U.S. Journalists & War Crime Guilt

by Peter Dyer

15th October 2008

October 16 is an anniversary that should hold considerable interest for American journalists who have written in support of ”Operation Iraqi Freedom” – the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Sixty-two years ago, on Oct. 16, 1946, Julius Streicher was hanged.
Streicher was one of a group of 10 Germans executed that day following the judgment of the first Nuremberg Trial – a 40-week trial of 22 of the most prominent Nazis.
Each was tried for two or more of the four crimes defined in the Nuremberg Charter: crimes against peace (aggression), war crimes, crimes against humanity, and conspiracy. All who were sentenced to death were major German government officials or military leaders. Except for Streicher.

Julius Streicher was a journalist. Editor of the vehemently anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer, Streicher was convicted of, in the words of the judgment, “incitement to murder and extermination at the time when Jews in the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions clearly constitut(ing) … a crime against humanity.”

Presenting the case against Streicher, British prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel M.C. Griffith-Jones said: “My Lord, it may be that this defendant is less directly involved in the physical commission of the crimes against Jews. ... The submission of the Prosecution is that his crime is no less the worse … that he made these things possible – made these crimes possible which could never have happened had it not been for him and for those like him. He led the propaganda and the education of the German people in those ways.”

The critical role of propaganda was affirmed at Nuremberg not only by the prosecution and in the judgment but also in the testimony of the most prominent Nazi defendant, Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering: “Modern and total war develops, as I see it, along three lines: the war of weapons on land, at sea and in the air; economic war, which has become an integral part of every modern war; and, third, propaganda war, which is also an essential part of this warfare.”

Two months after the Nuremberg hangings, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 59(I), declaring:
“Freedom of information requires as an indispensable element the willingness and capacity to employ its privileges without abuse. It requires as a basic discipline the moral obligation to seek the facts without prejudice and to spread knowledge without malicious intent.”

The next year another General Assembly Resolution was adopted: Res. 110 which “condemns all forms of propaganda, in whatsoever country conducted, which is either designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.”

Although UN General Assembly Resolutions are not legally binding, Resolutions 59 and 110 carry considerable moral weight. This is because, like the United Nations itself, they are an expression of the catastrophic brutality and suffering of two world wars and the universal desire to avoid future slaughter.

Propaganda Crimes
Most jurisdictions have yet to recognize propaganda for war as a crime. However several journalists have recently been convicted of incitement to genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Because there is stiff resistance, especially from the United States, the effort to criminalize war propaganda faces an uphill battle.
However in legal terms it seems relatively straightforward: if incitement to genocide is a crime, then incitement to aggression, another Nuremberg crime, could and should be as well.
After all, aggression – starting an unprovoked war – is “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole,” in the words of the judgment at Nuremberg. Criminal or not, much of the world now sees incitement to war as morally indefensible.
In this light and in light of Goering’s three-part recipe for war (weapons, economic war and propaganda) it is instructive to look at the role which American journalists and war propagandists have recently played in bringing about and sustaining war.

The Bush administration began to sell the invasion of Iraq to the American public soon after 9/11.
In order to coordinate this effort President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, established the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) in the summer of 2002 expressly for the purpose of marketing the invasion of Iraq.
Among the members of WHIG were media figures/propagandists Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin.
WHIG was remarkable not only for its recklessness with the truth but for the candor with which it acknowledged it was running an advertising campaign. A Sept. 7, 2002, New York Times article entitled TRACES OF TERROR: THE STRATEGY; Bush Aides Set Strategy to Sell Policy on Iraq reported: “White House officials said today that the administration was following a meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein….
'' ‘From a marketing point of view,’ said Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff who is coordinating the effort, ‘you don't introduce new products in August.’ ''

It was as if the “product” – the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign state – was a consumer good, like a car or a TV show. The sales pitch was the manufactured “imminent threat” of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. In other words, the business of WHIG was incitement to aggressive war primarily through the propaganda of fear. Along those lines WHIG’s most prominent member, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, invoked the specter of an Iraqi-generated nuclear holocaust in a Sept. 8, 2002, CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer: “We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance – into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to – high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. ... The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

The smoking gun/mushroom cloud images were among the most memorable of all the White House war propaganda. They were generated just a few days earlier in a WHIG meeting by speechwriter Michael Gerson.

The existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was central to the Bush administration’s campaign for war. Other important elements were Saddam Hussein’s ties with Al Qaeda and the strongly implied association of Iraq with the tragedies of 9/11. All were false. In propaganda, though, selling the product trumps truth.

Unquestioning Submission
The role played by American mainstream media during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq was marked by widespread unquestioning submission to the Bush administration and abandonment of the most fundamental journalistic responsibility to the public.
This responsibility is embodied not only in Resolution 59 but in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics as well, which states: “Journalists should test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error.” The failure of influential American journalists, such as the New York Times’ Judith Miller, to test the accuracy of information played a critical role in the Bush administration’s successful effort to incite the American public to attack a country which was not threatening us. Though she was far from alone in selling the case for war, Miller -- through her seemingly uncritical reliance on dodgy informants -- was probably responsible to a larger degree than any other American journalist for spreading the fear of nonexistent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

As such she and other influential journalists who failed in this way bear a share of moral, if not legal, responsibility for hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees and all the other carnage, devastation and human suffering of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Some prominent American media figures, however, went considerably further than simple failure to check sources. Some actively and passionately encouraged Americans to commit and/or approve of war crimes, before and during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Prominent among these was Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly who – regarding both Afghanistan and Iraq – advocated such crimes forbidden by the Geneva Convention as collective punishment of civilians (Gen. Con. IV, Art. 33); attacking civilian targets (Protocol I, Art. 51); destroying water supplies (Protocol I Art. 54 Sec. 2) and even starvation (Protocol I, Art. 54 Sec. 1).
Sept. 17, 2001: "The U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble: the airport, the power plants, their water facilities, and the roads" in the event of a refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to the U.S. Later, he added: “This is a very primitive country. And taking out their ability to exist day to day will not be hard. … We should not target civilians. But if they don't rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period.” On March 26, 2003, a few days after the invasion of Iraq began, O’Reilly said: “There is a school of thought that says we should have given the citizens of Baghdad 48 hours to get out of Dodge by dropping leaflets and going with the AM radios and all that. Forty-eight hours, you've got to get out of there, and flatten the place.” [See Peter Hart's “O'Reilly's War: Any rationale—or none—will do” Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, May/June 2003]

Collective Punishment
Another tremendously influential journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner and former executive editor of the New York Times, the late A.M. Rosenthal, also advocated attacking civilian targets and collective punishment in regard to waging war against Muslim nations in the Middle East.
In a Sept. 14, 2001, column, “How the U.S. Can Win the War”, Rosenthal wrote that the U.S. should give Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Sudan three days to consider an ultimatum demanding they turn over documents and information related to weapons of mass destruction and terrorist organizations. During these three days, “the residents of the countries would be urged 24 hours a day by the U.S. to flee the capital and major cities, because they would be bombed to the ground beginning the fourth day."

Right-wing media figure Ann Coulter, on the Sean Hannity Show on July 21, 2006, called for another war and more punishment of civilians, this time in Iran:
”Well, I keep hearing people say we can't find the nuclear material, and you can bury it in caves. How about we just, you know, carpet-bomb them so they can't build a transistor radio? And then it doesn't matter if they have the nuclear material.”

