The Miners Strike of 1984-1985 changed Britain for the worse. Purely to defeat the organised working class, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced pit closures, being perfectly willing to get rid of an entire industry, judging quite rightly that none of them voted for the Conservatives anyway. The miners, who were pushed and pushed further, finally went on strike when a modern, recently Government-upgraded pit was earmarked for closure – there could have been no other justification for it. And, for a year, the miners fought the Government.
It’s a long story, with moments of joy and laughter, as the miners begin to understand their strength and the power that comes from organising and moving collectively; and lots of moments of misery, as the State uses every tool in its arsenal to beat and humiliate the miners. As one of the strikers says, “imagine taking your wages every month, putting them in a cupboard and not touching them for a year. See how you get on” and we see the soup kitchens that were organised to feed the miners and their families, among many other things.
Obviously, the miners lost in the end, so it’s a deeply sad story. The rest of the organised working class (and, to their eternal shame, the Labour Party) did too little to support them – money was good, but what they needed was other workers to come out on strike, to open up new fronts and force the government to stop destroying their industry and the thousands of villages and towns that relied on mines and miners for their livelihoods. There are happy moments, such as when Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners made their trip to the tiny South Wales town they’d chosen to support (the story told, with such laughter and tears, in “Pride”); and the ways the miners got round the police blockades stopping them from picketing outside some pits.
The film consists mainly of the story of the strike told by former miners and their supporters. The amazingly named Norman Strike; Paul Symonds, who movingly talks about the death of his friend on the picket line; Joyce Sheppard, who went from “ordinary” housewife to inspiring political activist; among others. Full disclosure: I have chaired meetings featuring several of the people involved in this film, so it’s to be expected I may be slightly biased. But bias is the only real way to respond to this film. If you’re not biased on the side of the miners, then you’ve not opened your eyes in the last 30 years.
As the ending of the film shows, the legacy of the defeat of the miners strike is felt everywhere in the Britain of today. Privatisation has ended “jobs for life”, given billions of pounds to already wealthy investors, while leaving the actual people who make everything on the scrapheap. Once-proud areas are now little better than ghost towns, families where no-one’s worked for generations are increasingly common, and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow ever wider. Does anyone think, even now, that the Tories did the right thing? Has anyone said “well, the unions needed to be taught a lesson” and not been proved to be either directly profiting from that lesson, or an idiot?
But it’s not just a story of how the State beat one group of workers. It’s hope. The interviewees would do it all again, only with better tactics this time, because they were right! Seeing the stars of the documentary marching on anti-austerity demonstrations in 2014, saying “the future is still up for grabs” demonstrates how we should all be. Fighting the system is bloody difficult but the alternative is way worse, not just for us but for our kids and generations to come. Watch this documentary, be inspired and fight!
Rating: thumbs up