Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Iron Lady is dead

Yesterday was the official funeral of former British PM Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013).  Normally people refrain from criticizing the dead, but not in this case, Margaret Thatcher was a person of conflict and division in her time, and that was because she was anti-socialist and made an enemy of the Unions due to her actions when she was PM.  So that the song "ding-dong the witch is dead" from the "Wizard of Oz" has become popular and some demonstrations occured during her funeral.
Any movement can go from good to bad or vice versa if it becomes too powerful.  As an example, unbridled capitalism was bad because it exploited the workers and gave them no rights, they were treated as mere chattels and paid below minimum wages.  For example, the miners of S. Wales struck for better conditions in 1898-1902, they were dying from "black lung" disease, terrible work conditions with many accidents and malnutrition from inferior wages.  But, the colliery owners forced them out and replaced them with non-union workers and many died.  Similarly in the US, J.P Morgan employed a private army which gunned down miners in battles in West Virginia and Pennsylvania in the coal strike of 1902 and up to 1921 in the Battle of Blair Mountain.  But, eventually, the governments legislated and the courts ruled against trusts and cartels and the Unions became more powerful and were able to force management to pay living wages.  But, then the pendulum swung the other way and the Unions became too powerful and corrupt and controlled the industry and demanded excess wages by blackmail.  That was the situation when Maggie Thatcher came into power in 1980s Britain.
She was a breakthrough as a Conservative PM, she was the first woman and the first petite bourgeois Conservative PM in history.  She was a grocer's daughter, while most previous Conservative PMs had been landowners.  She was pro-Jewish and pro-Israel, while most previous Conservatives had been anti-Semitic.  When Arthur Scargill, the National Union of Miners (NUM) leader, who was a communist, declared that he would bring down her government, he did not know what he was getting into.  When he tried to expand the NUM strike in 1984 from the north of England to all mining areas, Thatcher brought out the police and the army and stopped his "flying pickets" and there was violence.  Several people were killed and many police were injured, but she stopped the strike and closed down the mines.  She was right to do so because they had been nationalized by former Labor governments and were notoriously uneconomical because of the high wages that the miners demanded and got, until coal produced in Britain was 4 times costlier than that available from Poland for example, where wages were of course much lower.  Whereas nationalization of key industries had seemed like a good idea at the time, their subsequent gross inefficiency required privatization and Maggie was the one to do that.  Her commitment to the free market was undeniable.
She was also tough in her defense of British interests abroad, as exemplified in the Falklands War of 1982 and in her cooperation with Pres. Reagan in helping to bring down Communism in the USSR.  There is no doubt that Margeret Thatcher was a strong leader who brought Britain from a socialist-induced backwater into a vibrant society in the 20th century.   Whatever one's opinion there is no doubt that Baroness Thatcher was a great British leader who deserves universal respect.  However, the pendulum swings again and things are never the same and now Britain, like many other countries, is facing economic difficulties.  What Britain needs is another "Iron Lady." 


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