This pattern of the major U.S. news figures advocating aggressive wars even predated 9/11. Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman published a strident call for war crimes including collective punishment of Serbs and the destruction of their water supplies over the Kosovo crisis: “But if NATO's only strength is that it can bomb forever, then it has to get every ounce out of that. Let's at least have a real air war. The idea that people are still holding rock concerts in Belgrade, or going out for Sunday merry-go-round rides, while their fellow Serbs are ‘cleansing’ Kosovo, is outrageous. It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted.

"Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too.” [New York Times, April 23, 1999]

These casual -- even joking -- comments about inflicting war on relatively weak countries came from American journalists and media figures at the very top of their profession. Each was addressing an audience of millions. It is difficult to overstate their influence.

Over the past decade alone, the massive destruction and carnage wreaked by American pursuit of “the supreme international crime” of aggression has been enabled by negligent, reckless and/or malicious use of this influence. Sadly, the words of Nuremberg Prosecutor Griffith-Jones concerning the propaganda of German journalist Julius Streicher hold considerable meaning today for some of the most prominent journalists in the country which, 60 years ago, provided the guiding light at Nuremberg:
Streicher “made these things possible – made these crimes possible which could never have happened had it not been for him and for those like him.”

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 127 in which “the General Assembly … invites the Governments of States Members … to study such measures as might with advantage, be taken on the national plane to combat, within the limits of constitutional procedures, the diffusion of false or distorted reports likely to injure friendly relations between States.”

Unfortunately, 60 years later, little progress has been made. War propaganda is still legal and very much alive – flourishing, in fact, as demonstrated by periodic calls for one more invasion of a country which has never threatened the U.S.: Iran.

As matters stand today, with the United States still the world's preeminent military power, the American propagandists who enabled Operation Iraqi Freedom and other wars of aggression have little need to worry about their legal responsibilities under the Nuremberg principles. A strong case can be made, though, that they have blood on their hands.

Peter Dyer is a freelance journalist based in New Zealand.




A packed meeting in St Helens Merseyside last Wednesday 15th October, jointly hosted by the Socialist Labour Party and the GMB union, heard SLP leader Arthur Scargill make the case for a socialist answer to the financial crisis currently rocking the capitalist world.

Speakers from the GMB had given an up to date report on the fight to keep the Remploy factories open and to reopen the factories that had already been closed by the Labour government. Scargill linked this shameful government action to the attacks on pensions, health and education, and the rise in unemployment and outlined the role of globalisation and the European Union in this process.

Scargill pointed out that the Remploy workers were being made redundant from secure and meaningful employment and told to look for work in the mainstream job market at precisely the same time as unemployment figures had hit a sixteen year high.

Turning to illustrate the attacks on pension rights he demanded that pensioners should be paid the same as the average national wage, having earned the right to retire without the fear of living in poverty.

To applause the SLP leader called for the public ownership of all the major banking and financial institutions and the rebuilding of Britain’s manufacturing industries.

In a lively question and answer session that followed, Scargill made clear that the SLP would oppose any tendency which tried to divert workers into the dead end demand to ‘reclaim the Labour party’, pointing out that the Labour party, as admitted even by Tony Benn, was never a socialist party, but a social democratic party with a few socialists in it.

After the meeting many trade unionists took SLP literature and copies of the book ‘The Enemy Within’ were also sold.


Banking crisis gives added capital to Karl Marx’s writings

From The Times
October 20, 2008

Roger Boyes in Berlin

Bankers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your bonuses, houses in Esher, holidays in the Caribbean and your Jermyn Street shirts. The upside is that you have the time, at last, to read the complete works of Karl Marx.

The prophet of revolutionaries everywhere, the scourge of capitalism, is enjoying a comeback.

In Germany Das Kapital, which for the past decade has been used mainly as a doorstop, is flying off the shelves as the newly disenfranchised business class tries to work out the root of the present crisis.
“Marx is fashionable again,” declares Jörn Schütrumpf, head of the Berlin publishing house Dietz, which brings out the works of Marx and his collaborator Friedrich Engels. Sales have trebled – albeit from a pretty low level – since 2005 and have soared since the summer.
“We have a new generation of readers who are rattled by the financial crisis and have to recognise that neo-liberalism has turned out to be a false dream,” said Mr Schütrumpf.
Visitors to Karl Marx’s birthplace in Trier have soared – 40,000 so far this year – with many coming from China, eastern Germany, Cuba and Bolivia.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say: ‘The man was right!’,” says Beatrix Bouvier, chief curator of the museum. Alexander Kluge, the film director, is preparing to make a blockbuster film out of Das Kapital. Little wonder, since Marx comes highly recommended. President Sarkozy of France has been seen flicking through the book, while the Peer Steinbrück, the German Finance Minister, recently admitted: “Certain parts of Marx’s thinking are really not so bad.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave him a decent review last month: “Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves.” Even the Pope has put in a good word for the old atheist – praising his “great analytical skill”.

Marx’s new relevance relates mainly to his warning about the creation of an exploitative capitalism that ends up destroying itself: “An over-expansion of credit can enable the capitalist system to sell temporarily more goods than the sum of real incomes created in current production, plus past savings, could buy,” said Ernest Mandel, the Marxist scholar, quoting his guru, “but in the long run, debts must be paid”. Since these debts cannot be automatically paid through expanded output and income, capitalism is destined for a “Krach” - Marx’s word for a crash.

Marx set out his thoughts not only in Das Kapital but in articles such as “The Financial Crisis in Europe” which was written for the New York Daily Tribune in 1857, and in the Communist Manifesto, which was written with Engels.

In the manifesto, published in 1848, he lists the ten essential steps to communism. Step five was: “Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state. . .”


The Future Will Not Be Nuclear

(Prospect Magazine September 2008)

The government is pinning its hopes on a nuclear renaissance to meet Britain’s climate change goals. Planning procedures are being eased and hidden subsidies offered. But the policy is based on a misunderstanding of nuclear power’s lousy economics, and will fail

Tom Burke

Gordon Brown does not dither about nuclear power. His commitment to it is emphatic, advancing since the start of the year from a policy of simply replacing Britain’s existing nuclear capacity to one of doubling it, and now to there being no upper limit to its share of electricity generation. Brown has undertaken a radical reform of the nuclear regulatory and planning processes, aimed at clearing the path for new reactors. It is therefore particularly poignant that this is a policy doomed to fail.

Energy prices are rising, the climate is changing and power stations are closing—so we need more nuclear power. So runs the overwhelming volume of argument in the media. But what is missing is any critical examination of the case that underpins these dire warnings from ministers and utility industry nabobs about the lights going out. The lights are not going to go out. The government’s nuclear policy will fail. And all that will really matter is that we will have lost precious time in switching to a more climate-friendly method of electricity generation.We live, these days, in what Eric Hobsbawm calls a “permanent present.” Even recent history is quickly forgotten. Somewhere in my personal archive are the minutes of a cabinet meeting held in October 1979, which arrived on my desk at Friends of the Earth in a proverbial brown envelope. They recorded the decision of Margaret Thatcher’s newly elected government to build ten nuclear reactors. The arguments were familiar. Oil prices were rising, An energy gap was imminent. Without a crash programme of nuclear reactors we would freeze in the dark. Sixteen years later, just one reactor had been built, at Sizewell in Suffolk. It cost more than double the original estimate. No one froze in the dark.

