- The 1984-5 miners’ strike and the spirit of solidarity
In spite of the defeat, the solidarity of 1984-5 remains inspirational
The thirtieth anniversary of the 1984-5 British miners’ strike against pit closures has seen a number of attempts to engage with the legacy of the dispute. The prominence given to London Lesbians and Gay Men Support the Miners (LGSM), whose story had previously circulated among sections of the left but was hardly known more widely, has been perhaps the most unexpected (and welcome) outcome of this. In this article I discuss three depictions of the strike, all of which focus on miners, activists and supporters of the strike - and in all of which LGSM plays a role, though of varying importance. These works are then taken as a starting point for a wider discussion on the ways in which the miners’ support movement is represented and understood.
The best known of the works discussed here is Pride, the film based on a dramatised account of LGSM and the group’s relationship with mining communities in the Dulais Valley in South Wales. The second work discussed, the play Pits and Perverts, was written by Micheál Kerrigan and produced by Derry theatre group Sole Production; it focuses more closely on one gay couple living in London who provided accommodation for two striking Welsh miners. The third work is a documentary directed by Owen Gower, Still the Enemy Within, which attempts to give an overview of the strike primarily from the perspective of the rank-and-file [End Page 118] activist - including secretary of LGSM Mike Jackson.
The focus on activists is a feature shared by all three works. Much mainstream commentary on the strike, at the time and since, has portrayed it as a dispute largely between the NUM’s President Arthur Scargill, and Margaret Thatcher and Ian McGregor of the National Coal Board. All three figures were of course important, and no complete analysis of the dispute can ignore them. Nevertheless, the 180,000 miners, their families, communities and supporters deserve to be made central to any discussion of that year. Each of these works, in different ways, does this. Each also engages with themes that have relevance beyond the strike itself.
The labour movement and the miners’ support campaign
After the strike began in March 1984, spreading unevenly from Yorkshire and Scotland into all the British coalfields, an extensive support movement was established. One of the most notable features of this was the women’s support groups organised in the mining areas themselves, which formed the basis for the national Women Against Pit Closures (WAPC) campaign. Other support groups not limited to women also developed in the coalfields, such as the Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valleys Miners’ Support Group, with which LGSM formed an alliance. Outside of mining areas there were support groups established both in Britain and internationally. Often these were geographically based - a group for a particular town, city or borough for instance - and trades councils were frequently at the heart of them. In addition there were more novel groups, such as LGSM, Black Delegation to the Miners and Greenham Women for a Miners Victory. Solidarity activity was not limited to these specific support groups however; Labour and Communist Party branches, local authorities, trade unions, student unions, community groups and any number of other campaigning organisations played a role in sustaining the miners for the year of the strike.
Still the Enemy Within in particular attempts to take in the whole range of this support movement, which was described by one miner as ‘incredibly inspiring’. Unlike the other two pieces considered here, however, Still the Enemy Within also tries to analyse the failure of the strike, and roots this primarily in the limits of trade union solidarity. The interviews with miners and supporters here are a powerful reminder of how devastating the defeat of the strike was. More than one miner [End Page 119] recalls how men committed suicide after the closure of their pits. This is important to keep in mind when discussing the positive connections that developed during the year. Still the Enemy Within recognises that the failure to...