I ran into Comrade Clive Bradley over the weekend, and he was warm in his praise for the film Pride, which depicts (albeit in “feel-good” style à la The Full Monty and Made in Dagenham) the role of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) during the great 1984-5 strike.
Clive was a prominent member of LGSM at the time, although he’s not portrayed in the film.
Here’s an interview that Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity did with Clive a couple of weeks ago, just after the film’s release. There is also a review of the film, which I haven’t republished, but which can be read here.
“The miners needed solidarity”
Solidarity: What was LGSM and what did it do?
Clive: It was a group that was set up of lesbians and gay men set up to support the miner’s strike. It has to be said it was initially mainly gay men, but more and more women got involved over the time. Practically it raised money for the miners who were on strike for a year. Mainly by standing outside lesbian and gay pubs rattling buckets, it raised quite a lot of money. This was sent to a particular mining community in south Wales, in the Dulais valley, with which connections had been made.
Solidarity: Why did this get started, and how did you get involved?
Clive: It was the idea of two people in particular, Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson. Both are dramatised in the movie. They put out a call at Pride in ‘84 and organised a meeting at “Gay Is the Word” bookshop in London. At that time I was just moving to London from Manchester and was a member of Socialist Organiser [forerunner of the AWL]. It’s not rocket science to see how I got involved.
I went to the second ever meeting of LGSM. I was active in supporting the miners and thought it was a brilliant initiative. It proved to have a very powerful effect on lesbian and gay men and on the miners. The NUM went on to lead the pride demonstration in August 1985. The NUM, a traditional union, not famous for its view on matters such as lesbian and gay rights, became quite prominent in the changing policy on gay rights in the Labour Party.
Solidarity: What impact did it have in the gay community, and what arguments did LGSM make about why gay people should support the miners?
Clive: The strike lasted for a whole year and divided the country, divided everybody. A lot of people supported the miners and didn’t need to be persuaded, but we argued that we needed the miners to win. If the miners lost then the Tory government would be going for everybody, and these lesbian and gay communities would be an easy target. People would put a lot of money into the bucket to show solidarity — presumably a lot of money they didn’t have in many cases. LGSM was the first really concrete example of how an “autonomous” movement of the “specially oppressed” (as we used to say) could struggle alongside the organised working class, and transform working-class consciousness in the process.
Solidarity: Were other left groups involved in LGSM? What was their attitude to it?
Clive: Some members of different left groups were personally involved, even members of Militant [forerunner of the Socialist Party] and the SWP, whose organisations were more hostile to the project. Militant , for example, generally argued that any kind of autonomous organisation was necessarily divisive. LGSM and Women Against Pit Closures, etc. showed that quite the reverse was true.
Solidarity: How was LGSM received in the mining communities?
Clive: The film does this quite cleverly. It is basically a rom com between two communities. The film shows you both acceptance and hostility, but a growing acceptance. That isn’t far off what actually happened.
I went to South Wales twice, the second time when the strike was actually finishing in March ‘85. That was very emotional for all of us. My own experience was that people couldn’t really have been more welcoming.
The first time we went down, there was a minibus load of us, we were being put up in people’s houses, that was the deal. We all went down to the miner’s welfare in the evening to sing songs and get drunk. It was completely fine, no hostility at all.
The reality was we were raising money for them. The miners needed solidarity, and I’m sure if people were at first dubious about where the solidarity came from, need overcame that. And, of course, as you make contact with people you realise that you have more in common than you initially thought. Why the suspicions broke down, as I’m sure there were some, is no mystery. It was the nature of people meeting each other and the power of solidarity.
Solidarity: What do you think members of LGSM learnt from the experience?
Clive: For many people it was their first time going to that sort of working-class community, though certainly not for everyone. We were a mixed group and certainly there were people from working-class backgrounds, it was not all middle class lefties. The vast majority were just people who wanted to do something.
When you have a big confrontation between a section of the working class and the government you have to take sides, more than just in your head.
There have been reunions [of LGSM] recently and many people still seem to hold broadly the same views that they used to. You can tell for many people in LGSM it was an absolutely formative experience in their lives, and very important to them.
Solidarity: Do you think there was rolling back after the defeat of the dispute, both in the gay community and in the mining community?
Clive: The miners were beaten and most of them lost their jobs. Generally speaking in the class struggle, the defeat of the miners had a hugely bad effect. We’re still living with the consequences of it.
I doubt miners’ attitudes rolled back too much with regards lesbian and gay rights. You started to get stories of miners coming out. At reunions we get visits from miners. We often hear “it turns out my son is gay”.
Ex-miners and their families came up from south Wales for the film premiere.
In the lesbian and gay community, struggle wasn’t rolled back. You got growth of the lesbian and gay movement after 1985. Not long after was “Section 28” [the Tory law which prevented the “promotion of homosexual lifestyles”] against which you had enormous demonstrations. The pride parades in the early ‘80s were relatively small, but by the late ‘80s and certainly the early ‘90s they were enormous.
Solidarity: What do you think about the film?
