Paul Foot

‘Positive’ surrender

(11 July 1992)

From Socialist Worker, 11 July 1992.
Reprinted in Paul Foot, Articles of Resistance, London 2000, pp. 188–189.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The National Union of Mineworkers was polite enough to invite Labour’s energy spokesman, Mr Frank Dobson, to speak at its conference in Scarborough last week.

The union, not surprisingly, is opposed to the government’s plans to take the coal industry back to the dark days of the filthiest representatives of the ruling class, the coal owners. The proposals are so hideous, the delegates must have mused, that even Mr Dobson, a man not best known for his amazing rhetoric might be moved to some indignation. Perhaps he would read up a little on the history of the coal owners.

A reference to the mass evictions in Durham in the 1840s by the Marquess of Londonderry would have gone down well. So might a study of the comparative safety statistics in British mines under private and public ownership.

The very least the rank and file can have expected was a ferocious attack on the Tories and a declaration of unswerving support for the NUM’s campaign against privatisation from the Labour Party, inside and outside parliament.

Well, here is the Financial Times report of what happened: ‘Mr Dobson said he believed “the cards are stacked heavily against keeping coal in the public sector” and the NUM should draw up plans to protect the most vulnerable pits and maintain safety standards.’

This speech was not greeted with rapturous applause.

Perhaps the sceptical miners imagined themselves following Mr Dobson’s advice. The first part of the Dobson plan had them ‘drawing up plans to protect the most vulnerable pits’. Here is a possible plan for protecting a vulnerable pit. (1) Try to ensure that the pit does not close. (2) If it does close, try to ensure jobs for all the miners thrown out of work. (3) If that doesn’t work, try to get decent redundancy pay. (4) If that doesn’t work, burst into tears.

This would be a positive Dobson plan as opposed to a negative plan to try to stop privatisation and closures by refusing to dig coal until public ownership is guaranteed. According to Dobson, the ‘cards’ ‘stacked against’ the success of any such plan, so the miners should settle for failure.

Rough guide

Dobson Plan 2 calls on miners to ‘protect safety standards’. Here is a rough guide to such a plan. (1) Ask the new private management, which has taken over without a struggle or even a complaint, because the cards are stacked against struggles and complaints, to maintain safety standards. (2) If they don’t, lower the standards a little. (3) If that doesn’t work, lower the standards a lot. (4) If management still insist on cutting safety corners, burst into tears.

So desperate are the Labour leaders to surrender that it is becoming almost impossible for socialists to read or listen to them any longer.

I doubt whether there has been a time in the entire century when British Labour has been so abject, so obsequious to Tories, to employers, to the City, to the newspaper barons – to everyone in authority.

Before the election they were at least afraid to lose. Now it seems they positively want to lose. They take on the mantle of defeat with a cheerful enthusiasm which would astonish the most dedicated masochist.

Their only hint of eloquence is in their pleas to their followers to play their part in the disaster. Their slogan is written in scarlet across the flag they sing about every year: ‘We lost. We’re certain to lose again. So make sure you all lose as well’.

Last updated on 30 June 2014