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For 30 years I, like most of my fellow miners, have lived with the hurt, anger and sheer joy of memories of the momentous year-long great miners’ strike of 1984-5.
Now the makers of Still The Enemy Within encapsulate brilliantly everything that the strike meant to me and all involved at that time and over the 30 years since.
The film, which has been funded by nine national unions, over 100 union branches and hundreds of individuals, had its premiere at the Sheffield Documentary Festival last week.
Told in the words of actual participants, just ordinary miners who wanted to protect their jobs, industry and communities, this is an extraordinary retelling of the realities of that struggle.
No typical middle-class media patronisation of the kind that has accompanied almost every attempt to “interpret” what the strike meant, this film just tells it like it was and still is.
Starting with actual National Coal Board adverts for a career in “modern mining” showing miners skiing, surfing, playing squash and enjoying themselves in exotic locations, it soon switches to reality with a former striker on the site of a closed mine, now one of the numerous “country parks” that have ensured that any evidence of our once noble industry has been destroyed and left buried hundreds of yards underground.
All the participants tell of their changing moods throughout the strike. The joy and elation of participating in a noble struggle, turning to anger at the brutality of the police, then to frustration at the sellout of the Labour and trade union leaderships and finally to despair as the strike ended. Every one of them is in tears as they remember the awful realisation of defeat.
But through it all, their humour, unique to pitmen, shines through.
These are not men sulking in defeat, they are proud of what they fought for and all would do it again, despite the terrible hardships they eloquently describe.
They talk with gratitude for the tremendous support received from rank-and-file trade unionists and ordinary people throughout Britain
and the solidarity shown by fellow workers.
Using graphic footage showing the reality of the police riot at Orgreave, the film recalls how the entire state machine was used to try to crush the NUM and how, with it, came the growing understanding among strikers that Thatcher and her government would stop at nothing to ensure victory in this naked class war.
I have to admit that at times I was overcome by emotion, gut-wrenching memories spoken from other mouths matching mine entirely. Shaken, moved and exhilarated I found it compelling viewing.
The incredible thing about this film is that it is made by people who were either babies or toddlers at the time of the strike, proving that a new generation is still interested in the realities beyond the usual “Scargill versus Thatcher” media claptrap.
The film’s message is clear — we miners could have won. If we had Britain would now be a different and a better place for it.
Thanks must go out to the filmmakers — if ever a film is a must-see this is it.
John Dunn is an ex-Derbyshire NUM branch official, now NUJ and Unite Community.
Still The Enemy Within will be shown at the Durham Miners Gala on July 13 at 1.30pm. To help fund its commercial release visit: http://the-enemy-within.org.uk/donate/
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