On 2 April 1982, the Argentine militarily reclaimed the South Atlantic islands, 8000 miles away from Britain, known in Argentina as the Malvinas and in Britain as the Falklands (which sounds like a Scottish island), after 149 years of British occupation
By Martin Ralph – International Socialist League
In March 2022, an informative documentary was released that tells how Britain nearly lost the war. It is called the “Untold Story” on channel 41. It uses a day-by-day countdown approach, pointing to key events via maps, photographs, videos and diagrams. The details show that there were numerous occasions when a British military victory was far from certain.
Lt Col Michael Rose, the head of the SAS in the Falklands, speaks candidly of the problems, he says the conflict was “a command and control muddle from the start” as the navy led the operation without joint command with the army and air force and he explains there was a fractured chain of command, ill-suited to the distance, conditions and demands of the South Atlantic terrain. He says that the task force came very close to defeat.
There was a lack of a cohesive plan and shows at least two scenarios that, had they played out even slightly differently, might have ended in victory for Argentina.
Most unpopular Prime Minister since WWII
Thatcher, by launching the war, did create a wave of jingoism in the middle class but it was a high risk. In 1980, she brought in the Employment Act that restricted lawful picketing to your own workplace, outlawing secondary picketing.
In 1980, the steel union, ISTC, came out for fourteen weeks in its first national stoppage since 1926 but were defeated by scab Labour and the TUC bureaucracy.
There was rampant inflation, recession and mass unemployment. Huge demonstrations took place against unemployment and the government.
In 1981, Thatcher gave in to the miners as she withdrew plans to close 23 pits because the miner’s union threatened a national strike. It was their first major u-turn since 1979, which of course was just a postponement. The same year, widespread riots took place against racist policing policies and social and economic equality in over 35 cities and towns primarily in Black areas.
The Malvinas and the working class
According to polls in 1982, Thatcher was the most unpopular Prime Minister since WWII before the Malvinas war.
The most dynamic opposition to the war in the UK came from sections of the organised working class and oppressed people and nations.
After Thatcher sent the military forces against Argentina, the Liverpool Trades Council (a city-wide alliance of unions) carried a resolution that Bill Hunter, an engineering worker delegate, moved on the Malvinas war condemning the imperialist attack and supporting the right of Argentina to the islands. At that time, the Liverpool Trades Council was a powerful body representing engineering workers, transport workers, municipal workers, printers, car workers, miners, teachers etc.
An article written by Bill Hunter said, “Ö.at its meeting of some eighty delegates in April, the Liverpool Trades Council carried a resolution condemning the war and the Jingoism of Labour leaders and supporting the national right of Argentina to the Malvinas. There were no votes against the resolution, although supporters of the Militant [Committee for a Workers International] abstained, after losing an amendment.”
The article said that every “principled socialist” must seek “to rouse workers against the imperialist attack on Argentina”.
The extracts used here are from an article for the News Line, the daily paper of the Workers Revolutionary Party early in May 1982, which also gives the position of the Militant on the Malvinas, as they expressed it in Liverpool.
The Militant tendency, “had sought to divert the opposition to the war with its amendment attacking the Argentine seizure of Malvinas” In their press, they maintained the same position.
Important bodies in the Labour movement opposed the war. Among them are the Liverpool Trades Council, the Wigan Trades Council, the Lancaster Labour Party, two constituency [Labour] parties in Plymouth and several trade union branches.
Those worker activists and leaders that fought for a principled Marxist position in the working class recognised the difference between an imperialist country and an oppressed country in relation to war between such two countries. As Trotsky said, when there is a fascist dictatorship in an oppressed country – brought about by imperialism, “The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks, one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!”.2
The opposition that existed in some sections of the working class and the Black and ethnic minorities was strong, such as amongst Pakistani youth in Coventry.
The Welsh weekly newspapers in the valleys of Snowdonia published articles condemning the war and supporting Argentina. Similar voices could be heard in Scotland and Ireland.
Britain is an imperialist nation and in a war against oppressed nations, no matter the type of government in the oppressed nation under attack we oppose the British warmongers. At the same time we support the working class in the oppressed nation. That is part of our internationalist stance in relation to the national question.