Recently, The Economist took out a full-page advertisement in the Financial Times of London boasting that it had predicted the coal miners’ strike six years ago. Read today, the magazine’s article is indeed impressive, but its authors had no unusual powers of divination. They merely quoted from a report by the Conservative Party’s policy group on nationalized industries, issued on the eve of the party’s 1979 electoral victory.
Foreseeing a confrontation with the unions, the report stated, “The eventual battle should be on the ground chosen by the Tories…the most likely battleground will be the coal industry ” It then listed measures a Thatcher government should take in preparation for the offensive: “Build up maximum coal stocks…make contingency plans for the import of coal…introduce dual coal-oil firing in all power stations.” It also recommended a scheme “to cut off money supply to the strikers,” the establishment of “a large, mobile squad of police” to keep order and the recruitment of “good non-union drivers…to cross picket lines with police protection.”
In their meticulous planning for the strike, the Tory strategists took everything into account–except the determination the miners have shown and the strength of their resistance. Production is down, the balance of trade adversely affected and the pound weakened, but the costly strike, now in its tenth month, continues.
The peddlers of the Thatcher line In the media have had the extraordinary cheek to place all the blame for the national calamity on Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader, who in their version is naturally being inspired by the Kremlin and supported by Muammar el-Qaddafi. In reality, the strike is a demonstration of the lengths and expense to which a capitalist government is willing to go to “teach the workers a lesson.” Yet he who dares to speak of class struggle is accused of being a dangerous and silly leftist–so unfashionable, my dear, so terribly out of date.
To say that France was paralyzed by the strike of civil servants in October would be to exaggerate. Although planes were grounded, tram service impaired and mall deliveries slowed to a trickle, the one-day action, called to dramatize demands for pay raises to keep pace with inflation, was hardly a success. In part, this was due to the reluctance of civil servants, who had voted massively for Mitterrand, to strike against “their” government. Also, because of the high rate of unemployment, the fonctionnaires feel somewhat guilty about what the general public considers to be their “pampered” status. When speaking of the privileged, the press seldom refers, say, to Marcel Dassault, the aircraft tycoon whose declared income is more than a thousand times the French minimum wage. Instead, it alludes to the postman, who earns just above the minimum. You see, the entrepreneur takes risks, while the postman is guaranteed job security. In the present climate of opinion, journalists find it is more advantageous to their careers to write that teachers or nurses should be grateful for their “privileged status,” and accept a cut in real wages, than to condemn a society that breeds mass unemployment.
The most revealing comment on the strike was the headline in Libération, a trendy Paris daily founded by Maoists in 1973, which proclaimed, “Aujourd’hui Moins d’Etat” (“Less State Today”) No, the story was not designed to praise the government services-education and welfare and the like-of which people were deprived by the strike. Its Maoist origins long forgotten, Libération is a pillar of “modernity.” It praises the nouveaux philosophes (the leftists of the 1960s who recanted and are now the new conservatives) and shares their belief that the private sector is the epitome of virtue, and the state, evil personified. But the headline unwittingly illustrated the absurdity of that view.