing are a fundamental necessity.
Everybody, she said, must understand “the need to face up to the past, and right the wrongs that continue to jeopardise the work of police officers today. Because historical inquiries are not archaeological excavations. They are not purely exercises in truth and reconciliation … they are about ensuring justice is done.
“We must never underestimate how the poison of decades-old misdeeds seeps down through the years and is just as toxic today as it was then. That’s why difficult truths, however unpalatable they may be, must be confronted head-on.”
On the very same day, the website Conservative Home published an article by Nick Timothy arguing that there should be an inquiry into the Orgreave allegations. “Since 2010 the government has shown it understands that justice must be done no matter how long it takes, and that to get things right in future, we have to understand what has gone wrong in the past,” he wrote.
A month later came the vote for Brexit. May, who had spoken with certainty that Britain would be better remaining in the European Union, stepped over her fallen rivals and grasped the opportunity to move into No 10. Timothy rejoined her as chief of staff, from his break as director of the Free Schools Network.
Once installed as prime minister, May’s fervent belief in righting wrongs and fighting past injustice – the need to “get to the bottom of cases like Orgreave,” as Timothy had argued – became rather lost.
On 31 October, May’s home secretary, Amber Rudd, declared that there would be no Orgreave inquiry.
...in a breathtaking U-turn, her government was arguing that the passage of time itself meant that Orgreave did not have to be addressed, because policing practices had been reformed since the 1980s. “There would therefore be very few lessons for the policing system today to be learned from any review of the events and practices of three decades ago,” Rudd said.
Rudd further explained this reversal of principle by saying that she could not conclude with “certainty” that had the Orgreave scandals been addressed, the deaths of 96 people at Hillsborough would not have happened. Nobody, of course, can say that with certainty – the families simply believe that their loved ones might have been kept safe, had the force been reformed after such large-scale malpractice. Rudd was misrepresenting their argument. She argued there was “no miscarriage of justice” because none of the miners charged with riot was ultimately convicted. But it was her final justification that drew the most outrage from Orgreave campaigners and the families of the 96 people unlawfully killed at Hillsborough: “Ultimately,” Rudd said of Orgreave, “there were no deaths.”
The thinness of these justifications – particularly the idea that, if police malpractice is to be held to account, people now have to die – led many to conclude that May had reverted to standard, unconditional Conservative support for the brutal suppression of the miners’ strike. ...The more that is known about Orgreave, and about the unlawful killing of 96 people so soon afterwards at Hillsborough, the clearer the outrage is – yet “the poison of decades-old misdeeds” was, after all, to remain untreated.
Orgreave, the site where Arthur Scargill, president of the NUM, called for a mass picket on 18 June 1984, was not a mine, but a hulking, smoking plant set in fields outside Rotherham. Its workers processed coal into coke for the furnaces of British Steel’s vast factories 40 miles east across South Yorkshire in Scunthorpe. Yet Orgreave became the infamous centrepiece in a year-long clash of historic forces, a strike that marked the beginning of the end for mining and the other great heavy industries on which Britain’s economic power was founded. What happened at Orgreave was not simply the most violent police behaviour ever seen in a modern industrial dispute, but the culmination of a concerted political campaign to diminish the strength of trade unions.
The execution of that strategy since, and the release of official documents, has clarified how Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party prepared in advance to face and defeat a strike by the NUM or another of the mass-membership unions in industries such as steel, the railways or utilities, which were all then state-owned. Scargill was himself a veteran of a fateful 1972 confrontation in which the NUM had been considered victorious over Edward Heath’s previous Conservative government. During that miners’ strike, which forced power cuts and a three-day working week, Scargill led mass pickets that descended on the Saltley coke works in Birmingham. The police were not at Saltley in great force, and under pressure from the pickets, they eventually allowed the gates of the plant to be closed. Heath’s government conceded significant pay increases for miners. It was a landmark victory for the NUM and a principal reason for the Conservative party’s defeat in the 1974 election. In opposition, the Tories nursed a strategy for privatising the nationalised industries by fragmenting them and selling them off to the corporate market – and for revenge: to break the negotiating and mobilising power of the unions.
