Still the Enemy Within is one of those films you want to watch again as soon as it’s finished.
It makes you laugh, it makes you cry and it makes you furious.
But it also makes you feel proud to be part of a class that organised a strike that it took the Tories a year to break.
Footage, stills and interviews with those who took part tell the story of the strike. The film is beautiful even when the scenes are desolate.
It’s unusual to get the chance to watch miners give their version of events. They don’t sugarcoat things. The awful conditions of mining, usually hidden underground, are brought to the surface.
They talk frankly about the divisions the strike threw up, the deep hardship endured and the brutality of the state.
But miners also describe something that’s missing from some accounts of the dispute—the sheer excitement of going into battle.
Interviews with miners’ wives show how important they were in strengthening the action. Activists from groups such as Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners describe the impact of organising solidarity for the strike.
The film doesn’t say that these things had to be fought for. And at one point the film feels sentimental. But these are minor criticisms.
There are moments of hilarity. One woman says they used every bit of food sent to the soup kitchens “except them snails”.
Miners describe masquerading as joggers to get through police into Nottinghamshire and picket out working miners. They talk about how the strike changed them.
Joe Henry, who was a miner in South Elmsall in Yorkshire, describes feeling nervous going to speak at a student meeting because he felt he would be out of place.
But learning he could “hold his own” in debate changed his life.
A recording of miners’ leader Arthur Scargill announcing the return to work is played over footage of the empty fields where mines once stood.
The film makes clear what the defeat helped bring about—sweeping privatisation and neoliberalism.
The tears from the audience at the film’s premiere in Sheffield last Saturday show how painful the defeat still is.
Some in the unions and the Labour Party used Margaret Thatcher’s victory to argue that workers couldn’t fight and win. This film ends with a different conclusion.
It stresses the extraordinary lengths the state had to go to in order to beat the miners. It points to the reasons the miners lost—betrayals by union and Labour Party leaders. And it shows how they could have won if the action had spread.
The film ends showing the miners who narrate large parts of it on protests against the Tories today.
It runs through brief footage of more recent struggles—the Occupy movement, the student protests in Britain, teachers’ strikes and firefighters’ walkouts.
The message is clear. Thatcher beat the miners’ strike—but the fight goes on. Workers are still the enemy within for the ruling class.
As Paul Symonds, who was a miner at Frickley in Yorkshire, puts it in the film, “We’ve lost a battle. We’ve not lost the whole war.
“The future’s still up for grabs.”
Former miners hope that Still the Enemy Within can help take on popular myths and falsehoods about their strike.
They say that learning the lessons of the strike 30 years ago matters for class struggle today.
Steve Hammill, a former miner at Silverwood in Rotherham told Socialist Worker, “This is about reclaiming history. A class with no history has no future.
“The victors write the history—and their interpretation has been wrong. It’s our responsibility to tear back our history and show that we could have won.
“I didn’t come out on strike to lose.”
Howard Wilson was a miner in Armthorpe, Doncaster.
“I remember the strike as if it were yesterday,” he told Socialist Worker. “After the strike there was a big lull and a lot of demoralisation.
“But a minority learned the lessons and understood why it was a defeat. We had the Labour Party selling us out, the trade union movement selling us out, even our own bureaucracy.
“The lesson is that trade union leaders always work within the restraints of the law and their own rules.
“Workers have to build a rank and file organisation strong enough to resist that and act independently.”
A quietly evocative film
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