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Still the enemy within
The popular "Pride" film based around the 1984-85 miners' strike is not the only film on this epoch-making dispute getting its premiere this autumn. "Still the Enemy Within", directed by Owen Gower, should make every viewer want to find out more about the strike and join the struggle against austerity.
It starts with a Yorkshire miner revisiting Frickley Colliery. 2,000 men used to work there, but it's now a landscaped monument. Soon we are plunged into a vibrant past with footage of post-war Britain's most vicious, polarised industrial struggle. The film tells the strike's story from the miners' side, with interviews with ex-miners and their wives from Yorkshire, Scotland, the north-east and Wales.
It shows how miners and their union, the NUM, fought Heath's Tory government through the 1972 and 1974 strikes, a period of intense industrial militancy. The second strike forced Heath to call a snap general election asking: 'Who rules - Heath or the miners?' As one miner remembered: "It wasn't ****ing him!"
That defeat for Britain's ruling class prompted thirst for revenge. They hoped to beat the miners, leading to a counter-revolution against the trade unions and working-class in general. The 'Ridley Plan', devised by Tory MP Nicholas Ridley, set out exactly the strategy Thatcher's government used in the strike - building up coal stocks, strengthening the police and training them in almost paramilitary methods, attacking the NUM's finances etc.
But despite this preparation, the strike could have been won. After years of provocation by the nationalised National Coal Board (NCB), the gloves were finally off. There were early successes for the miners, who were also confident about winning over the major coalfield that stayed in work, Nottinghamshire.
However the film shows the police intimidating and harassing NUM pickets by, totally unlawfully, preventing them entering Nottinghamshire. So the NUM turned its attention to British Steel's coking plant at Orgreave, South Yorkshire. If the miners could stop that, steel and car plants would be left standing idle. But instead of a mass picket, what followed was a mass ambush by the state.
Ex-miners outline how the same police that stopped them daily on main roads now welcomed them into fields and car parks around the plant. Then thousands of police, on foot, on horseback and with dogs, systematically meted out massive violence to workers defending their jobs and communities.
The images are sickening. But campaigning by miners, the NUM and groups like the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign, raised pressure for an inquiry into a scandal that came from the very top in Thatcher's government.
Orgreave made it clear - mass solidarity action by the whole trade union movement was essential. Watch for placards of the Socialist's predecessor Militant and also the Broad Left Organising Committee (BLOC), which we supported, on footage of the miners' lobby of the 1984 TUC conference.
Ordinary trade unionists and working-class people raised millions for the strike fund, but there was little appetite for action amongst the TUC and other union leaders who could have made the difference. The Labour leadership under Neil Kinnock also failed to support the miners. One miner talks of the Tories deliberately buying off potential disputes to avoid coordinated action.
He also mentions the struggle of the Militant-led Liverpool city council in this by agreeing to "a deal that gave them a little extra". But in reality, the council won a massive victory against Thatcher through mass action and inspired many miners in what was possible. £60 million was won, which would mean something like £130 million today.
The film shows how the Tories nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the dispute with pit deputy union Nacods. But after a massive vote for strike action that would have shut down all pits, including Nottingham, Nacods' leaders caved in after a meeting of its executive at the TUC!
You'd need a heart of stone not to be moved as the strike enters its final stages in 1985. The Tories, assisted by the media, built the 'return to work' drive by starving out the miners, then bribing them back.
But this film isn't demoralising. It shows how ordinary workers and their families took on a vicious government, with all the resources of the state, and nearly won. It shows how women of the coalfields got organised and were often the spine of this incredible struggle.
In 1992 when the Major Tory administration finally closed most remaining pits, even those miners who worked during the strike in Nottingham finally saw why it was right to fight in 1984.
The final shots show recent strikes and protests against the Con-Dem austerity offensive. Ex-miners march alongside striking teachers and other public sector workers. The miners' defeat led to three decades of neo-liberalism but we must absorb lessons of their heroic struggle to ensure that workers can resist and defeat Thatcher's descendants now.
- See the-enemy-within.org.uk/events for details of local showings
- A Civil War Without Guns: The Lessons of the 1984-85 Miners' Strike by Ken Smith, available from Left Books: http://leftbooks.co.uk/epages/950002679.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/950002679/Products/SMIT0003
In The Socialist 1 October 2014:
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