At the NUM’s cavernous headquarters in Barnsley, this once-formidable organisation is now a shell. The current general secretary, Chris Kitchen, who was at Orgreave as a 19-year-old on strike, says that most of the work now is handling old miners’ injury claims, pensions and the other leavings of a mighty industry. Britain’s last deep coal mine, Kellingley, closed its gates December 2015.
... Kitchen, like many former miners, refers immediately to the strategy mapped out in the “Ridley plan”. This plan to deal with the nationalised industries was worked up by a Conservative party policy group while the party was still in opposition. The group was chaired by Nicholas Ridley, who, after Thatcher won the election in 1979, became her transport minister, and later oversaw manoeuvres during the miners’ strike. An old copy of Ridley’s 26-page report, handed over forlornly by Kitchen, makes explicit recommendations to aim for profitability by privatising coal, steel, railways, ports and other industries that had become publicly owned after the war, and to “break up the power of monopolicy (sic) public sector unions”.
Reading it 40 years on, with knowledge of the vast privatisations and deindustrialisation of Britain that followed, the report’s language is alarmingly violent and antagonistic. Produced as a planned industrial policy by a political party aiming to be elected as the next British government, it spoke of waging a war with its own population. In a confidential annex, entitled “Countering the Political Threat”, the report foresaw “battles” with unions, referred to workers in the nationalised industries as “enemies” and “communist disruptors” who would try to “destroy” the privatisation plan. Pondering how to inflict a landmark defeat on the unions – which, it said, would see privatisation, job losses or wage restraint as a “casus belli” (cause for war) – the report actually suggested that “we might try and provoke a battle in a non-vulnerable industry [one not vital for generating power], where we can win”.
The plan cited mining as a “vulnerable” industry, because coal was used in the production of electricity, but assessed it as most likely for an “attack” by its union. So the report recommended preparing defences: building up coal stocks and recruiting in advance non-union lorry drivers who would be willing to defy picket lines and move supplies around the country.
The annex also recommended strengthening the police, then mobilising them against industrial strikes. “It is also vital … that on a future occasion we defeat violence in breach of the law on picketing,” the Ridley plan stated. “The only way to do this is to have a large, mobile squad of police who are equipped and prepared to uphold the law against the likes of the Saltley Coke-works mob.”
After Thatcher’s 1979 election win, following Labour’s own struggles with union strikes and wage demands in the 1978 “winter of discontent”, the Conservative government effectively implemented the Ridley plan. The National Coal Board (NCB), the state-owned agency that ran the country’s 173 mines in Yorkshire, South Wales, Lancashire, Durham, Scotland, Nottinghamshire, Kent and other coalfield areas, employing 187,000 people, stockpiled millions of tonnes of coal in preparation for a strike.
Thatcher had appointed the NCB chairman, Ian MacGregor, from British Steel, where he had emerged from a 14-week strike in 1980 to halve the work force. MacGregor made his name in the US, where he had aggressively broken the strength of the United Mine Workers’ union in Wyoming in the 1970s.
On 5 March 1984, MacGregor sparked the NUM strike with the announcement that 20 mines had been designated uneconomical, and would be closed, causing the loss of 20,000 jobs. Miners at Cortonwood colliery, in South Yorkshire, one of the mines slated for closure, staged the first walkout. Scargill argued there was really a plan to close more than 70 pits, shrink the industry and shed thousands more mining jobs than that.
Kitchen and many former miners believe that MacGregor’s closure plan knowingly provoked Scargill and the NUM, the stockpiling and other preparations having been made. The announced pit closures were made at the start of spring, when demand for coal would be low.
“People wonder now whether we might have held back, tried to negotiate, to get through the summer, rather than react,” Kitchen says. “There are still two sides to the argument, and different views of Arthur Scargill and his tactics, but miners believed, justifiably, that their pits and jobs were under terminal threat, and we had no choice but to fight it.”
Orgreave gradually became a focus for picketing, after the NUM came to believe that the NCB was abusing an agreement between the union and employer for the transport of just enough coke to keep the Scunthorpe furnaces firing. There were some outbreaks of violence, and the response of South Yorkshire police escalated. On 30 May 1984, Scargill was famously arrested at Orgreave and charged with obstruction, for which he was later fined £250.
Scargill called for a mass picket on 18 June, and committed union members arrived in cars and coaches from coalfield areas all over the country. Kitchen believes, as do many others, that they walked into a prepared operation by South Yorkshire police that was intended to inflict a brutal battering. Official documents from the time reveal that Chief Constable Peter Wright himself commanded a plan in advance to charge arrested miners not with minor public order offences such as affray, but with the ancient and serious criminal offences of riot or unlawful assembly.
