When the news of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death broke on Monday, Ken Capstick, the Treasurer of the Socialist Labour Party (a more left wing off-shoot of the mainstream Labour Party) sent a text message to his friend and party leader Arthur Scargill.
According to ITV News, the text message read “Thatcher Dead”.
Capstick got a response almost instantly.
It said simply: “SCARGILL ALIVE !”
To understand Scargill’s enthusiastic response, you have to understand that the biggest battle of Thatcher’s career wasn’t against Argentina during the Falklands War, or even with her political opponents — the-then moribund Labour Party.
It was against Britain’s unions.
These unions had brought the nation to a standstill several times in the 1970s with industrial action, and Thatcher had made it clear from the outset of her time in office that she meant to crush their power.
The biggest battle during the 1984-1985 miners’ strike, which took place after Thatcher announced that many of the country’s uneconomical mines, at that point nationalized, would be shut down. 20,000 jobs would be lost.
Scargill had been the president of the National Union of Mineworkers since 1981, and had already become a vocal opponent of Thatcher. He called a strike without a ballot — still a controversial move — and became the figurehead for the media during the frequently violent conflict. He was very much Thatcher’s arch-nemesis.
Thatcher eventually wore down the miners, and the strike eventually ended on on March 3 1985. Since that point, unions have become a much smaller force in British public life. Membership fell from a peak of 12 million in the late ’70s to almost half that by the late ’80s. It has never recovered. Scargill became a fringe figure on the left.
Scargill’s text seems to suggests he feels victorious, but if that’s true is a hollow victory. As Lord Young, one of Thatcher’s closest allies during the strikes, told ITV news today “Scargills’s won no war…The only thing he has done is to outlive her.”
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