Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

While post-Brexit job losses continue to mount in the wake of the accelerating downsizing of the British car industry, the workforce lacks the support of a coherent or cohesive voice speaking up on their behalf.

Motor manufacturing is just one of many industrial sectors where employees are being let down by the failure of the labour and trade union movement to mount a vigorous campaign to safeguard future employment.

Instead of a jointly agreed strategy identifying where jobs are being lost – and then explaining how they might be protected – the largest unions seem to have coalesced around the fallback position of simply rejecting a no deal exit rather than facing head on the impact of Leave or Remain.

Uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the European Union is without doubt the greatest current threat to job prospects in the automotive sector and a wide range of other industries.

The sight of Labour MPs from former mining constituencies expressing a readiness to accept cash for their localities in return for a vote in favour of Brexit is a haunting reminder of how easily the Conservatives bought off miners in the past.

Offers of ever-higher redundancy payments enticed many miners back to work during the 1984-85 pit strike, and finally it was these cash incentives that helped secure Margaret Thatcher the victory she craved.

Almost a decade later, when Michael Heseltine pushed through the massive 1992 pit closure programme, he was convinced the £1 billion he had secured for redundancy pay-offs would again prove irresistible – and he was proved correct.

Once again, we see how the offer of Conservative cash – this time for investment within their constituencies – is again proving all-too tempting.

John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, in Nottinghamshire – a constituency that he says was “devastated pit closures” – is the most vocal supporter of Theresa May’s ploy of offering cash investment opportunities to former mining areas in recognition of Labour MPs voting in favour of her EU withdrawal agreement.

The 31 pit closures announced in October 1992 were a point of no return for the British coalfields, the eventual death knell for deep mining and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

A botched announcement, a Tory party revolt, and an embarrassing U-turn for John Major only months after being re-elected Prime Minister, did bring about a temporary reprieve, but the closures went ahead, ready for a slimmed down British Coal to be privatised.

There was a public outcry that had shocked the Prime Minister: 200,000 people marched through London in protest, and the miners’ leader Arthur Scargill was hailed a hero.

Cabinet papers revealed confidential Downing Street memos that contained excoriating criticism of the then President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, for mishandling public sympathy for the miners, and for allowing accusations of a government “betrayal” of men in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, who had stayed loyal to Margaret Thatcher in the 1984-85 pit strike.

After the shock announcement of the closures, and news that a pay-off for the 30,000 redundant miners would cost £1 billion, Major was forced to order an immediate inquiry into energy policy.

The recent death of prominent trade union leaders demonised during the industrial conflicts of the 1980s was a reminder of the price that can be paid when public figures get on the wrong side of shifts in public opinion -- a fate that might well await the Brexit cheerleaders.

Union officials involved in the so-called Winter of Discontent and the momentous strikes of the Thatcher years were already unpopular enough with large swathes of the public, but they became hate figures after being constantly traduced by the tabloid press.

Three decades later, the late NUPE leader, Rodney Bickerstaffe -- vilified at the time for calling out on strike grave diggers, hospital workers and the like -- found himself hailed as a hero by countless thousands of lowly-paid workers who credited with having done so much to help establish the national minimum wage.

The irony today is that that the popular newspapers that helped to turn union leaders into hate figures might find their slavish support for ardent Brexiteers -- such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees Mogg et al -- is nowhere near enough to save their "heroes" if public opinion swings against them once Project Deception is exposed for what it is, and the nation has come to terms with the full consequences of a hard Brexit.

Files released by the Home Office have so far failed to reveal the operational secrets behind the Battle of Orgreave.

But they do show that officers of the South Yorkshire Police remained entirely confident that they believed their tactics were justified and effective in dealing with the largest confrontation during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

If the operational order for the day is ever released for public inspection, it might show whether the police set a trap for the pickets, luring them into a confrontation, as the National Union of Mineworkers has always suspected.

More documents are to be delivered to the National Archives, and 65 South Yorkshire files are also in the process of being examined, as the hunt continues for answers to the many questions raised by the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

In view of the refusal of the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to authorise a public inquiry into the events that day, the Orgreave campaigners are determined to discover who was responsible for a “military” style assault on the pickets by 6,000 or more police officers that resulted in countless men being “seriously injured, falsely arrested and wrongly prosecuted”.