By Phil Turner
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2911

Strike—new film shows heroic miners’ struggle

Four decades on, this new documentary is an important account of the miners' historic fight
Issue 2911

Strike—An Uncivil War

Forty years ago the British state declared war on a group of workers fighting for their future.

On one side stood 160,000 miners, their families and supporters, striking back to defend their jobs and communities. On the other stood Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the whole of the ruling class, determined to crush the most powerful group of workers in the country.

Yet the miners, as this film triumphantly shows, defied police brutality, media lies and all kinds of injustice for 12 months—one of the longest mass strikes in trade union history. If you want irrefutable evidence of the force the state is prepared and willing, to use to try and crush resistance, go see this new film. 

It graphically exposes the truth that strikers and those engaged in building solidarity already knew. Mostly told in their own words by striking miners, including Ian Mitchell and Jim Tierney. 

It is a vivid, scary, moving account of the bravery of ordinary working people standing up for a better world. Clearly still traumatised, the hurt and injustice still burn in the accounts from strikers from Yorkshire, Kent, Scotland, North East and Wales. 

None more so than in Nottingham, where only a minority came out. Thatcher wanted revenge for humiliating defeats for then-Tory prime minister Ted Heath at the hands of the miners in 1972 and 1974. 

The Ridley plan to take on the National Union of Mineworkers was the result. However, as the film depicts, more was to be exposed, while other documents have yet to be released.

At the centre of director and producer Daniel Gordon’s film is the Orgreave coking plant in Rotherham a few miles from Sheffield. As the miners focus shifted from trying, and failing, to picket out Nottinghamshire pits, steel was the key. 

And Orgreave was key to supplying coke to the Scunthorpe steel mills. Steelworkers had revealed that production was near normal levels despite an agreement merely to keep furnaces ticking over. 

Saltley Gates, a coke works in Birmingham, had been where the Tories were defeated in 1972 as tens of thousands of engineering workers walked out and engulfed the plant.

In the film new archive evidence reveals the police were by this time run by Thatcher in Downing Street. A secret manual, tested in Northern Ireland and British colonies, unleashed new vicious tactics. 

Journalist Morag Livingstone describes how her faith in policing was shaken forever when she saw the previously hidden archive documents. It was the first time the use of illegal short batons and shields in “snatch squads” was sanctioned at the highest level. 

Orgreave on 18 June 1984, three months into the strike, was when a battle came to a head. Thatcher and her “boot boys” saw an opportunity and planned to, literally and figuratively, beat the miners. 

It resulted in cracked skulls and bloodied bodies of innocent pickets. Riot-clad police and cavalry were given a free hand to do whatever they liked to attack pickets. 

Miners in T-shirts and plimsolls on a scorching hot day were baton-charged. Pickets fought back and a few stones were thrown. But the BBC news that night claimed the opposite. Miners’ “violence” was condemned by Tories and Labour. Strikers knew the truth.

Gordon—a Bafta award winner for a documentary on the Hillsborough disaster—shows without a doubt the violence at Orgreave on 18 June was started by the police. This is despite media accounts and BBC clips being reversed for news bulletins. 

A trial of 95 miners charged with rioting carrying life imprisonment collapsed in a heap of lies and cover-ups.

Gordon, from Sheffield, whose mum grew up in the mining village of Thurcroft in Rotherham, wanted to make the film for more than a decade. He was determined to go beyond the lazy headlines and revisit the period.

“There were so many similarities between Hillsborough and Orgreave —-the cover-up, the shifting of blame by the government and other instruments of the state,” he explained.

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign still demands a full inquiry into Orgreave. No police officers have ever been brought to trial.

This is a powerful, important film. It illuminates how the strike demonstrated that ordinary people can fight those who rule our world – and how they change in the process.

The biggest cheer in the Q&A that followed the premiere came when Ian drew a comparison between the miners in 1984 and the Palestine protesters today. 

The film’s focus is on exposing the brutality and corruption of an undemocratic state. It does not address how the strike could have won, the failings of the TUC union federation, or Labour’s treachery. For that the film (Still), The Enemy Within is the best account, but Strike is a fine companion piece of work.

Mining families made a magnificent stand and, at crucial moments, came close to winning. Nine years after the strike, Thatcher herself admitted, “We were in danger of losing everything,” and that the strike “could indeed have brought down the government”. 

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