It was a hot, sunny day, and the miners who arrived from early morning were mostly wearing T-shirts, jeans and trainers. As the men and their lawyers would point out at trial, they did tough, dangerous work, for which they had to wear helmets, steel-toed boots and protective clothing, but unlike the police, they did not come dressed for a riot.
In hindsight, many are suspicious of the ease with which the police allowed them to reach South Yorkshire. By that point in the miners’ strike, police routinely set up roadblocks all over Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, turning miners back on the M1 on the grounds that they were going to commit a breach of the peace. That day, says Kitchen: “We were all guided in, told where to park, led into that field. That makes us believe it was pre-planned to have us there, and give us a hiding.”
Under cross-examination a year later, Assistant Chief Constable Tony Clement denied that there was any intention to attack the miners, but made clear that the police were ready for violence. “If it was going to be a pitched battle, it was going to be on my terms,” he said.
Giving evidence at the prosecutions, Clement said that at Orgreave he had been in command of 4,600 officers, from 18 different forces. South Yorkshire police itself later officially put the figure at 6,000. Clement said he had 186 police support units (PSUs), whose role was to break up public disorder, made up of an inspector, a sergeant and 20 constables. There were 42 horses, whose mounted officers wore helmets and carried staves twice as long as truncheons. Police with dogs were stationed at the side of the long field in front of the plant. There were 345 men with riot gear including short, round shields and truncheons – the first time they had been used on the British mainland. It was also the first time that police in riot gear with long, thick plastic shields had ever been deployed in South Yorkshire.
They were stationed in massed ranks at the bottom of the long field, in front of the road along which the convoy of empty lorries would arrive, fill up with coke inside the Orgreave plant, then leave again for Scunthorpe. Workers had a legal right to picket, to persuade others to show solidarity by not working themselves, but that did not legally extend to intimidating people or physically stopping vehicles. The role of the police in an industrial dispute was officially not to take the side of the employer or government, but to maintain law and order. The rough compromise reached on most picket lines was a “ritual push,” where miners would make a show of trying to push through police lines, without expecting that they would succeed; the police would hold the line, then relative calm would prevail again. But at Orgreave, the police did not just stand firm against the strikers; they responded with mounted charges into the crowd, and with truncheons.
At Orgreave, as at Hillsborough, the version South Yorkshire police told on the day became the accepted narrative for years – even though it was wholly one-sided and contradicted the reality that the public saw on television. At Hillsborough, the enduring images were of injured, traumatised young Liverpool supporters emerging from the crush and making strenuous efforts to save others. They ran with dead and injured people on advertising hoardings, because the police and ambulance response was so slow and disorganised. Yet the stories told mercilessly by the police that “the fans” had been drunk and misbehaving still stuck.
The footage from Orgreave showed police on horses charging into defenceless men, and one officer repeatedly lashing a miner, Russell Broomhead, over the head with a truncheon. There was also the shocking photograph of a woman, Lesley Boulton, seemingly about to be smashed across the head with a long stave wielded by a police officer on a horse. She was pulled to safety, but many of the newspaper pictures of arrested miners showed them bleeding down their bodies from nasty wounds to their heads.
And yet the established view, even now, is the one Clement and South Yorkshire police told the media on the day: that it was a “battle”, that they were victims of violent rioters and responded only proportionately. Miners forever resent the BBC news coverage, which showed miners throwing stones and then the police charging; in fact, that footage happened the other way round: the miners were responding to being charged at by police. The miners always said that the police had charged on horses, and attacked them, without justifiable provocation.
But on the night, with these disturbing scenes of police violence bruising the news, Thatcher did not pause for fact-finding or call for an investigation. She came down on one side only, describing the miners as a mob. A note the following day, by her policy advisor David Pascall, was absolute in its judgement. Describing the miners as “Scargill’s shock troops,” it said: “Violence and intimidation … on the scale which we saw yesterday at Orgreave are unacceptable and an affront to both the civil and criminal law.” What had happened, Pascall continued, had been “mob violence”.
