What happens when a government uses the army to “crush” strikers?
There would be violence of some sort – fighting, internment at the least, maybe even a massacre. It’s the kind of scene associated with dictatorships, not with democratic countries like Britain.
And yet some newspapers’ coverage of the new documents released today under the 30-year rule – which reveal the Thatcher government’s contingency plans from the Miners’ Strike – implies it very nearly did happen in this country.
Here’s the Mirror’s report:
“Margaret Thatcher was so scared of losing her battle with striking miners she secretly plotted to send in 4,500 troops to crush them, official records reveal today.”
And here’s the headline The Independent ran with:
“National Archives release: Margaret Thatcher nearly sent in the Army to crush miners, secret papers reveal”
Even the Mail, normally a defender of the Iron Lady, went for the alarmist option:
“Maggie’s secret plan to use the ARMY to crush the miners”
To read those reports, one would think she was on the verge of sending armed soldiers up against the miners to fight them into submission.
But page 33 of the actual archive [PDF] reveals a rather different story – the Government did consider using troops if required, but to drive lorries of coal (and possibly food) around the country to places where people needed them.
That’s a world away from “crushing” the miners.
In fact, it’s quite normal practice for the Armed Forces to step into the breach and provide essential services to the public when strikes try to disrupt them. I don’t recall anyone saying Blair had used the Army to “crush” striking firefighters when the Green Goddesses were wheeled out to stop people’s houses burning down.
Mrs Thatcher’s legacy has already been subjected to numerous smears and myths that flourish in defiance of the facts. It seems that the idea of the Army poised to “crush” the Miners’ Strike is the new preferred lie.