The story of British nuclear power

There is nothing in the history of nuclear power in Britain to inspire confidence. Most of our 19 reactors, which together have the capacity to generate 12,000 megawatts (MW), are of a design unique to Britain. These Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) were in 1974 described by Arthur Hawkins, chairman of the then-nationalised industry that placed the orders, as “a catastrophe.” Today, four are not working, reducing from 20 to 15 per cent the share of electricity that is produced by nuclear.A popular mythology has developed that blames the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island in the US and Chernobyl in Ukraine for the demise of nuclear power in Britain. Lately, the planning system has been added to this mythology. In fact, the only obstacle in the way of nuclear power for the last 20 years has been the unwillingness of electricity generators to take the risk. By the time of Chernobyl, in 1986, no nuclear power station had been ordered in Britain for eight years and in the US for 12. And the public inquiry that considered the application to build Sizewell B began in 1983 and took two years—only six months longer than the government now expects its accelerated planning procedures to take. The government then took two further years to give the go-ahead. Sizewell B opened in 1995, having taken a further eight years to build.
What actually killed nuclear power in Britain was Thatcher’s decision to privatise the Central Electricity Generating Board—the previously nationalised generation utility. The City took one look at the books and told the government that the nuclear power stations were unsellable. They were promptly withdrawn from sale. The later privatisation of most of Britain’s nuclear power stations was only possible because the burden of the decommissioning and waste management costs—now standing at over £70bn—was transferred to the taxpayer. This was a good example of a practice that has been much in the news lately in relation to the banking industry: privatising profits and socialising losses. So much for market discipline. It is an irony that the government’s preferred plan for a nuclear renaissance involves renationalising British Energy as a French state-controlled utility.

Thatcher was as convinced about nuclear power as Brown. She was defeated by the lousy economics. Nuclear power has few attractions for private sector investors, especially in a competitive electricity market. All long-term investment in future electricity generation involves risks and uncertainties (including the price that will be put on carbon emissions). But nuclear power’s risk profile is the worst. To be economic, nuclear power stations need to be very large (at least 1,000MW) and built in a series, ideally four or six at a time, probably on the site of existing stations. They are very capital intensive at both the start and end of their lives and, because of the initial costs, much more sensitive to the cost of capital, which can add 40 per cent or more to construction costs. They take a long time to build, and, when built, have to run continuously into a market where the wholesale electricity price can change constantly. The operators have to make adequate provision for the (currently unquantifiable) costs of waste disposal.

Coal-fired stations take perhaps three to five years to build, cost a lot less per unit of generation capacity and have no back-end liabilities to speak of. They are economic to build singly and therefore each new one is less at risk of failing to sell the power it produces. Gas-fired stations can be built in smaller units much more quickly, and so are even easier to match to shifting demand. Wind turbines can be built in very small tranches, even faster than gas.
Very high, uncertain and rising capital costs on a project that will produce no revenues for a decade or more are not a compelling proposition at the best of times. Add a host of hard-to-quantify sociopolitical risks, and it is not difficult to see why nuclear power programmes have always relied on large and sustained public subsidies.

Why is nuclear power so expensive?

There are only two honest answers to the question of how much it costs to build a nuclear power station. These are “I don’t know” and “I’ll tell you when I’ve built it.” Everything else is a guess. These may come in official volumes stuffed full of impressive-looking data, but they are still guesses. Some numbers will illustrate the point. Between 1966 and 1967, reactor costs in the US exceeded estimates by an average 209 per cent. Between 1968 and 1969 they went up 294 per cent. Between 1970 and 1971 they went up 348 per cent. 1972 to 1973 was a good year, they only went up 318 per cent. But by 1974 to 1975 they were back up to 381 per cent. In 1976 they only went up 169 per cent. But by then the American utilities had given up. They have not ordered a nuclear reactor since 1974. We did little better. The cost of building Sizewell B went up “only” from £1.7bn to £3.7bn during construction.The government’s commitment to new nuclear power stations is based on just such guesses. The cost of a reactor is normally quantified by what it costs to build each kilowatt (kW) of its capacity to generate electricity. To find the cost, you multiply this by the reactor’s size—measured in thousands of kW, or megawatts (MW). To this must be added the cost of financing the expenditure. In its January white paper on nuclear energy, the government’s worst-case analysis assumed that the construction cost would be £1,625/kW, giving a total cost (based on a reactor size of 2,200MW) of £3.6bn. But in May, the German utility company E.ON estimated the cost at just over £3,000/kW, making the overall cost of a new reactor close to £6.7bn. Other recent guesses range from $4,000/kW (£2,162) early in 2007 to $10,000/kW in January 2008 (£5,000). This certainly looks like “I don’t know” to me.

Nuclear enthusiasts argue that everything is different now. Lessons have been learned, designs have been standardised and new reactors can be built on time and to budget. But the fact that none of the three designs under consideration in Britain is operating anywhere in the world might give pause for thought.Recent events in Finland provide further grounds for caution. There, French company Areva is building the first example of the reactor design most favoured for Britain, the so-called EPR. It has not been a success. The 1,200MW reactor is more than £1bn over its original £2.5bn budget and two years late just two years after construction began. If this is the best Finnish contractors can manage, the thought of what those who brought you the Scottish parliament or Wembley stadium might accomplish is chilling.

This is not just, or even mainly, about incompetence. Nuclear costs are rising disproportionately. This escalation—14 per cent a year after inflation, according to one estimate—has many causes. Nuclear power stations are intensive in metal and concrete, and their construction requires specialist skills. So they have been hit harder than other forms of power generation by the surge in engineering costs. The nuclear supply chain has atrophied in the quarter century since there were last large programmes in the OECD countries. In the US there are now only 80 nuclear-qualified suppliers of key components, compared to 400 a decade ago.

And there is only one global provider—the Japan Steel Works (JSW)—of the heavy forging capacity needed for reactor pressure vessels. JSW is already hard-pressed by demand for new refinery equipment and can only supply five new reactor vessels a year, although it wishes to double capacity to ten vessels. But the need to fund this investment is itself contributing to rising prices, which have increased by 12 per cent in six months, and JSW now requires a 30 per cent down payment on an order. It takes six years from the date of the order to get other key components, including reactor coolant pumps and control and instrumentation equipment
The human resources needed to resuscitate the nuclear industry are in even shorter supply. Before you can even apply for permission to build a nuclear power station, you need approval for the design you plan on using. This can take several years. Yet inspectors and engineers are leaving Britain’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), some to retirement and others to more lucrative employment with contractors hoping to come to the nuclear party. The NII now has only 16 people to carry out the detailed safety approval of new reactors, a task estimated to need at least 40. What this means is that if you wanted to have a reactor up and running in Britain by 2020, you would need to have sought approval some time ago. Generous pay rises, relocation from Merseyside and a new management structure are all proposed to relieve this bottleneck. But these reforms will need time to become anchored if we are to avoid an unacceptable choice between speed and safety.

The government has pledged that there will be no subsidies for new nuclear construction. But this was never credible, and it is already possible to detect signs of retreat. In 2006 the government bravely promised to “make sure that the full costs of new nuclear waste are paid by the market.” By 2008 this had mutated into the more nuanced: “The government will [set] a fixed unit price [for] waste disposal at the time when approvals for the station are given.” This effectively caps the costs of nuclear waste disposal to the operator and transfers the risk of cost overruns on to the taxpayer. It is hard to argue that this is not a subsidy.

