On the surface, the purpose of the six-month old coal miners’ strike in Britain is to keep open mines that are no longer economically viable for the sake of short-term job protection. In reality, however, this strike is a struggle between the Marxist-led miners’ union and the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, has vowed to bring the country to its knees and to destroy the Thatcher government. In their determination to accomplish these goals, the militants of the NUM are creating economic chaos and civil breakdown. Of the 180,000 miners, approximately 50,000 have defied the union leadership and continued working. There have been many clashes between strikers and non-strikers, and some 6,000 arrests have been made.
Without the aid of other unions, Scargill and his miners are fighting a losing battle. But their cause has been strengthened immensely by support received from the United Kingdom dockworkers. On August 24, some of Britain’s 35,000 dockworkers walked off their jobs, starting the second national dock strike of the summer, and within a week the strike had spread to most U.K. harbours. While it appears that Britain can hold out against the mineworkers because of large coal stocks and the switch from coal to oil at a number of power stations, the latest strike by the dockworkers will soon cripple the United Kingdom and force the government’s hand in terminating the strikes. That in turn will bring more turmoil and illegal action. One thing is certain, if the unions win this struggle, democracy and the rule of law will have suffered another serious setback in England.