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Socialist Review, March 1994

Phoebe Watkins


Why no march?

From Socialist Review, No. 173, March 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

No one can doubt that Arthur Scargill has been the most consistently left wing of union leaders. The admiration of many thousands of trade unionists is based on his uncompromising stand that there is the need for a fight.

However his article (February SR) dismisses any notion that he has influence in the wider working class movement by stating that he is only answerable to members of the NUM.

The Wednesday demonstration against pit closures in October 1992 illustrates the breadth of support. In my offices – in a Labour-run council which has suffered years of Tory cuts – the mood was both angry and jubilant. Angry as we saw pit closures as part of a wider attack, and jubilant that we might be facing the start of a massive fightback.

The most unlikely people spoke of the need for a general strike. They said that Scargill had been right all along and voted unanimously for a walkout to go on the demo. On the demonstration the mood was the same, with chants of ‘call a general strike’ and ‘march on parliament’. While we lacked the confidence to go for a march to parliament and take the whole demo, a call by someone with the influence of Scargill would no doubt have got it. By sticking to the ‘official’ route he let an opportunity go that could have changed the course of events.

Rank and file members across many industries have for years had to put up with trade union leaders’ sell outs and being told that action is not the way to win. The Tories’ pit closure programme unleashed an anger and sense that maybe we could at last fight back united.

No one could doubt the mood outside the NUM was more combative, but my experience on the demo was that the miners themselves gained confidence at the scale of the response. The wider working class movement had a decisive role to play calling for a fightback. Scargill should and could have broken with his official line and thrown his lot in with the millions who wanted to get rid of the Tories.


Phoebe Watkins
North London

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