Review

Still the Enemy Within

Bad Bonobo productions, director and producer Owen Gower

THIRTY YEARS ago, "Thatcher went to war. These are the miners who fought back."

This unashamedly partisan film tells the story of the 1984/5 miners' strike - as told by the miners, their families and their supporters.

Often, they are filmed speaking from the desolate places where the pits once stood, and, along with archive material and some re-enactment, they describe the events of 30 years ago, which still resonate today.

The film makes no attempt at balance - the establishment view hasn’t been short of a hearing. Instead, it praises the idea of solidarity - almost without commentary, with no voice-overs and director Owen Gower's words: "No experts, like Seamus Milne".

The result is a moving reminder of a world destroyed when the Thatcher government decided to take on the trade union movement in general, and the NUM in particular.

It's almost impossible to conceive now of how a single picket, alone in the rain at 5am, could turn back a fleet of lorries. Even harder to imagine people prepared to walk out of their jobs indefinitely for a cause so risky - because they believed it was the right thing to do, and to carry on, long after defeat began to look inevitable.

The film doesn't romanticise - it covers the bitterness, the betrayals, the devastating effect on people's lives, the vexed question of the national ballot that never was - and the extraordinary, terrifying use of the police as a near-military force. It admits that the miners helped dig their own graves by building up the very stockpiles of coal that made it possible for the government to maintain its year-long siege.

It praises the support from ordinary men and women who gave so generously - the food deliveries from France (though a shipment of snails caused some consternation); from people who themselves had almost nothing to give; including the now famous "Gays and Lesbians Support the Miners".

Could they have won? The film thinks they might: that they were let down by other trade unions and the leaders of the labour movement. If there had been a victory - where would we be now? The strike was far more than an industrial dispute - it was part of a war that was ultimately about the Thatcher government's uncompromising determination to bring about the destruction of organised labour.

And it still hurts, all these years later... seeing those banners, hearing the brass bands, and watching the miners go back to work. One of the miners says he thinks they lost the battle, but not, after all, the war. Let's hope he's right.

  • London Freelance Branch donated £400 towards the making of Still The Enemy Within, which was supported by a number of other trade unions, and includes stills taken by NUJ members. There are screenings around the UK up to December 2014.
Last modified: 03 Nov 2014 - © 2014 contributors
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