While the ruling class mourns the death of one of their most loyal politicians and mouthpieces, the British and Irish working classes and oppressed peoples the world over are certainly not mourning Margaret Thatcher’s passing. From the streets of Belfast to the streets of Brixton, we are seeing a different response from working-class communities who remember all too well the “festival of reaction” that Thatcher reigned over.
Thatcher’s term as prime minister and Ronald Reagan’s as president symbolized U.S. and British imperialism’s brutal offensive against the working classes of their two countries and increased military aggression abroad. “Thatcherism” and “Reaganism” represented union-busting, greater poverty and an enriched elite.
Thatcher’s track record included the intense suppression of the Irish liberation movement, military invasion in Latin America and a war against the interests of British workers.
Ireland—the oldest colony in the world
Nowhere was Thatcher more hated than in Ireland, meaning that she believed the six northern counties of Ireland were part of the United Kingdom. Ireland was in fact divided by British imperial dictate in 1921, leaving the six northern counties under the jurisdiction of the British crown.
When Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, “the Troubles” had already raged for over 10 years. She continued the repression against the Irish Republican forces. Republicans in Ireland are those who advocate an Irish Republic free from British control.
The “Troubles” refers to the two decades of intense violence that began in 1968 when the oppressed Catholic population in northern Ireland—who began massive civil rights marches to demand the end of systematic repression and discrimination—were brutally attacked by the fascist Royal Ulster Constabulary. Armed resistance arose by the republican forces against the pro-British terrorist paramilitaries.
Thatcher refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Irish resistance, the fighters having been stripped of their political-prisoner status in 1976. She infamously stated: “Crime is crime is crime. It is not political.”
In 1981, the Republican prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest being treated as criminals and not prisoners of war. Thatcher stood by callously as one by one, the beloved Irish revolutionaries died in a series of 10 continuous hunger strikes that popularized Ireland’s struggle across the world.
In retaliation, the Irish Republican Army narrowly missed killing her in 1984, exploding bombs at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton, killing four other Conservative Party delegates and seriously wounding members of Thatcher’s delegation.
In 1988, she introduced a broadcasting ban in the six counties making it illegal to broadcast the views of the political party Sinn Fein “to deny terrorists the oxygen of publicity on which they thrive.”
Despite her best attempts to break the back of Irish resistance, that freedom struggle pushed on with hundreds of thousands of people coming into the streets in support of the hunger strikers. Before his death, Bobby Sands said: “They won’t break me, because the desire for freedom, and the freedom of the Irish people, is in my heart. The day will dawn when all the people of Ireland will have the desire for freedom to show. It is then that we will see the rising of the moon.”
An imperialist abroad, a racist at home
Thatcher oversaw Britain’s role in its war with Argentina over the Malvinas islands, which are situated 8,000 miles away from London in the south Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Argentina. Britain first claimed the islands in 1833 as part of its global empire.
In April 1982, the Argentinian ruling junta under fascist general Jorge Rafael Videla ordered the military to retake the Malvinas in an attempt to distract workers from the dictatorship’s repression and tap into long-standing Argentinian anger at Britain’s claim on the islands. Despite having helped the Argentinian dictatorship come to power, U.S. imperialism sided with its British imperialist ally by providing intelligence and transport help.
Thatcher gave direct orders for the British nuclear-powered submarine called “The Conqueror” to attack an Argentinian naval vessel even though it was outside the area of conflict. In that attack, 323 Argentinian sailors were killed. Britain continues to claim the Malvinas because of their interest in plundering the oil in the region.
The 1980s represented a sharpening of global class war from Nicaragua to Mozambique to Moscow. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan worked hand in hand to carry out a neoliberal agenda and quell liberation movements worldwide. Thatcher was a close ally of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile and other infamous fascist dictators. She allowed the U.S. Air Force to bomb Libya from airbases in England. She supported Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev, who would oversee the restoration of capitalism in Russia. She supported apartheid in South Africa even as governments around the world began to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime. She labeled the freedom-fighting African National Congress “terrorists.”
Within Britain, Thatcher’s role was to carry out a vicious ruling-class agenda to dismantle the social safety net and crush the voices of oppressed sectors of British society.
In 1981, a social rebellion swept across Britain sparked by high unemployment and unequal social conditions. The racist police brutality against the Black Caribbean population of Brixton in South London was the spark that led to months of insurrection. When confronted with this pressure from below to address segregation and provide opportunities to youth, Thatcher rejected the idea that social conditions had anything to do with the unrest. In her typical inhumane, cold-blooded fashion she stated: “What absolute nonsense. … No one should condone violence. No one should condone the events. … They were criminal, criminal.”
Thatcher sought to break the power of labor unions—attacking nationalized industry, upholding the “free market” and waging a war against the “welfare state.”
Thatcher presided over the 1984 privatization of the coal mining industry in Great Britain. The denationalization meant that 20 coal pits were shut down resulting in the loss of 20,000 jobs. Many families in the north of England, Scotland and Wales lost their primary source of work
On June 18, 1984, near Rothertham, thousands of police brutally attacked striking miners in what was dubbed “The Battle of Orgreave.” Seven miners were killed in the conflict by the police who functioned as the shock troops for capitalist interests.
While Thatcher herself has died, Thatcherism, the legacy of unfettered attacks on workers and their right to live in peace continues. There is still saber rattling against Argentina over the Malvinas. Irish Republicans continue to be targeted for harassment and violence by the British state. Oppressed communities continue to be scapegoated and ruined.
We should not be misled by the Obama White House’s statement: “The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend.” The truth is that the pillagers and looters of the world lost one of theirs. We have no reason to mourn the loss of this loyal servant of our exploiters.