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From the miners' strike to Gaza: Jeremy Corbyn joins left voices at the Morning Star's annual conference

Standing ovations and rousing speeches on the 1984-85 miners’ strike prompted lively discussion of how we learn from the great struggle to win today's battles. BERNY TORRE reports on the Morning Star's annual conference

STRIKE veterans, trade union militants and left MPs led lively debate on the lessons of the miners’ strike for today’s struggles at the annual Morning Star conference at the weekend.

Applause rang out as Labour MP Ian Lavery and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary Chris Kitchen called for a public inquiry into the policing of the 1984-85 miners’ strike on its 40th anniversary.

And sessions debated features of the biggest industrial dispute of the Thatcher years that can inform us now, from the co-ordinated use of state power to smash workers and the left to the importance of international solidarity and opposition to imperialism.

Terry Renshaw, one of the Shrewbury 24, received a standing ovation after he gave a moving summary of the building workers’ 47-year fight for justice against wrongful convictions during picketing.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “There is something inside of me that just makes me sick to the stomach today when Netanyahu in Tel Aviv is saying that it’s time for the IDF to take military action to drive the Palestinian people out of Rafah through a closed border.

“There are a million people there dying … there’s nothing more disgusting that I can think of than what we are witnessing on our screens at this present time.

“Every loss of life is awful of course … but where is our movement, when we should be out there all the time demanding a ceasefire now … our job is solidarity with them, that is a message we’ve got to get across and get out there.

“It is a question of reigniting that voice for peace as loudly as we possibly can — that surely is what brings our movement together internationally, and is that something the Morning Star has always done.”

On the Labour leadership, he added: “When you promise to deliver the status quo what on Earth is the election campaign meant to be about?

“I’m going to make sure that everything I do and lots of other people between now and the election do is to try to unite people in demanding social justice, housing justice, peace in the world but also fighting back against the racists.

“Because when the Labour movement retreats away from its principles… when we leave the door open to prejudice and don’t challenge it then that provides a respectable home for a vote to extreme right-wing parties. Look across Europe at the way at those who have shied away from the important and vital work from defending the rights of refugees to survive and exist in our society.”

Labour rights professor Lydia Hayes opened the conference explaining how the strike was a defense of collectively won union rights from two world wars, with its defeat leading to New Labour’s failure to repeal anti-union laws.

Not only did the Blair government fail to repeal anti-union laws, but the employment rights it enacted meant that individuals could only appeal “to the judicial arm of the state” for when wrongs had already occurred, she said.

“All looking backwards: none offering the machinery for collective responsibility for justice for which you have the choice and the voice to do more.”

NUM leader Chris Kitchen was applauded as he called for a Westminster inquiry into trumped-up charges against the striking miners. 

“An inquiry will not change the past, but it could ensure that safeguards are put in place, to ensure that no one else has to face the power of the state push a collective ideology,” he said.

Lavery told of how he was brutally beaten and sent to hospital by a police officer on the first time he joined the picket aged 21.

He said: “I got absolutely battered before I was put in the [police] van. I had blood coming down my face… I had not any clue what I had done wrong.

“We were in the prison van for seven hours, I was charged for the first time in my life.”

The MP said he was acquitted of a “trumped-up charge” after prosecutors said the wrong police officer had arrested him, adding: “What we experienced was absolutely horrendous.

“The mineworkers deserve justice — the hand of Thatcher was on everything: her finger prints on everything that the police done, everything that the magistrates done, everything that happened to us miners; many convicted plea bargaining and went to prison for things they hadn’t done.”

He asked: “Where are the orators now to inspire the working class?”

Offering Sir Keir Starmer, he drew laughs from the audience and joked that he could get expelled for his comment.

He added: “When we were instructed by the leader of the Labour Party not to enter picket lines in the last couple of years I was very much insulted.”

He added that the party “isn’t owned by any individual, there are some fantastic Labour MPs, make no bones about it — lots of them support wholeheartedly everything we spoke about this morning.”

He said he had never seen a wave of inspiration as during the Corbyn leadership of the party, adding: “It’s up to those individuals which I’ve mentioned to continue to encourage the working class to continue to fight.”

Unite national co-ordinator Erkan Ersoy, who has more than 20 years’ organising experience, said: “As long as we campaign about issues that communities do care about and measures around those issues, politicians will have to move.

“We need razor-sharp focus and to push these issues and get people on our side. We cannot talk to people who are converted, the right wing ideology is sinking in deep, with the right issues we can bring them on our side.”

RMT president Alex Gordon called for “unofficial” industrial action to against the Tories’ anti-strike laws, to turn minimum service levels into “maximum sickness levels.”

He said: “We need an unofficial movement to break the minimum service legislation.

“Workers have got to get back into the habit of an unofficial action.

“I’m expecting for workers to say to each other when I receive that work notice, I will be going sick from the day I receive it to the day after action.”

GMB organiser for the southern region Helen O’Connor gave an impassioned speech about a “pervasive and chilling silence about the needs of women” in the trade union movement.

Slamming bullying and deplatforming of women arguing in defence of women’s sex-based rights, she said: “It’s not just bad employers and governments we have to fight, we need to stand up against the divisive ideas of liberalism.”

Heather Wood, of Women Against Pit Closures, said many women who joined the group during the strike did not initially want to become involved in politics, but by “drip-feeding… eventually those women — it didn’t take long — became politicised.”

She criticised a lack of co-ordination in the recent strike wave, adding: “This is what has been wrong for the last few months: the trade unionists talk to each other but they don’t do things together.”

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