In the early seventies a group of working class activists forced their way among the floats of a students charity parade with a float proclaiming opposition to the proposals from the then education minister, Margaret Thatcher, to stop free school milk.
That is my first memory of Thatcher and her legacy. During the few hundred yards where we had a captive audience we got a tremendous reception to our slogans and leaflets. Ironically it was the student organisers fresh from the radical student days of the sixties who got the police to remove us from the parade.
It is quite appropriate that she should be remembered for that. ‘Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher’ was the cry that was used against her.
Now all the ‘talk’ (it’s mainly talk and little action) is that school pupils would greatly benefit from a daily portion of milk. In the face of concerns about the health of our young people, healthy eating, obesity and more exercise for children are the daily topic of the news and even day to day talk.
It sort of sums up Thatcher. Her hatred of any semblance of collective provision for working class people drove the ‘grocer’s daughter’ onto the wholesale destruction of British public services. In the process she also wrecked Britain’s manufacturing industry.
She tried to translate the economics of the day to day running of her father’s grocery shop into the running of the British economy. Of course she did it against a background of being the wife of a very rich businessman. More importantly she created resentment amongst the working class still alive today.
What the Tory government under Margaret Thatcher and then John Major (and Blair since) did to the public sector has been followed by all capitalist governments throughout the world. Governments have abandoned the post-war consensus in providing welfare benefits ’from the cradle to the grave’.
Capitalist governments’ abandonment of the Keynes method of pump-priming the economies to smooth out the ’normal’ ups and downs of the economic cycle was a response to the end of the post-war economic upswing in capitalism. This meant that they could ’no longer afford’ to maintain the same level of state spending as they did before.
They declared that their number one priority was to cut back the amount of the economy taken by the state.
She immediately set in motion steps to defeat the miners and any other sections of the organised working class who would stand in her way of cutting the share of the wealth ‘enjoyed’ by the working class. She introduced anti trade union legislation and prepared specifically to defeat the miners and end Britain’s reliance on coal for energy.
Thatcher worshiped the free market and set about cutbacks in services, privatisation and destruction of manufacturing industry.
Thatcher’s government embarked upon a war against working-class rights and living standards. Prevailing expectations about the need for a welfare state, trade union rights, publicly owned industry and services, social housing etc, were battered down with a philosophy, which promoted individualism, privatisation and free market economics.“There is no such thing as ’society’” she said
The miners’ strike was a case in point. In her efforts to defeat the strike she set about destroying their communities. How these pit villages suffer now. The use of the police, the courts, the army cost millions but it was a small price to pay to defeat a section of the organised working class.
Conflict was what she thrived on be it the Argentine in the Falklands war, the miners and trade unionist, wets who wanted to keep Britain’s industrial base, foreigners in Europe who didn’t agree with her vision of a rampant free market Europe, local councillors as in Liverpool who wanted to keep services and fought and won or the Poll Tax protesters first in Scotland and then throughout Britain who fought her and won and drove her from office.
Thatcher represented the harshest face of the ruling class that Britain had seen in a while.
Her desire to serve the ruling class and attack the jobs, wages, and services of the working class was her burning cause.
Her legacy was taken up by Major but more importantly by Tony Blair the most ‘Thatcherite’ of them all. Unfortunately for capitalism although she inflicted defeats on the working class she left a class embittered by its experience, who gave Blair a chance but are now looking in ever greater numbers for a solution to the problems with which Thatcherism and now Blair has landed them.