Still the Enemy Within

In 1984 the biggest workers union in the country went on strike – the coal miners’ strike was long and bitter and all over the media. From 1979 when she became prime minister Margaret Thatcher had always had a plan to crush the unions and privatise all that the post war Labour government had nationalised; coal being firmly in her sights.

This documentary sets the scene showing us old ads to recruit miners; showing them as Bond-like glamourous international jetsetters. Mining used to be a job for life, whole towns and communities were based solely on the mines, so when Thatcher went after them she knew she would have a fight on her hands.

The interviews are with miners and their wives, campaigners on their side – notably students and the LGBT community (their story can be found in the recent film ‘Pride’). It’s moving how 30 years on it is still such an emotional issue for these people, and perhaps more understandable when you have watched the film why so many of them protested at Thatcher’s funeral in 2013.

Director Owen Gower uses archive footage, old photographs and a few reconstructions with music of the 80s as a suitable soundtrack. The only gap is that there are no interviews with any politicians or police of the time; the veracity of the events is not in question but it would have made for a more balanced view of these historical events.

The film is fascinating and frightening; when the scope of Thatcher’s plans for dealing with the mines and miners are revealed I was shocked that she could get away with it. The miners thought they would be victorious and at the beginning of the strike felt jubilant and powerful – most of these men and their families would be broken by the end of the year long struggle during which time they were starved into submission. Abandoned by their fellow large unions the victory could otherwise have been theirs. Once Thatcher broke them the mines shut like falling dominoes and the beginning of the true Tory ‘loads-a-money’ years took over from the old Labour ethos.

This is an important film for everyone to see, not only to be more aware of our own recent history but perhaps to feel motivated to be more politically aware and involved. We surely can’t just let ourselves be led like sleepwalkers into the future our current government or indeed their main rivals want to take us. The last 30 years may have been shaped by the events of 1984 but hopefully we can learn from it…

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