Pride...a vivid reminder of how wider community support might have averted defeat in pit dispute
- Category: Trade Union Reporting
Of the recent run of films and plays scripted around the 1984-5 miners’ strike so far only Pride – and its celebration of the role of lesbians and gays – has succeeded in illustrating what might have been achieved if violence and intimidation had been scaled back in favour of seeking support from the wider community.
If the crossover demonstrated by Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners had been replicated with direct help and action from a multitude of pressure groups, Margaret Thatcher might well have been forced to give far greater assistance to the coalfield communities and their hard-pressed collieries.
Sir Tim Bell, her favourite propagandist during the pit dispute, said the Prime Minister had wanted to see the strikers “drag themselves back to work, their tails behind their legs”.
Just like lesbians and gays, the miners were traduced by the national press. In Mrs Thatcher’s opinion the strikers were the “enemy within”. The strike breakers were the heroes and although perhaps not intended, radio and television became a cheer leader as the Conservatives as they condemned the militancy of the strikers for undermining the rule of law.
Pride reflected the slow realisation within the trade union movement that Arthur Scargill’s flying pickets were not the answer and it was noticeable how the film carefully avoided glorifying – or even endorsing – the violence seen during the strike and the intimidation of working miners.
Instead Pride stuck loyally to the post-strike line that what should be celebrated was the miners’ achievement in withstanding Thatcher and the forces of the state for so long; the merits or otherwise of the doomed tactic of relying solely on industrial strength were never mentioned or even discussed.
Of course the mineworkers of the 1980s, as with the embattled lesbians and gays of that era, did not have the benefit of today’s joined-up world of the internet which offers so many opportunities to disseminate information and exploit sympathetic networks.
The 45 per cent vote achieved by the Yes Campaign in the Scottish Referendum was partly the product of years of online activity. Activists in all manner of local and community groups were linked together in spreading the case for Scottish independence.
You Tube, Facebook and Twitter were among the platforms which the Yes campaign used to great advantage. According to the exit polls, 16 and 17-year-old voters went 73 per cent for Yes – and their Facebook pages and uploads on You Tube played no small part in politicising a younger generation of first-time voters.
The release of Pride in the final weeks of the referendum campaign provided a flashback to the emergence of the kind of crossover in support that flourished in Scotland, caused panic in the Westminster establishment and succeeded in winning a categorical promise of greater devolution.
Alex Salmond, the fleet-footed First Minister of the Scottish administration, and the strategists of the Scottish National Party, broke new ground in extending grassroots campaigning.
The demand for independence had the backing of over 300 civic and community groups and extended right across the political waterfront, from Women for Scotland, to the Socialist Worker and to even the mailing lists of humble book groups in the comfortable suburbs of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Pride demonstrated evidence of similarly sympathetic networks in the 1980s which were just waiting to be tapped into. By concentrating its focus on community support within the South Wales coalfield and the role of the wives of the Dulais miners, the film underlined the scale of a gigantic missed opportunity.
Journalists were as unwelcome in the village as were the lesbians and gays initially, and as in so many coalfield communities, the contribution and importance of soup kitchens; food banks and mutual support went largely unreported.
If only...just think how You Tube and Facebook would be flooded with images of families and children going to bed hungry if a dispute involving such extreme hardship was being played out today.
Women against Pit Closures, led by stalwarts such as Anne Scargill and Betty Cook, could not be faulted on the solidarity and inventiveness they displayed in the mid 1980s.
But in today’s world of online insurgencies mothers from the mining villages would have been able to bombard Mumsnet and a host of websites with their tales of woe – and woe betide a Mrs Thatcher if she had faced the wrath of an online assault of the kind unleashed by the Tartan trolls and cyber nats of the Yes Campaign.