An Open Conspiracy: Conservative Politics and the Miners' Strike 1984-5

John Saville


A convenient starting point for the chronology of the Tory offensive against trade unionism is the publication by the Economist in 1978 of the final report of the Ridley committee on the nationalised industries. This report was part of the preparations which the Thatcher shadow cabinet were making in anticipation of a return to a parliamentary majority at Westminster. During the previous years Conservative politicians and businessmen in general had become acutely aware of the strengthening of trade union defences in most areas of industrial life, and in particular the two successful miners' strikes in 1972 and 1974 had exercised a powerful and lasting influence. The mass picket of the Saltley Coke Works in February 1972-which closed the gates and effectively determined the outcome of the strike-was never forgotten by the miners, the Conservative Party and the police; and it was followed, two years later, by another miners' strike which persuaded Heath to appeal, unsuccessfully, to the electorate. These events badly scarred Conservative interests in the country, and the development of reactionary ideas, and reactionary organisations, was greatly encouraged; and it was after the fall of the Heath government in 1974 that the extreme Right in the Conservative Party began to develop further organisations and support groups. There were already a number of well-established bodies in the field such as the Economic League, Common Cause, IRIS, with many years of experience, including the services of some right-wing trade unionists, and there were a number of ideological bodies which provided sophisticated materials for what was to become the new Toryism. The most influential of these was probably the Institute of Economic Affairs which went back to the late fifties. The most prominent of the new organisations was the National Association for Freedom (NAFF) an umbrella group for an assortment of Conservative reactionaries. Its initial establishment was a response to the killing of Ross McWhirter by the IRA in December 1975, and its original Council was composed of industrialists and politicians including Norman Tebbitt, Rhodes Boyson and Peregrine Worsthorne. The working brains behind NAFF were Robert Moss and Brian Crozier: Cold War warriors who were fanatical supporters of American foreign policy and specialists in Latin American affairs, including Chile. From the time of its establishment until the Tory victory in the summer of 1979 NAFF was involved in a growing number of anti-trade union actions; and it encouraged or started a series of smaller pressure groups with particular limited aims of their own but all with a specific anti-working class content.

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