UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Still the Enemy Within reviewed - remembering the lessons of 1984/85 Miners Strike

#stilltheenemywithin In yesterday’s NHS strike, soldiers were deployed to ambulance stations in some parts of the country, as England’s Chief Nursing Officer claimed that ‘robust plans’ were in place to counter the industrial action. Such a disproportionate state response to a 4 hour stoppage in public services shows that nothing much has changed in the industrial landscape since the 1984/85 miners strike.

The new documentary film Still the Enemy Within is a powerful reminder of the extraordinary struggle of the National Union of Mineworkers to defend their communities and livelihoods in the face of a calculated attack by a ruthless Tory Government. Using a combination of personal testimonies, archive footage, photographs and re-enactment, the film reflects on what the strike achieved in terms of solidarity and struggle but perhaps more importantly why it ultimately resulted in defeat. An important fact highlighted early in the film is that only 16,000 of the NUM’s then 160,000 membership were active on the frontline during the strike.

Solidarity is the rich vein of inspiration running throughout the film. One miner says that ‘sticking together just becomes a habit. When working class people come together they can defeat the might of the Government and the state that supports them.’ Nothing epitomised the fighting spirit of mining communities more than the emergence of the Women Against Pit Closures movement. As one veteran of the campaign states of Thatcher ‘she called herself an Iron Lady but she had thousands of Iron Ladies in the coalfields!’ The level of international trade union solidarity with the miners was unprecedented although snails and spinach from French trade unions didn’t find favour in otherwise grateful mining communities!

Also impressive is the grasp of economics shown by NUM activists, for example one activist recounts that ‘Thatcher told us that increased production was necessary in the mines but when we produced more coal we were then told that there was too much coal in the country!’ and another NUM member comments wryly that the NCB ‘had an accounting system that Lehman Brothers would have been proud of!’ Miners were advised by banks that home mortgages would be a formality as they ‘had secure jobs in a public sector monopoly!’

A key lesson for today was the bottom up momentum of the 1984/85 strike which was correctly seen by many NUM regions as a make or break struggle. However, the dispute was only as strong as its weakest link and the continued working of the Nottingham coalfields (where 40% of coal output was produced) was a decisive factor in the defeat. So too was the absence of solidarity strike action by other unions and the repressive military style policing of the dispute with roadblocks and brutal violence against striking miners graphically revealed in the film.

A brilliant soundtrack evokes the 1980’s era and UNISON partner union nostalgics will be heartened to see placards such as ‘NALGO women support the miners’ and ‘COHSE supports the miners.’

A must see film for all UNISON members.