That same word has been used by Sir Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s press secretary, to describe Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough, ever since Wright and other police officers briefed him and the prime minister the day after the disaster. Over more than two decades Ingham – despite the findings of Lord Justice Taylor’s official inquiry, which rejected that narrative, and even after the verdicts at last year’s inquests – has maintained that he “learned on the day”, from police, that the supporters were “a tanked-up mob”.
The South Yorkshire Police Committee, the local authority body responsible for oversight of the force and its budget, was, however, horrified by the police violence. Its chairman, George Moores, talking to ITV’s World in Action programme, described the behaviour of some officers as “deplorable; sheer hooliganism by yobs in uniform”. The committee resolved to restrict Wright’s budget for horses and dogs, but the most senior figures in government responded by giving Wright their total support.
In a note on 4 July 1984, just three weeks after Orgreave, Andrew Turnbull, Thatcher’s private secretary, wrote to a Home Office official: “The prime minister … agrees that the chief constable of South Yorkshire should be given every support in his efforts to uphold the law.”
Ninety-five miners had been arrested; 55 were charged with riot. Leon Brittan, then the home secretary, publicly stated that miners convicted of riot should be sentenced to the maximum term in prison for that offence: life.
The Thatcher government had, as planned, strengthened and allied itself with the police in the years before the strike, awarding officers generous pay rises, while workers in nationalised industries faced redundancy and privatisation. In 1981, oppressive policing in poor neighbourhoods suffering the effects of a recession sparked riots, which were met with the appearance of long-shield riot officers in British cities. In Toxteth, Liverpool, CS gas was used for the first time on the British mainland against the civilian population. The deputy chief constable of Merseyside police who oversaw that groundbreakingly severe response was Peter Wright.
Given what is now known about Wright’s regime, the culture at South Yorkshire police and its culmination in disaster at Hillsborough in 1989, it is chilling to learn, from official papers released 30 years later, of the absolute backing the government gave him. This was an era before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace) came into force, coupled with the introduction of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 1986, to make decisions independent of the police, on the strength of evidence against accused people. That legislation was intended to address police malpractice – the framing or “fitting up” of people for crimes they did not commit, which had produced a series of miscarriages of justice through the 1970s and 80s, including those of the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six. But, in government papers released to the National Archives in Kew, Thatcher, her ministers and advisers can be seen determinedly seeking a tougher response from the police to the miners’ strike, with no concern for its implications.
On 14 March 1984, just a week into the strike, Thatcher explicitly referenced Saltley when told by MacGregor and Peter Walker, her energy minister, that pickets were preventing other miners from going to work. “The Prime Minister said she was deeply disturbed at these reports,” a note, by Andrew Turnbull, Thatcher’s private secretary, records. “The events at Saltley coke works were being repeated. It was vital that criminal law on picketing be upheld … It was essential to stiffen the resolve of chief constables to ensure that they fulfilled their duty to uphold the law. The police were now well paid and well equipped and individual forces had good arrangements for mutual support.”
Chief constables such as Wright had their resolve stiffened with prejudicial rhetoric, exemplified in a speech Walker made on 30 May, in which he described the strike as “a battle enthusiastically supported by Marxists to see whether or not the mob, using mob violence, can rule”. Walker praised “the courageous and tenacious action of the police”, which had, he said, saved the country from “violent mob rule”.
Not all chief constables approved this warlike portrayal of their duty to police an industrial dispute. Last year, after the Hillsborough verdicts, Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Greater Manchester police, lamented that a “them and us” culture had been created, from the tough policing of the 1981 riots through to the use of police as “an army of occupation” during the miners’ strike. Fahy said that this culture had also contributed to the failure to keep people safe at Hillsborough. At the time, in neighbouring West Yorkshire, Chief Constable Colin Sampson spoke publicly of the importance of preserving trust between police and mining communities for when the strike was over, declaring a “softly-softly” approach in which horses and riot shields would be used only as a last resort.
After leaving the navy in 1954, Wright had been a policeman in Manchester for 25 years. In 1979, he joined Merseyside police, and in 1983 he was appointed chief constable of South Yorkshire police – a year before the mining communities inhabiting large areas of his patch went on strike. Wright seems to have fallen in line with the government’s generalisation of the miners as a hooligan mob, rather than people enduring great hardship in a campaign to preserve their industry. He embraced the conviction that he and his force were saving the country from anarchy.