Furthermore, as Stephen Thomas from Greenwich University has pointed out, if you take E.ON’s estimate of the cost of a new reactor of £3,000/kW, then the operating cost of that reactor is likely to be about £80 to generate a kW of electricity for an hour—a measurement known as a kilowatt hour (kWh). The current wholesale electricity price, which is causing ministers such headaches, is about £40/kWh. We already know what happens to nuclear operators when their operating costs exceed the price at which they can sell electricity. In 2002 British Energy lost money hand over fist and found itself technically insolvent. But the company did not go bust. In a prequel to Northern Rock, the government bailed it out to the tune of some £4bn, taking a large stake in the business. (British Energy is now profitable, thanks to rises in fossil fuel prices.)

This precedent helps to explain why utilities companies are looking at nuclear power. They know that once Britain has started down this road, there will be no going back, as other investment will be suppressed. The “no subsidies” rule will be a distant memory. The utilities companies will be in a strong position to extract from taxpayer and consumer alike what they need to keep going.

Closing the generation gap

The idea that the world is on the dawn of a new nuclear age is no less of a fantasy now than it was in the early 1970s. Even the nuclear-supporting International Energy Agency’s projections have little more nuclear power in operation in 2030 than there is now. That is because most of our present reactor fleet was built in a rush in the 1970s. Even with extensions, these are coming to the end of their lives. Much is made of the 32 reactors now under construction around the world, mostly in Asia. But 11 of them have been under construction for more than 20 years. Just to maintain the current number of reactors by 2025, we would have to build 250 more reactors than are currently under construction—or 15 a year between now and 2025. The build rate since 2000, almost all in Asia, has been one a year. Increasing this is certainly possible, but to do so by 15 times despite shortages of materials and manpower—and during a credit crunch—seems fanciful.

Britain is a very long way from facing a choice of building more nuclear or freezing in the dark. There is a real problem—three problems to be precise—with energy security, but none can be solved by nuclear power. The most urgent is the threat of interruptions to our oil supply, which could bring Britain to a halt. But our oil for transport cannot be replaced by nuclear electricity. Preventing instability in the middle east and reducing oil dependence by more efficient transport and logistics are the solutions here.

Much has been made of the threat of becoming overdependent on imported gas, particularly from Russia. Leaving aside that Russia is more dependent on our revenues than we are on its gas, half of our gas is used for heating domestic space and water, and cannot be replaced without a big transformation of our infrastructure. More is used for industrial processes, leaving under a third for electricity generation. But much of that is used to generate electricity at peak times because gas turbines are easy to switch on and off to meet short-term demand spikes. Nuclear power stations must be run continuously to be economic.
Ministers now often invoke the “generation gap” that will emerge as some 22,000MW of existing coal and nuclear capacity is closed between now and 2020, much by 2015. If this is not replaced by new nuclear power, runs the argument, then carbon-intensive gas or coal will have to be used at the expense of the climate. The British head of EDF, Vincent de Rivas, promises that he can deliver new nuclear electricity to the grid by 2017. But the government’s own nuclear consultation is more realistic. It assumes that were an order placed today under its accelerated regulatory procedures, it would still be eight years before construction started. For a wholly new design, construction would take a further five years, at least. The government has yet to explain how a power station that won’t open before 2021 can meet a “generation gap” it expects to appear by 2015.

Of course, no government will let the lights go out. So this generation gap is more a rhetorical device than a genuine threat. The government is now committed to producing at least 35 per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. That may fill some of the purported gap. Energy efficiency will fill more. If nuclear cannot fill the remainder—perhaps 2,500MW—then coal will do it.

Some doubt whether the renewables target is achievable. In fact, it is more likely to be met than Brown’s hopes for nuclear. Last year the world added about 2,000MW of additional nuclear capacity through improving the performance of existing reactors. Photovoltaic solar energy alone, one of the least economically attractive of the renewables, added 2,300MW. Wind power, which on many estimates already delivers electricity more cheaply than nuclear, added eight times as much.

Nuclear power is a low-carbon source of electricity, and will therefore avoid whatever tax is levied on carbon emissions. But it won’t help Britain meet its climate change targets. The goal is to keep the eventual rise in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius—the threshold of dangerous climate change. This means that greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2020 and then decline steeply. But if building the 15 reactors a year needed to replace the world’s current capacity is going to be impossible—as it is—it is difficult to see how it could play a bigger role in reducing global carbon emissions.

The top climate priority is to very quickly make coal use carbon-neutral by deploying carbon capture and storage technologies. This is mainly for geopolitical reasons. The International Energy Agency forecasts 14,000MW of new coal-fired power stations by 2030. China is building new coal-fired plants at the rate of 2,000MW a week. It also has the world’s most ambitious nuclear power programme, aiming to build 40 nuclear power stations by 2030. This latter effort would still provide only 4 per cent of China’s electricity. Three quarters will come from coal. If this happens without the Chinese using carbon capture and storage, the government, and the world, will not achieve its climate change objectives. We will be saying hello to a four degree jump in temperatures and goodbye to prosperity and security for 60m Britons.
If we want others to make their coal burning carbon-neutral, we must do so ourselves. Actions speak louder than words. In the next three years, Britain will spend £2.8bn a year on cleaning up its nuclear legacy. We will spend nothing on deploying carbon capture and storage—the world’s most important technology for ensuring climate security.

No one should doubt the good intentions of those who are arguing for a switch of scarce capital, materials and skills into nuclear power in Britain. It is not their intentions that are in question, but their analysis. We have been here before, with equally serious people arguing that there was no alternative to a nuclear future. In 1975 the UK Atomic Energy Authority told the royal commission on environmental pollution that by 2000 Britain would have 104 nuclear reactors. This did not happen not because the nuclear industry lacked support. Then, as now, government, business leaders, the unions and the media were all onside. It failed because economic reality intruded. It will do so again—but this time the consequence of going down the nuclear cul-de-sac will be much more serious.

Tom Burke is environmental policy adviser to Rio Tinto. He is a fellow of the Energy Institute and co-founder of E3G. He is writing in a personal capacity

Coal isn’t the climate enemy. It’s part of the solution

We must draw on existing resources as part of an integrated energy policy, not flirt with nuclear, the most dangerous option.

Link to this audio

Coal power is far safer, says former National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill in reply to a pro-nuclear article by green campaigner George Monbiot .
Has George Monbiot sold out on his environmental credentials or is he suffering from amnesia? In his article on these pages last Tuesday he states that he has now reached the point where he no longer cares whether or not the answer to climate change is nuclear - let it happen, he says.

Has he not read the evidence presented by environmentalists such as Tony Benn and me at the Windscale, Sizewell and Hinckley Point public inquiries? Is he unaware that nuclear-power generated electricity is the most expensive form of energy - 400% more expensive than coal - or that it received £6bn in subsidies, with £70bn to be paid by taxpayers in decommissioning costs? Is he unaware that there is no known way of disposing of nuclear waste, which will contaminate the planet for thousands of years? Has he forgotten the nuclear disasters at Windscale, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?

We are facing an economic and political crisis on a scale similar to the Wall Street crash in 1929, the mass unemployment which affected the UK and Europe in the 1930s and the energy crisis in the early 70s.

We are facing a monumental energy crisis, yet we live on an island with more than 1,000 years of coal reserves from which we can provide all the electricity, oil, gas and petrochemicals that people need, without causing harm to the environment. Britain - despite its massive indigenous deep-mine coal reserves - has never had an integrated energy policy based on coal and renewables, and as a consequence we are now facing the worst energy crisis in our history.

