The struggle continued whatever the climate in the Miners’ Strike

Former prime minister Boris Johnson said in 2021 that Margaret Thatcher had given Britain an “early big start” in moving away from fossil fuels when she closed the pits. 

But Thatcher didn’t close the pits because of environmental concerns. Defeating the miners involved building more oil-burn, nuclear and gas-fired power stations and encouraging the development of more opencast mines.

The Tories also agreed to a deal with the French government to supply power stations with electricity by doubling the size of the cable connecting the two countries.

But there is a real argument about whether we should back those fighting to keep their jobs in the fossil fuel industries. The answer must always be yes.

Strikes aren’t just important because they can win workers better pay and conditions. They are essential because they can change the way that workers see themselvs. 

Miners were right to strike against a Tory government that was trying to destroy their lives. 

That doesn’t mean we should fall alongside trade union leaders who cheer the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure or ignore the climate crisis. Last year GMB union general secretary Gary Smith welcomed the construction of the environmentally destructive Rosebank oilfield.

Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham said she was “100 percent in favour” of the field and added that oil workers can’t be made into “the coalminers of their generation.” 

Both unions use the language of a “just transition”—originally meaning a plan for workers in polluting industries to be retrained for green jobs in the renewable sector, to argue for the fossil fuel economy to remain essentially unchanged. 

The limited vision of the trade union leaders is already being seen in South Wales. Tata Steel plans to get rid of 3,000 jobs in Britain and close the Port Talbot blast furnace.

The bosses argue that this move is an environmentally friendly one. But the unions are half-hearted in arguing to defend every job and simultaneously to embrace the least damaging method of steel production.

The key is to put workers at the heart of all the discussion about what’s produced, how it’s produced and how it fits into a wider plan for a sustainable economy.

Capitalism, a system that puts profits first, can never allow either workers’ democracy or genuine planning in the interests of the whole of society. Had the miners’ strike won, it would have strengthened the argument for more workers’ control and encouraged the sort of struggles that can begin to offer an alternative to capitalism.

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