Monday, 8 December 2014

Still The Enemy Within.

In the preface to 2014’s fourth edition of Seumas Milne’s book about the secret war against the miners and the UK’s organized labour movements by Margaret Thatcher and her right wing administration, The Enemy Within, first published in 1994, he states ‘The aftershocks of the miners strike of 1984-85 can still be felt in Britain thirty years later. The strike was without doubt a watershed in the county’s post-war history. Indeed, it has had no real parallel in size, duration and impact anywhere in the world. It was the decisive domestic confrontation of the Thatcher years: a conflict which pitted the most powerful and politicized trade union in the country against a hard-right conservative administration bent on class revenge and prepared to lay waste to the country’s industrial heartlands and energy sector in the process, regardless of cost (monitory or socially). It convulsed Britain, turned coalfield communities into occupied territory, and came far closer than was understood at the time to breaking the Thatcher governments onslaught on organized labour’[1] Things could have been so different if Thatcher had been defeated!

There have been many films on the subject of the miner’s strike. Which Side Are You On is a stunning documentary that Ken Loach made in 1984 whilst the strike was in progress. The film features the experiences of the miners and their families told through songs, poems and other art. Loach successfully highlights the fact that the people involved and supporting this industrial action are ordinary, honest working individuals, not shirkers or lazy bastards just people who want to work and continue to work in an industry that not only supports their families but the community they live in.

Another documentary is Burning Issues (2004). The Banner Theatre originally made the film to mark the 20th anniversary of the miner struggle. Founded in 1974 it is the only theatres company that tour consistently to Britain’s trade unionists. The company has performed at union events, pubs, clubs, theatres, festivals and rallies over the past 40 years. It pioneered and continues to use documentary theatre techniques. The film is a celebration of the solidarity, resourcefulness and resistance of mining communities throughout the strike, and allows miners and their families to speak for themselves twenty years on from the strike and to reflect on what it has subsequently meant to them and their communities.

Its not always documentary’s that show the hardships and struggles of the working class? Pride (2014) is a feature film that successfully does just that. Ostensibly a movie about solidarity, the solidarity of ordinary people that are persecuted because of their sexual orientation or quite simply because they would like too feed their families!  This is an amazing story that based on true events that happened during the miners strike. It gives us an account of the alliance between the pioneering London fundraising group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), and the people of a mining village in the Dulais valley in Wales who like the rest of the brave mining community were mainly reliant on outside help to enable them to continue with the strike without starving!

The latest of these films, shown at the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre to a near capacity audience, Still The Enemy Within (2014) gives a hard hitting and moving reassessment of the strike from today’s prospective, narrated by the men and woman who actually took part in the struggle, a struggle to support their right to work and live in a fair and just society and not cow tail to the City of London and their cohorts in Westminster.  It uses interviews that involve personnel experiences from ordinary working class folk and a wealth of rare and never before seen archive, and without the need of talking heads.

Owen Gower, who is normally found, directing factual documentaries for television, has now directed his first feature film and you can sense that his background has stood him in good stead. Most right-minded people are aware that it was Thatcher’s intention to kill the strength of the working class by destroying their workplace Unions. To this end she decided to take on the strongest of them the National Union of Mineworkers. It was the Tories plan to implement the closure of the mines threatening a complete industry along with the communities attached to this industry and their way of life.  160000 coal miner, their wife’s, girlfriends and families took up the governments challenge and fought back, coming very close to winning the dispute even taking into account the underhanded tactics of Thatcher, a combat trained police force and the right wing media. But as the documentary explains it was fellow Unions that did not give the mineworkers their full support that brought them down in the end. But looking back now I’m convinced of two things, if the unions had combined in their support of the strike Thatcher along with her cohorts would have been defeated and therefore we would all be living in a fairer society without a government that only cares about the rich and powerful.   

Interestingly the discussion that took place between Dr Benjamin Franks - author of ‘Rebel Alliances: The Means and Ends of Contemporary British Anarchism’s’, and the audience was truly engaged by the fact that there were people in the cinema that had first hand knowledge of the dispute.   What do we learn from such informative documentaries?  The wicked witch may be dead but nothing changes! Its difficult to believe that changes (for the better) will come through the ballot box with a chance recently missed for Scotland’s with the Independence vote. Governments still lie and gullible people still believe them!

[1] Seumas Milne December 2013.

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