Since the end of the second world war, both Labour and Tory governments have sought to replace Britain’s vast coal reserves with a false promise of “cheap” imported oil, “cheap, safe” nuclear energy and “cheap” natural gas - policies that have not only cost the British people billions of pounds, but resulted in the near-extinction of Britain’s deep-mine coal industry, the virtual exhaustion of North Sea gas and oil, and massive economic costs and environmental problems associated with nuclear power.

After the closure of 192 pits since 1980, the loss of 170,000 jobs and the closure or non-operation of nearly 70% of coal-fired power stations on the false premise that they were uneconomic and the worst polluter of carbon dioxide, it is reasonable to expect that there would have been a dramatic fall in CO2 emissions. But in fact CO2 emissions have actually increased - not that surprising, since more than 80% of CO2 emissions are produced by oil and gas from power stations, road transport, industry, shipping and domestic use. That fact alone should cause Monbiot to rethink.
Britain needs an integrated energy policy that will produce 250m tonnes of indigenous deep-mine clean coal per year - from which could be extracted all the electricity, oil, gas and petrochemicals that our people need.
All existing and new coal-fired power stations should be fitted with clean coal technology - including carbon capture that would remove all CO2 - and at the same time we should be developing a massive renewable energy policy based on wind, wave, tide, barrage, hydro, geothermal, solar power, together with insulation, conservation and reforestation.

We must end the import of coal, (currently 43m tonnes a year) which is produced by subsidies, “slave labour” and child labour, and end the import of shale oil, tar sands and other so-called unconventional oils, which are the dirtiest fuels on the planet but are being used to produce electricity.
We still do not know - because of the security and secrecy laws - the full extent of the disaster at Windscale (Sellafield) in 1957 or Three Mile Island in the US in 1979, but we do know that the incidence of cancer and leukaemia - particularly among children - is 10% higher in or around nuclear power stations, and we know from experts such as Robert Gale - who treated the victims at Chernobyl in 1986 - that more than 100,000 will die over a 30-year period.

We need an end to all nuclear-powered electricity generation, the most dangerous and uneconomic method of producing electricity. We need an end to deforestation, which is the cause of 20% of CO2 emissions worldwide, and an end to biofuel development - which not only produces substantial CO2 emissions but is causing mass starvation and higher food prices throughout the world.
Only by the introduction of a real integrated energy policy based on clean coal technology and renewable energies, can we begin to meet the needs of people in the UK and throughout the world.

I challenge George Monbiot to test out which is the most dangerous fuel - coal or nuclear power. I am prepared to go into a room full of CO2 for two minutes, if he is prepared to go into a room full of radiation for two minutes.

· Arthur Scargill is the leader of the Socialist Labour party. He was president of the National Union of Mineworkers 1982-2002.

· He is now lifelong Honorary President of the NUM.

Article is from the Guardian newspaper of 8/8/8



For background information, in view of the ‘credit crisis’ developments in the capitalist economy, we are reissuing an article from 2001 by Ian Johnson which traces the rise of finance capital in the 20th Century.

When we talk about finance capital we are talking about the banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions and their representatives, in short, we are talking about ‘the City’.

This section of society does not manufacture anything, it does not build or create anything, yet it is now the most dominant sector in the U.K. Its chief objective is the movement of money in search of the biggest profit margin in the quickest possible time.

In the early part of the 20th century the financial sector was subjected to government controls and confined its activities to the sterling area of the Commonwealth, indeed, even through the latter part of the 1940s the stock market and merchant banking was at best static, and at worst transactions were actually in decline. In the 1950s the financial sector tried to break free from government controls but achieved only partial success. It was not until the late 1960s that the City really began to expand with the development of London as an off‑shore base for American money fleeing the low interest rates in the United States.


This was followed in 1971 by the Tory Government removing controls on credit growth which meant that market forces, namely interest rates, would now control the growth of credit in the system. This led to an end to limits on lending and meant that banking would have greater control over British industry and the economy as a whole. This coincided with the ending of the post‑war Bretton Woods agreement which had backed paper money with real value by linking it to the gold standard at the rate of 35 dollars equalling an ounce of gold. Now however, paper money was being printed and was not backed by any real value whatsoever.

Between 1979 and 1982 Margaret Thatcher's Tory Government removed all remaining controls from the financial sector and left it virtually unregulated and unchallenged.

Thatcher abolished restrictions on bank lending and hire purchase transactions and lifted all controls over building society lending, thus starting them off on the road to becoming banks and creating the basis for the great credit explosion in the late 1980s.
The Tory Government crucially abolished all exchange controls with the immediate effect that capital previously invested in the U.K. began going abroad in search of greater and quicker profits. There has been hardly any investment in U.K. manufacturing since exchange controls were abolished.

The dominance of finance capital became obvious in the 1980s when manufacturing output fell by 25%, when house building plummeted and thousands slept on the street, yet the City boomed. The banks made so much money in the '80s that even the Tories eventually levied a national 'windfall tax', though this was compensated for by tax allowances on bad overseas loans.
The Tories and the financial sector were responsible for the squandering of North Sea oil revenue during this period, with not one penny invested in U.K. manufacturing. The City wanted to use it to recreate their earlier role of financiers of the world, and the Tories believed that North Sea oil had made sterling a petro‑currency which signalled the days of manufacturing were over and that Britain was on a path to becoming a post‑industrial service economy.


The looting of the British economy for the benefit of the few reached its most obscene proportions with the privatisation process of state assets which was first elaborated in the Tory election manifesto of 1983 and which resulted in the following years with the privatisation of coal, steel, gas, electricity, water, railways, telecommunications, shipbuilding and also took part of the oil and road haulage industries. This is not to mention the devastation of council housing that took place in the same period.

The sell‑off of state assets was overseen by City merchant banks who acted as 'advisors' and received literally hundreds of millions of pounds in fees for this 'service'. This period will rightly go down in history as one of the great rip‑offs of all time.

Alongside this privatisation came the reform of the National Health Service, schools and universities, prisons, the police force and justice departments and their regulating authorities, with the plan being to remove them from the control of democratically elected local authorities and place them under the control of unelected quangos and Next Step Agencies. By such means the market mechanisms of compulsory competitive tendering, performance related and profit related pay and other such devices, were introduced into all public services.

Of course none of the above would have been possible without an attack on the traditional defensive organisations of the working class ‑ the trade unions. The destruction of the trade union movement was a clear objective of the Thatcher regime and resulted in confrontations with virtually all sections of workers. Indeed, the destruction of manufacturing and the move to a service based industry made it imperative for the ruling class to introduce anti‑trade union laws to shackle workers and reduce their ability to fight back.
That they were partially successful is a reflection not on the fighting capacity of the working class but on its social democratic leaders.

With a few honourable exceptions these politicians and trade union leaders functioned as policemen for the capitalist state against their own members. These careerists and opportunists are tied to capitalism, their status and significant salaries are dependent upon it, and forced into a situation where they have to choose, they will always come down on the side of the present system.

The introduction of new employment law effectively weakened the trade unions and created a more individualist labour market, moreover a labour market that would be open to the whims of a free market economy, modelled on the American labour market with its high levels of mobility, downward flexibility of wages and low employer costs.

