Thatcher – Britain’s most-hated prime minister

Margaret Thatcher, who the Morning Star describes as the most hated British prime minister of the 20th century, died yesterday.

Victims of her attacks in the 1980’s against workers and their allies showed little sorrow. Celebrations actually happened in communities across the UK.

The strongest satisfaction upon hearing the news of her death took place in former mining and industrial towns ravaged by the policies of her Conservative Party (the Tories).

In 1984 there were 170 working coal mines in Britain employing more than 170,000 people when Thatcher drew up a “hit list” of mines it would close. The ensuing strike against job losses pitted the striking miners and their union, the National Union of Mineworkers, against the Thatcher government and its police. Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the NUM, told BBC yesterday that, “unfortunately, for the vindictive acts she did to the mining community, I’ll not be shedding a tear at her demise.”

Thatcher sent 5,000 police in to attack the 10,000 striking miners with scores of injuries resulting. “She used miners as a political springboard. She knew what she was doing and it was a horrible way to do it,” Daren Vaines, a former miner, told the BBC. In coal country Thatcher is remembered as the person who took nationalized publicly controlled industries and sold them off to private bidders, tossing workers out onto the scrap heap. She branded the striking miners “the enemy within.”

No wonder the bar parties last night in Yorkshire, North Derbyshire, Durham, Northumberland, Scotland, south Wales, Kent, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire!

The ex-miners in Yorkshire began celebrations early.

One of them said: “We meet in the club every Monday afternoon. We’d been putting a bit of money by for when she popped her clogs.

“One of the lads waked in, told us she was dead and tipped the money out onto the table.”

Among the Yorkshire celebrants last night was Mick Appleyard, a former miner and union official. “She killed my village,” he said. “Sharlston [in West Yorkshire] is now a low-wage, menial wage economy, for those who are lucky enough to find jobs. Our young people are on the streets. There’s nothing for them. They turn to drugs and drink because there is nothing else.”

Thatcher didn’t limit her attacks on workers to ordering police to smash the heads of miners. Showing contempt for all of Britain’s poor and for immigrants in particular she pushed hard for institution of a national poll tax. The fewer voters the better, she thought, in a chilling preview of the voter restriction efforts of her GOP admirers here in the U.S. decades later. The ensuing riots against the poll tax, replete with images of cars burning in London’s Trafalgar Square, were watched live in the homes of millions around the world.

Then there were the U.S. Cruise Missiles pushed by the Reagan Administration that she so willingly stationed in Britain and the infamous headline – GOTCHA – in the Sun. The headline referred to the torpedoing of the Argentine cruiser Belgrano. The boat, filled with a crew of Argentine boys, was sunk while in full retreat from the Falkland Islands. The boys were dead and Thatcher gave the thumbs-up signal to the British press.

The singer Morrisey, the former Smiths front man, tore into Thatcher’s legacy in an open letter. “Every move she made was charged by negativity.” Morrisey said. Thatcher was “barbaric” and a “terror without an atom of humanity,” he added.

Morrisey writes: “She destroyed the British manufacturing industry, she hated the miners, she hated the arts, she hated the Irish freedom fighters and allowed them to die (Ten Irish freedom fighters on a hunger strike starved in the infamous Maze prison during her tenure), she hated the English poor, she hated environmental protectionists, and she was the only European leader who opposed a ban on the ivory trade.”

Perhaps the worst thing about her death, many progressives around the world feel, is that her policies haven’t died with her.

The austerity policies she put forward are being applied in Britain and Europe today and they are being pushed in the U.S. too. Ten million more are unemployed in Europe today than at the beginning of the current economic crisis, due to these austerity policies.

Just days before Thatcher’s death in Britain, members of Parliament made deep cuts in welfare programs and tax cuts were approved for the United Kingdom’s wealthy.

The flood of positive media stories about her now that she is dead follow major efforts to make her look good that were already underway over the last several years. Maria Margaronis writes in the Nation how the Meryl Streep movie, “Iron Lady” and how recently released Falkland War archives that show Thatcher in tears at the prospect of the death of British boys were attempts to make her look more “human” and therefore make her policies more acceptable.

The major media, its corporate backers and many governments are heaping praise on the now dead “Iron Lady.” She is being adored as a near-saint who made millions realize that it was capitalism, not unions and socialism, that is the way forward.

Millions of workers and their allies around the world, however, know better. Her demise is not a cause for their concern any more than it is for the people in the bars in Yorkshire. What they are concerned about is ensuring that Thatcherite policies go the way of the “Iron Lady” herself.

Photo: Police clash with striking miners picketing outside Britain’s National Coal Board’s area headquarters at Doncaster in South Yorkshire, March 27, 1984, as the strikers stepped up their efforts to bring working pits to a standstill. (AP Photo)



John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.