Thatcher divided Britain say Sheffield trade unionists

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died yesterday.
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died yesterday.
Have your say

TRADE unionists in Sheffield have blamed the late former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for dividing Britain and destroying working class communities with her policy to close down mines.

Martin Mayer, Sheffield Trades Council president, said: “There will be few tears shed in Sheffield at Thatcher’s demise.

“Indeed, in some circles, such was the level of hatred engendered towards her there will be celebrations.”

He spoke out following the death of 87-year-old Thatcher yesterday.

Mr Mayer said: “Her ideological drive to tear up the post-1945 consensus and privatise our public services, sell-off our nationalised industries and smash trade union rights understandably made her the darling of the Right, not just here but around the world.

“But the single-minded determination of the ‘lady’ to drive through her policies without compromise or consideration for the damage she was doing to working class communities will never be forgiven, neither here in Sheffield or across huge swathes of the country.”

He said her policies were most ‘powerfully destructive’ during the bitter miners strike of 1984/85, when thousands of coalworkers from across South Yorkshire manned picket lines for months on end in a dispute when Thatcher announced her plan to close mines across the country.

Mr Mayer said: “There was never any economic case to close our mines, many of which had benefited from massive recent public investment to become the most productive modern and safe deep level coal mines in the world.

“Yet she smashed the collective agreement with the NUM which catered for the planned closure of mines that were no longer productive, and announced by virtual decree the mass closure of Britain’s coal mining industry.

“Secret files revealed the true motive – to provoke the powerful NUM into a dispute and defeat them, and thus pave the way for the destruction of the rest of the trade union movement, whom she dubbed ‘the enemy within’.

“The price she thought was worth paying – vilification of a powerful and proud trade union in the NUM and its strong working class culture in our mining industry; the destruction of scores of mining communities most of which were entirely dependent on coal and to this day are scourged by unemployment, poverty and social problems; the loss of hundreds of years worth of natural resources and the integrity of Britain’s energy supply.

“The other ‘price worth paying’ was the massive unemployment she created as she blindly followed Milton Freidman’s infamous ‘monetarism’ mantra.

“Inflation, he said, could only be controlled by restricting the money supply and the only tool to do this was interest rates. As interest rates were hiked above 20 per cent, Britain’s manufacturing was driven to the wall, leading to mass redundancies and unemployment touching three million.

“Her legacy, therefore, includes the desolate, overgrown industrial wastelands which blight our towns and cities to this day, and the lost skills and prosperity of hard-working working class families across the land.”

Mr Mayer also condemned Thatcher for her attitude to trade unions during her time as Prime Minister

He said: “Thatcher’s legacy also, of course, includes the most brutal restriction of trade union and employment rights anywhere in the western world.

“Trades unions were a dirty word under her rule, and an obstacle to progress, dinosaurs from another world, and she shamelessly dubbed us ‘the enemy within’.

“Not only did she do her utmost to prevent unions from taking legal strike action she also sought to emasculate us politically by denying our right to political voice.

“In this way, she hoped to destroy the Labour Party by depriving it of trade union funding. Thatcher’s project was indeed the end of democracy.”

Mr Mayer blamed her for altering the fortunes of the country.

“She inherited a country which had progressive taxation, good public services, a strong welfare state, a vibrant manufacturing sector, but had been damaged by the oil crisis and a major conflict between Callaghan’s administration and the trade unions,” he said.

“She privatised our utilities, our energy, our railways and buses, our steel, our coal and much more. She introduced compulsory competitive tendering in our Local Authorities and openly encouraged private companies to win the bids by smashing workers’ terms and conditions.

“From being the most equal country in Europe, she turned us into the most unequal, with unprecedented wealth for the few at the top and poverty and misery for millions of poor households.

“Let us not forget her cruelty and divisiveness and the damage and bitterness she wrought which is still felt strongly today across our working class communities. Her refusal to back down to the mass protests over the manifestly unfair community charge or Poll Tax eventually brought her own downfall. Even her closest supporters in the Tory Party and the establishment realised she had gone too far and was out of control and had to go.

“The mad witch image of her created by Spitting Image was more than just a laughable cartoon – there was a real bitter truth to it.

“There will be few tears here for Thatcher. And considerable anger and frustration at the almost-state funeral already planned and the weasel words of her wealthy right wing admirers gushing their praises on our TV screens. Make no mistake we are still Divided Britain thanks to her.”