Posts Tagged ‘miners’

Class war in Britain

Posted: 29 April 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

article-0-0017429E00000258-415_634x440 orgreave_2780189b

A couple of days ago, I linked the 1989 Hillsborough disaster with the earlier attack on the striking Orgreave miners, since both groups were treated as the “enemy within.”

Suzanne Moore just did, too, arguing that the Hillsborough verdict shatters the fantasy that class war doesn’t exist in Britain.

It must be somewhat galling for those in power now to have to accept this ruling, for they do not hide their class contempt either. They have elevated it to actual policy: all schools must be modelled on the schools they went to, but with fewer resources. All hospitals must be run to make a profit. Taxes are for the little people. Those who don’t “get on” have only themselves to blame. An increasing range of theories come into play about why poor people are poor, which is never to do with lack of money but lack of civility. Or perhaps there is something wrong with their actual brains! Imagery of working-class people invariably invokes moral deprivation by showing a tendency to excess.

Social mobility, the supposed solution to all this, only allows the odd person to slip through the net. The middle class must simply hold on. Once there, one is required to be grateful (I am not) or merely chippy (I am). As I strain my ears to hear someone who talks like me on Radio 4 that isn’t in a drama about child abuse, I never know who I am to be grateful to.

Sure, class contempt works both ways, though it is impolite to show it except by gentle humour. Rage is so 1980s. We must not discriminate against the posh apparently, though class doesn’t really exist any more. As more and more people tell us it no longer matters, we see more and more of our creative stars were privately educated, that our leaders come from the same tiny enclave. Retro-feudalism.

This fantasy should be well and truly shattered by the Hillsborough verdict. This was a war crime committed in a war that was not then, nor is now, a figment of our imagination. Class war.

3MegaCam mshakeshaft_strike84-18

The victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster have finally had their day in court. Not yet, though, the miners who were brutally assaulted five years earlier outside the Orgreave coking plant.

Yesterday, at long last, a jury found that 96 Liverpool soccer fans at the match at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England had been “unlawfully killed” and the victims of what proved to be fatal police mistakes.

Last year, unfortunately, the Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled that the police would not be investigated for charges of assault and misconduct against the 8,000-10,000 miners who went on strike leading up to the June 1984 “Battle of Orgreave.”

Dave Smith, a former miner and former president of Dinnington NUM was at Orgreave on 18 June 1984.

He said it was a hot day and they had been playing football, but the police arrived and all “hell let loose.”

“Horses came out, short shields came out; we tried to defend ourselves as best we could.

“Most of us were running like hell. We finished up down embankments, on to railway lines with dogs chasing us.

“People were seriously injured and I mean seriously injured, and left by the police.

“That’s not helping, that’s attacking, and we were attacked.”

Football obviously (and, not surprisingly, for the British working-class) connects the two tragedies. So, too, does the extensive evidence of police violence and subsequent coverup (which, as we know from recent events in the United States, is not confined to England). But, even more important, both groups of victims—the fans who were steered into overcrowded pens at Hillsborough Stadium and the miners who went to picket lorry drivers supplying coke to the steel industry and were subsequently attacked by police with short shields and truncheons (the first time they were ever used in Britain)—were treated as the “enemy within.”

Both events, remember, took place during the heyday of Thatcherism, which combined a free-market economic strategy with authoritarian populism. Or, as Stuart Hall succinctly put it (in Drifting into a Law and Order Society): “Make no mistake about it: under this regime, the market is to be Free; the people are to be Disciplined.”

Hillsborough (where the families and friends of the victims have won a victory) and Orgreave (where they have not, at least yet), each in their different way, represent attempts to impose that discipline.

32E86D5000000578-3526810-image-a-81_1459965316951

Don Blankenship, the chief executive of the Massey Energy Company in 2010 when a fire in the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners—who should have been charged with murder but was earlier only convicted of a federal misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety standards—was sentenced by U.S. district judge Irene Berge to one year in prison and fined the maximum of $250,000.

That comes out to only about twelve or thirteen days in jail for the deaths of each one of those murdered workers.

That’s why Ann Bybee-Finley [ht: ja] has launched the “Making one year count” campaign, calling on people to send letters to Blankenship every day he is in prison:

She wants to show Blankenship how many people he affected and empower West Virginians to speak out against the abuses and influence of the coal industry in their state. . .

“He only gets one year and nothing we can say or do will change that right now. Working with what we got, how can we make this year more meaningful?” Bybee-Finley said. “If we could make it longer, a lot of people would, but we can’t, right now, so we have to take this alternative approach.”

 

d983fa13-9942-4153-9c6a-0f5b377528b

Don Blankenship, the chief executive of the Massey Energy Company in 2010 when a fire in the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners—who should have been charged with murder but was earlier only convicted of a federal misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety standards—was sentenced by U.S. district judge Irene Berge to one year in prison and fined the maximum of $250,000.

As Blankenship left the courthouse, a few family members of miners who were killed started yelling at him while he and his attorneys spoke with reporters.

“We buried our kid because of you,” said Robert Atkins, whose son Jason died in the explosion. “That’s all I got is a goddamn tombstone.” . . .

The judge described Blankenship’s rise from a meager, single-mother Appalachian household to one of the wealthiest, most influential figures in the region and in the coal industry.

“Instead of being to be able to tout you as a success story, we are here as a result of your part in a dangerous conspiracy,” she said.

Last night, in a concert with Béla Fleck, Abigail Washburn dedicated “Come All You Coal Miners,” by Sarah Ogan Gunning, to the people of Flint, Michigan.

don-blankenship-otherwords-cartoon-600x442

Special mention

SorenJ20151027_low

blakenship

I’ve been following and writing about the saga of Massey Energy and Don Blankenship even since the 5 April 2010 fire in their Upper Big Branch Mine when they killed 29 miners.

Now, Blankenship—who should have been charged with murder—is actually standing trial on three felony counts, including conspiracy to violate mining safety rules, conspiracy to block inspectors from carrying out their duties at the Upper Big Branch mine before the explosion, and misleading financial regulators about his company’s safety record after the explosion.

According to the New York Times,

That he is being prosecuted at all is stunning, given his political clout in a state with a long, sordid history of coal-mine tragedies, stretching back to at least the late 1800s. He spent $5 million to elect one State Supreme Court justice, which prompted a documentary film labeling him “The Kingmaker,” and he was photographed on the French Riviera with another. Both later voted to throw out a $50 million jury verdict against Massey.

“Politicians, Democrats and Republicans, flocked to Blankenship,” said Patrick McGinley, a law professor at West Virginia University who contributed to the state inquiry. “He was viewed by many as untouchable, just like all the other corporate executives of coal companies that killed scores or hundreds or thousands of miners over the last century.”

That’s why the trial itself, regardless of the final verdict, is a sign of change in coal country:

Gary Quarles, a retired miner whose son, Gary Wayne Quarles, 33, died in the blast, was a miner himself. He and his wife, Patty, who has a tattoo on her left ankle of her son wearing his black miner’s hard hat, have been attending the proceedings.

The trial began last week; it is expected to run into November. By the end, Mr. Quarles said, the public will “see what kind of man Don really is.”

Five years after losing their son, the couple would like to see Mr. Blankenship convicted. But seeing him in court — surrounded by lawyers, listening to himself referred to as “the defendant” — is a kind of satisfaction in itself.

 Not enough, perhaps, but change it is.