It would be a year before the details of what happened at Orgreave would be analysed in court – a proper test of the government’s assertion that Wright had only been upholding the law. By then, the strike was over. Broke, exhausted, outmanoeuvred, overwhelmed and relentlessly vilified by the government and its media supporters, the miners went back to work after the NUM executive voted by a narrow majority on 3 March 1985 to call off the strike. It was and has always been hailed by the Conservative party as a great victory against the trade union opponents of commerce, but the returning men were walking into MacGregor’s mass closure programme and, ultimately, the sealing up of an industry.
Jan Freytag, a historian at the university of Bochum in Germany, found documents at Kew that show that days after the strike ended, on 27 March 1985, the government invited police chief constables to the Home Office for celebratory drinks.
The reception was explained in two notes to Thatcher. “Chief constables generally, and in particular those for Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, made a very considerable contribution to resisting mob rule during the strike,” the first one said, “and you might think it appropriate to say so in person.”
Then, the day before the gathering, Thatcher was reminded: “You are looking in tomorrow … for half an hour at the drinks given by the home secretary for chief constables. The idea is for you and Mr Brittan to have an opportunity to say thank you for all the police did during the miners’ strike.”
On the list of those attending, from 14 different forces, were Peter Wright and Tony Clement from South Yorkshire police.
When the titanic strike by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) ended in defeat in March 1985, Britain’s media moved on to cover the Conservative government’s subsequent privatisations of nationalised industries, the stock market “big bang” and the rise of the “yuppie”. By the time the trial of the first 15 miners arrested at Orgreave and charged with riot began on 8 May 1985 at Sheffield crown court, little notice was taken – even though the police narrative completely collapsed at this point. In fact, until now, the trial and the extent of police malpractice alleged in court has never been prominently reported in detail.
Unlike the media, the accused miners had been unable to move on. Still on strike, their lives were placed on hold as they waited to see if they would be thrown in prison. All loyal union members, the men had gone to Orgreave from elsewhere in Yorkshire, and from the Nottinghamshire, south Wales, north-east and Scottish coalfields. They presented an unlikely collection of rioters. Three of them, David Bell, David Moore and Kevin Marshall, were young men. Most of the other 12 were married with children; the oldest, Bill Greenaway, from Blackwood in south Wales, was 51. All had spent their working lives in the hardest of occupations, underground or on the surface of coal mines. Bernard Jackson, 43, was a father of two teenagers, president of the NUM branch at Wath Main colliery in South Yorkshire, and the governor of two schools.
The article goes on to describe how the stitched up police case, designed to put the young miners away, possibly for life, fell apart in court and how they were acquitted.
But the call for an inquiry into the stitch-up has been blocked ever since by the ruling class establishment and its most senior Tories.
They don’t want any understanding of how this civil war dictatorship was imposed nor for the working class to understand what it is up against as the crisis relentlessly deepens.
The understanding can be built by the working class itself, but only by building a revolutionary party. It will not come from the fake-“left” as the EPSR said against museum Stalinism (No1219 10-02-04)
The NUM’s refusal to learn the lesson that reformist strike pressure is ultimately useless against a desperate and determined imperialist economic system in crisis, — is just not discussed.
The slow-wittedness of Scargill in continuing to mislead the working class into support for the Labour Party for eleven more years — after their treachery in letting the NUM be smashed and the coal industry destroyed, — does not rate a mention.
The utter stupidity of the rump NUM lobby in dictatorially ensuring that the SLP should never stray from the reformist path, once Scargill did finally make a break from Labour, has not occurred to these Spark dimwits.
The self-destruction by the vanguard of the working class through being misled into an UNWINNABLE reformist-pressure strike, — has not yet registered with the Spark, twenty years later.
The need to draw REVOLUTIONARY conclusions about a dying imperialist economic system like Britain’s which would rather destroy its own coal industry rather than be put under any further reformist pressure by militant trade-unionism, — is a non-subject for these tragic acolytes of Scargill’s TUC bossism.
The brutal US and Iraq stooge destruction of Mosul and the butchery of civilians in Raqqa, the fascist slaughter in Yemen with British bombs, Egyptian and Saudi threats on Qatar, Zionist expansionism, US attacks on Syria and Iranian forces and anti-Palestine atrocities and more, dragging the world to war, need more analysis.
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