As a result of these policies there has been an increase in part‑time and contract work and an ending of any traditional career with its accompanying security. Furthermore, many low‑skilled workers now earn less than the minimum needed to support a family, resulting in the diseases associated with poverty, TB, rickets and others, returning.
At the same time the restrictions on welfare entitlements, particularly with unemployment benefits such as the Job Seekers Allowance introduced in 1996, are designed to compel recipients to accept work at market‑driven rates.


It was the finance sector that Blair's New Labour courted for over a year prior to the 1997 general election. They had to convince the financiers that they were the Party for them, and that they would continue to create the framework where they could operate freely. New Labour people threw so many banquets for these financial parasites that the City's nickname for the Labour Party is, 'the prawn cocktail party.'

Members of the then Shadow Cabinet began touring the dining rooms of the City of London assuring their hosts that Labour had no intention of bringing back exchange controls and had no intention of doing anything they would not approve of.

Stuart Bell MP went to New York on a trip paid for by Kleinwort Benson Securities to reassure Wall Street that the 'financial markets will be safe in the hands of a future Labour government.' (Sunday Telegraph 17th Dec. 1995). Consequently, by the beginning of 1996, the financial pages of the newspapers were full of articles in praise of Labour's policies. Thus the stage was set for New Labour to not only continue Tory policies but to take them farther than even the most right wing Tory dared to imagine.

The Labour Party had concluded that the only way to get elected was to accept the agenda of the Americans and the City, to be pro Nato, pro EEC and pro non regulation of the City.

Due to the massive exportation of British capital, which began during the Thatcher years, Britain now has the largest overseas investment after America, and this will dictate that they continue to support American political and military hegemony as the best way to protect those interests. Indeed, all the key Labour personnel are linked to the United States, with the intent to preserve the so‑called Anglo‑American special relationship, to compensate for British capitalism's long term decline.

Ian Johnson.

Reflections on the Economic Meltdown by an Ordinary Joe.

$700 Billion, possibly double that, of US public funds given over to bailing out corrupt, failed, usurial fat cats. Unimaginable sums, trillions of dollars! So runs the US regime’s plan to rescue the financial markets. It has been described as a financial lifeboat. However, as a salvage plan, it makes the Titanic safety procedures look positively trustworthy and sound.

I learned a new phrase recently – Credit Default Swaps (CDS). CDS trading is the epitome of parasitic capitalism and is an illustration of why the big international investment banks are up to their ears in the financial muck. A CDS is a credit derivative that whose value derives from the credit risk on an underlying bond, loan or other financial asset. A derivative is a “financial instrument” whose value changes in response to the changes in underlying variables such as inflation, exchange rates, stock/share prices, interest rates etc. The more one looks into the subject the more it becomes apparent that the management of financial trading is intentionally complex with a nefarious nature akin to a mafia run “numbers” game. CDS trading is the most widely traded credit derivative “product” and was valued by the Bank for International Settlements at $62.2 Trillion at the end of 2007 (up from $28.9 Trillion in December 2006). Other commentators have recently valued all derivative “worth” as high as $480 Trillion. This is said to be ten (10) times global GDP!

These mind bending figures illustrate just how feeble and flimsy George W. Bush’s “lifeboat” is. His (?) gamble is that by nationalising the relatively very small bad housing/mortgage debt this will “free” up banks to release credit averting a much wider impact and crash in the wider economy. It’s very much a gamble and the odds are long. In fact it’s a rank outsider.You wouldn’t back it if it was a horse! One way or another we are moving into very difficult times where the working class will be expected to shoulder a burden unknown in modern times.

Arthur Scargill was first to point out the nature and depth of this economic crisis (you can see and hear him for yourself on a series of videos available on You Tube). As Arthur pointed out, we are heading for an economic disaster of a scale as bad as or worse than the 1930’s.

We are heading toward interesting and simultaneously dangerous and opportune times for revolutionary socialists. Capitalism, as we’ve known it for decades, is in a terminal state. Social Democratic parties have no answers and are in decline everywhere while the fascist right is a growing threat across Europe. Only a party with socialist solutions can offer working people a vision and a possibility of a better world. Here in this country Socialist Labour has the policies, and also the organisation able to take us forward to socialism.

There is much work to be done.

24th September 2008


(This article is based on a speech made by Arthur Scargill to the National Executive Committee of the Prison Officers’ Association on 17 October, 2007)

In Britain, the trade union Movement has long struggled against a malaise that can only be described as a ‘collaborationist tendency’. This tendency is most obvious in the Movement’s failure to deal with Britain’s oppressive anti-trade union laws.

Despite the sharpening economic and political crisis within our society, collusion has now reached a point where the Trades Union Congress and many union leaderships, not seen as fighting heart and soul for workers’ rights, are increasingly considered irrelevant by the British people.

The oppressive nature of Britain’s anti-union laws depends on this collusion. Therefore, any serious discussion about challenging the legislation must also examine forms of serious resistance to it.

An analysis that places itself within the boundaries of these laws and does not consider a strategy for confronting them is futile.

Let’s start by looking at our own past. Contrast the British trade union Movement’s reactions today with the way organised workers confronted anti-union laws and anti-union employers in the 1970s and 80s.

Study the great campaign against the Tories’ Industrial Relations Act in 1971; the miners’ strike of 1972, followed by the dockers’ strike, the imprisonment and then the triumphant release, through workers’ direct action, of the Pentonville Five, and the building workers’ strike of the same period. In 1974 came another miners’ strike – which led to the defeat of a Tory Government.

The determination of workers that created conditions for opposing the 1971 Industrial Relations Act fuelled, in turn, the outburst of subsequent action. And, since we’re discussing the law, remember that in the summer of 1972, it was mass unofficial action which forced the State to free the Pentonville Five.

The miners’ strike earlier that year had been a turning point, sparking support from thousands of other workers. This terrified not only the Tory Government of the day but scared the living daylights out of right-wing leaders within the Labour Party, the TUC and a number of trade unions.

In 1972, just as today, leading figures in our Movement were warning: ‘Don’t break the law!’. It’s an old theme, used many times against workers in the past such as in the 1921 miners’ strike, the General Strike of 1926 and other major disputes.

I certainly heard that warning in the miners’ strike of 1972, when I was deeply involved in mass picketing, especially at Birmingham’s Saltley Gates, a historic battle which proved what workers’ solidarity could do.

It is often forgotten (perhaps no longer widely known) that national leaders of major trade unions, including the engineers’ AUEW and the transport workers’ TGWU, refused to sanction their members’ taking secondary action in support of the NUM at Saltley.

However, AUEW and TGWU members in the West Midlands – having listened to the miners’ plea for solidarity - did with the backing of regional leaderships take action. So did workers in other unions, and by supporting the NUM at Saltley achieved a victory that rocked the entire British Establishment.

Two years later, the 1974 miners’ strike led to the downfall of Edward Heath’s Tory Government, a victory for working people that should have seen Britain’s Labour Movement focussing firmly on Socialist aims.

That didn’t happen. Instead we had the Social Contract, in which a Labour Government held down workers’ wages, with five years of unprincipled compromise by the TUC and union leaderships paving the way for the Tories’ return in 1979.

This betrayal didn’t come out of the blue. Even amidst the industrial victories of the early 70s there had been a shadow of things to come. In the aftermath of the historic building workers’ strike of 1972, our Movement had failed to prevent the jailing of the Shrewsbury Three on trumped-up charges of ‘conspiracy’.

Then, during the years of the Labour Government, the Grunwick workers, battling for basic rights and recognition in 1977/78, were also abandoned by their own union and by the TUC.

Shrewsbury and Grunwick taught many of us (and should have taught us all) two lessons. First, through their courage and class commitment, the workers in both struggles provided an example that inspires us still. Second, their fate offered clear evidence that workers in struggle can only be protected by a trade union fightback.

By abandoning the Shrewsbury Three and the Grunwick workers, elements within the British trade union movement were, alongside their collusion over the Social Contract, laying further track for Margaret Thatcher’s advance.

The struggles of the 70s alarmed the Tories to such an extent that well before they won the 1979 General Election they had planned a programme of draconian anti-union laws – specifically aimed at preventing another Saltley or any similar action taking place on a national scale.

Yet even after the Tories returned to power in 1979, events continued to prove that oppressive legislation – backed by the courts - isn’t enough on its own to keep workers down. Oppression depends to a very great extent on submission.

As anti-union legislation became more oppressive through the 80s and into the 90s, the TUC and trade union leaders increasingly refrained from giving, or refused to give, effective assistance to workers in struggle. Instead of spear-heading resistance to these vicious laws, the TUC argued that the only course of action was to wait and work for the election of a Labour Government which, it claimed, would repeal the legislation.

Of course, New Labour did nothing of the sort – and since 1997 the trade union Movement has continued to submit to even further legal measures brought in by the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown axis. Over the past decade, the TUC not only opposed calls from the NUM and Bakers’ Union to defy anti-union laws, but has actually advised unions on compliance.

Nevertheless, fairly recent history reveals that for trade unionists there is an alternative to this collusion.


In 1981, the NUM’s (then) Right-wing national leadership was forced to support unofficial strike action against pit closures – without a ballot – because our ferocious coalfield campaigning was too strong to resist. Faced with wildfire strike action, the Thatcher Government – taken unawares – had to make what the press labelled a ‘U-turn’ and, for the time being, stop its pit closure programme.

The key industrial disputes over the years since occurred because trade unionists were prepared to fight for basic rights against employers who had the full backing of the State and the courts. Had these disputes, in turn, had full and effective backing from the TUC and the trade union Movement, Britain today would be a better place in which to live.

Among these struggles, all of which are important, were the miners’ strike of 1984/85 and the two epic battles for trade union rights and recognition by Britain’s printworkers: in 1983 at Warrington against would-be newspaper magnate Eddie Shah, and, from January, 1986, the year-long fight against Rupert Murdoch at Wapping.

In the historic miners’ strike of 1984/85, one of the greatest clashes ever seen between workers and the State occurred at British Steel’s coke plant at Orgreave, South Yorkshire, in the Summer of 1984.

The police (together with members of the armed forces in police uniform) used paramilitary tactics; armed with shields, batons, dogs and horses, they fought to prevent a repetition of Saltley in 1972. Some 10,000 pickets faced 8,200 paramilitary-style police under orders that Orgreave should be open to produce and transport coke, no matter what the cost.

Yet in spite of this organised State force, the miners’ pickets, supported by trades councils and rank-and-file members of other unions, forced Orgreave’s management to suspend operations on 18 June, 1984 – just as they had done in Birmingham on 6 February, 1972, prior to finally closing Saltley four days later, on 10 February.

However (unlike the Tories), the Labour and trade union Movement including sadly elements within the NUM Area leaderships had not taken to heart the true lessons of Saltley.

Although Orgreave was closed by pickets on 18 June, those pickets were called off by NUM Area leaders the following day, thus allowing British Steel to recommence operations.

That this could happen was due to the NUM’s federal structure – ours was not and is not one Union but a federation of autonomous organisations - which helps to explain other events during that strike.

Afterwards, critics within and outside the Labour Movement argued that the battle of Orgreave highlighted the ‘failure’ of mass picketing. They were completely wrong.

What occurred at Orgreave was a failure to mass picket – calling people off after an initial breakthrough, instead of intensifying pressure until the plant’s operations were brought to a conclusive halt.

Responsibility for this also rests with leaderships in the wider trade union Movement which held back their own members from coming to the assistance of the miners as workers in Birmingham had done in February, 1972.

Lack of support from others can lead to a paralysing fear of isolation in the hearts of those in struggle, and can have profound consequences for any dispute.


Fear is a tool wielded against trade unions today by Britain’s Labour Government which like the Tories supports the Free Market and globalisation. Using the so-called ‘free’ movement of capital, company operations and human labour, while implementing further privatisation for maximum profit – all this depends on high unemployment and low wages. These conditions require submissive workers. The purpose of anti-union legislation is to sustain these conditions.

The ‘employment’ laws introduced since the advent of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 – and implemented by Tories and Labour ever since – are in part based on the Taft-Hartley Act introduced in the United States in 1948. This iniquitous Act was a key component in Cold War politics.

Its main elements were (1) the banning of mass picketing in industrial disputes; (2) the banning of secondary boycotts and sympathy strikes; (3) making trade unions legally liable for any strikes by their members not within the bounds of a written contract, and (4) giving the government the right to seek injunctions preventing strikes deemed to be against the ‘national interest’ – an all-embracing concept which effectively gave the government of the United States the right to ban strike action.

Even more stringent reforms were called for by a Right-wing pressure group known as ‘The Right to Work’. Its equivalent in Britain was ‘The Freedom Association’.

Many trade unionists will remember or be aware of the role played by the Freedom Association in the Grunwick dispute of 1977/78. It actively supported the owner of a North London film processing plant against his employees who sought decent working conditions and wanted their rights to trade union membership and recognition.

Without effective, practical support from the trade union Movement, the Grunwick workers could not prevail. There is a terrible irony in the fact that, at that time, giving effective solidarity would not have meant unions ‘breaking the law’.

Section 13 of the 1974 Trade Union and Labour Relations Act provided protection in line with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. That protection was subsequently lost. Those who were already drafting anti-union laws for the next Tory Government took heart from the way the hierarchy of the trade union Movement abandoned the women and men at Grunwick.

Today, if a trade union ‘induces’ workers to take industrial action in breach of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act, 1992, those involved are immediately in breach of their contract of employment and in breach of the law.


In Britain, there is no ‘right to strike’. Strike action can only be taken here provided members of a trade union accept and comply with the web of restrictions laid down by anti-union laws.

A strike can only be called provided a trade union holds a postal ballot, and that can only take place within constraints which resemble an obstacle course unparalleled in the Western world.

A union balloting its members must make clear on the ballot paper that if members vote in favour of strike action they may be in breach of their contract of employment – i.e., they do not have a right to strike.

In the event that workers do vote in favour of strike action, that action is only legally effective for eight weeks – the legislation then requires a union to hold a further ballot.

Alongside this, the legislation contains two important clauses which further undermine a trade union no matter how compliant it is prepared to be:

The law makes clear that any worker can refuse to belong to a trade union.

The law will protect from disciplinary action union members who continue to work during a strike – even though that strike has been called in full compliance with legislation.


The anti-union legislation introduced by the Tories after 1979, maintained and expanded since 1997 by the Labour Government, is in direct conflict with the United Nations Charter, and a clear violation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions 87 and 98.

The UN Charter and ILO Conventions make clear that trade union rights are human rights and must not be subject to outside interference from government. Trade unions have the right to draw up their own constitutions and rule books, free from interference.

The British Government is indeed a signatory to both the UN Charter and ILO Conventions, yet, like the Tories, Labour ignores international law – just as it did when invading Iraq.

The British Government is determined to prevent workers from organising, taking industrial action in support of their own wages and conditions or taking solidarity action to support other workers.


On the other hand, a British employer – or employer with a British base — is free to close down a plant, factory, or office, as we’ve seen increasingly over recent years with a widespread transfer of operations to Poland, Burma, India or China. Thousands of workers in Britain have thus lost their jobs, yet no action can be taken against bosses whose hunger for greater profit robs workers, their families, communities and regional economies.

I’ve already described the forces deployed to keep open the Orgreave plant in South Yorkshire during the miners’ strike of 1984/85. A few years after the strike, British Steel announced that Orgreave was to be closed. Upon hearing the news, I immediately telephoned the police, asking them to come straightaway and stop those who were forcing the plant to shut. To my surprise, I was told it had nothing to do with the forces of law and order.

I reminded South Yorkshire Police that this reaction contrasted sharply with the deployment of over 8,000 riot police in the summer of 1984 when the NUM was seeking to only temporarily close the plant. Now that British Steel intended to shut it for good, there was not one single police officer to be seen.

Employers’ impunity is clearly very different from the consequences facing a trade union which takes action to prevent closures and job losses.

As I know from personal experience, such a union and its officials can be taken to court; its assets can be frozen by an order of sequestration – and, as happened without precedent to the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984, its entire operation can be put into the hands of a Receiver.

The NUM was taken to court through a variety of legal routes, when the legislation was not as comprehensive as it later became. The State set out to destroy us if possible; the NUM’s response should have been used by the entire trade union Movement as a template for industrial relations strategy.


The threat of sequestration has become a handy tool for courts in ruling that a trade union is acting contrary to ‘employment’ legislation. The possible appointment of a sequestrator terrifies most trade union leaders, primarily because sequestration means that a union’s assets will be frozen, no expenses will be available, officials’ cars will be taken away and any accommodation including a union’s offices can be occupied by the sequestrator.

However, I can tell you from experience that provided a trade union is prepared to confront the law while dealing with the consequences of so doing, sequestration can be rendered ineffectual.

There is nothing, for example, to prevent third parties paying all the bills of a trade union during a period of sequestration. And at the end of a dispute, when a sequestrator has been discharged, there is nothing to prevent that trade union making donations to all organisations, including other unions, which have paid bills on its behalf.

It has been done.


Receivership is something else – far more vicious than sequestration. Ironically, the appointment of a receiver to take over an independent trade union was not possible prior to 1974, when lawyers drawing up employment legislation for the newly-elected Labour Government omitted, in error, provision for immunity from receivership for trade unions.

Only once have the courts appointed a receiver to take over a trade union: in November, 1984, in the miners’ strike. The NUM had already been put in sequestration, but for the British State that wasn’t enough.

Receivership is about more than freezing assets. It is about taking control of an organisation. It is a replacement. In the case of the NUM, the Receiver’s purpose was to become to all intents and purposes ‘the union’.


The principles behind the NUM’s strategies in 1984/85 were articulated in a paper written (in December, 1988) by leading trade union barrister John Hendy QC, who referred to this quote from the great lawyer and human rights campaigner, D. N. Pritt QC:

‘The state of the law in a capitalist society is a reflection of the ability of the working class to organise against it. The law reflects the balance, at any moment of time, between the power of capitalism and the organised power of labour’.

John Hendy QC went on to write (and it is worth quoting him at some length): ‘It follows therefore that only resistance can hold the line against further depredations and only pressure can advance and improve the position. Concessions and capitulation will only encourage further legal and ideological attack. Indeed, mere lack of resistance encourages further attack’.

He wrote: ‘The law itself may be difficult to understand but the fact of its unfairness and injustice is not so difficult to explain and understand….It is necessary to draw on our own rich history of resistance to unjust laws. The Cambridge tailors in 1725; the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1824; the freeing of the Betteshanger miners’ leaders imprisoned after the prosecution of 1,000 for going on strike in 1941; the freeing of the Pentonville Dockers in 1972; the struggle against the Industrial Relations Act from 1970 – 1974 and the ability of the National Union of Mineworkers to continue their strike unabated for one year in 1984-5, in spite of being sequestrated, being in receivership, having some 40 injunctions against them and over 10,000 of their members prosecuted – all those are powerful examples without even looking overseas.

‘….Unquestioning acceptance of the “rule of law” and the subject of compliance with unjust laws need to be debated within the Movement and for this debate, history and jurisprudence must play their part.

‘…Sir Thomas More was executed for refusing to accept the Act of Supremacy…[while] the Nuremburg Trials accepted that there were higher principles which men are under a duty to conform to than the law.’


In October 1984, the NUM was found guilty of contempt of court, as was its President. The only way to purge ones contempt is to beg the court to accept an apology, throw oneself upon the court’s mercy – and pay the fine.

As NUM President, I refused to apologise, nor would I pay any court-imposed fine, although some mystery figure paid it without my authority on my behalf. No mystery figure, though, could by proxy purge my ‘contempt’, and I remain in contempt to this day.

More important, the National Union of Mineworkers managed to endure the imposition of a receiver from November 1984 until July 1986.

Today, over 20 years later, I have nothing but contempt for all who construct and seek to enforce anti-trade union legislation; I have nothing but contempt for court orders that seek to impose unjust laws upon trade unions.

I am one trade union leader who defied the law and continued to defy it until the day I retired as President of the NUM.


I must stress that, under attack from sequestration and receivership, the NUM had vital support from a number of trade unions. However, I believe that our struggle, waged on behalf of not only the miners but all workers, demanded that support.

We should have had it from the TUC. Imagine what would have happened in our great strike or in any other key trade union battle of the past 25 years if all trade unions together with the TUC had been prepared first to adopt policies of non-compliance with unjust laws – and then to defy those laws if the State threatened to use them.

Any British trade union leader taking such a stance would be following in the footsteps of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Suffragettes, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and all the brave men and women whose courage in the face of oppressive legislation should inspire us to act.

The State and its laws can indeed sequester your car, your office, your home – but they cannot sequestrate your mind or your faith: that is your power and their weakness.

Such power, however, is inter-dependent on collective action. And what are trade unionists and their unions to do today, given that the TUC complies with laws that prohibit effective action?


In order to challenge the ongoing destruction of jobs, basic and manufacturing industry; in order to challenge low wages and poor conditions; in order to establish or re-establish decent standards of health and safety – and for many other reasons, I suggest that we need to establish an alternative to the TUC.

We need a national trade union centre capable of defiance and willing to defy unjust laws that have been crafted to cripple trade unions; a centre prepared to give assistance – including industrial action - when necessary to workers in dispute.

To be effective, such an alternative centre would have to be firmly committed to Socialist policies, calling unequivocally for the abolition of capitalism which oppresses workers around the world and here at home.

Exploitation, poverty and ignorance can only be eradicated through common and social ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

Of course, serious discussion about such an alternative requires a fundamental shift within Britain’s trade unions. One way to begin this shift is for unions to affiliate to the Socialist Labour Party: unequivocally Socialist, unequivocally committed to fighting against anti-union laws.

Refusal to comply with repressive, unjust anti-union laws that violate the UN Charter is in the best traditions of the British trade union Movement. On the other hand, compliance with and submission to these laws inevitably lead to defeat and despair.

Trade unionism was built out of workers’ demands for decent wages and conditions, and out of an anger against exploitation that springs from the needs of the human spirit. I, for one, would rather defy oppression and be proud, than comply with it and be ashamed. Trade unions have a choice.