Clive: It gets an awful lot incredibly right. It’s in the broad ball park of something like The Full Monty, but much more political. Over the credits you have someone singing Solidarity Forever. It takes for granted that the strike was right. It’s absolutely about the importance of class struggle and solidarity between communities. The portrayals of the real people are very close and a good tribute.
Its good that for the anniversary of the strike, this particular act of solidarity will be remembered.
By Sean Matgamna and Martin Thomas (from the Workers Liberty website):
In the small hours of Monday March 12 1984, hundreds of Yorkshire miners moved across the border from Yorkshire into Nottinghamshire. Their destination was Harworth pit, and by the evening shift they had picketed it out.
Over the next few days, hundreds of Yorkshire pickets came down over the border again and spread out across the Notts coalfield. Their mission was to persuade Nottinghamshire’s miners to join them in a strike to stop the pit closures announced by the National Coal Board chief, Ian MacGregor. Their tactic was to picket Notts to a standstill.
In the great miners’ strikes of 1972 and 1974, miners had picketed coke depots and power stations. In 1984, for reasons which we examine, it had to be miners picketing out miners. That fact dominated and shaped the course of the strike.
Within hours, 1000 extra police had been thrown into Nottinghamshire against the picketing miners. Within days there would be 8000 extra police – highly mobile, centrally-controlled, semi-militarised police -moving – around the coalfields of Nottinghamshire.
The state had spent a dozen years preparing for this strike and everything had been made ready. Plans to beat mass picketing had been refined; police had been trained; special equipment had been assembled; and a national police nerve centre had been prepared and readied for action.
The Tory government had manoeuvred for years to avoid a premature battle with the miners. In 1981 sweeping pit closures were announced, and then withdrawn when a wave of strikes swept the coalfields. The Tories were determined that the battle would come when the government was ready and thought the time right. In 1981 they weren’t ready. The labour movement had not been softened up enough. So Thatcher backed off from a showdown with the NUM.
In 1984 they were ready. Now they would provoke the miners to fight back by giving them the alternative of surrendering and letting the NCB do as it liked with the industry. Read the rest of this entry »
Lest we forget.
David Cameron was a member of the Federation of Conservative Students when they published this on posters and T-shirts:
And here‘s an attempt to defend of Cameron over this shameful business. But even the apologists can’t get round the simple fact that Cameron was a member of the FCS when the poster was published in the 1980s - and, of course Thatcher repeatedly called Mandela a “terrorist” at that time.
Cameron the shameless, eh?
Cartoon by Gerald Scarfe
Guest post by Dr Ian Taylor
Some will say this is too soon, and others will say it’s a bit late, but in my judgement now is probably the most appropriate time to look back on the Thatcher years and decide whether they were good or bad for Britain. I guess it’s fair to say that the title I’ve gone with gives a fairly big clue as to where I stand on this one. Nonetheless, I seize on her incompetence for a reason: Her supporters will often concede that she may not have been the nicest person in the country, but argue that at least she turned this place around. The fact that she made a difference can hardly be disputed. But it certainly wasn’t for the better.
All I really want to do with this posting is present a few facts about the economy which is where her greatest achievements were supposed to lie. I’ve also given the crime figures. If the analysis that follows seems somewhat detached and dispassionate, that too is for a reason. My intention is simply to get a few important facts into the public domain to provide some ammunition against the ‘wasn’t she wonderful’ crap that we’ve had to endure over the past fortnight or so. As a middle-class teenager in the 1980s I can certainly remember her reign, but I am sure that others can speak with far more authority about what it was like to endure record levels of crime, poverty and/or unemployment. If not, I leave it to the reader’s powers of empathy and imagination to figure out what that must have been like.
On average the economy grew by about 2.3% from 1979 to 1990. This is hardly an amazing achievement: Tony Blair (of whom I am no fan) averaged 2.5%; while the average during the post-war Keynesian era was closer to 3%. And of course, Thatcher’s Premiership coincided with a time when Britain was best placed to exploit North Sea oil reserves. In terms of pure economic performance her record is distinctly unimpressive. Nonetheless, growth of 2.3% wouldn’t be so bad were her years in office not bookended by two recessions that gave us unprecedented levels of unemployment.
In 1979 unemployment stood at 1.5 million. Within a year of Thatcher coming to power it had rocketed upwards, and stayed at above 3 million from 1983 to 1987. Thereafter it fell slightly, although not below 2 million – a figure that would have been unthinkable in the ’50s, ’60s or even the ’70s. Unemployment then rose up again past in the 3 million mark in the recession of the early ’90s.
Thatcher’s apologists, like former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, like to point to the reduction in the number of days work per annum lost to strikes during her Premiership: down from 29.5 million in 1979 to 1.9 million by 1986 he says. What he’s rather less keen to talk about is the number of days’ worth of productivity lost in that year (or any other) due to unemployment. 3.2 million out of work that year multiplied by 240 working days a year amounts to 768 million days lost in 1986 alone.
In the 1980s interest rates rose to double figures – higher than they’d ever been before, or since.
This is something that her supporters like to harp on about, albeit without uttering the word ‘poll’. In truth, she cut taxes for the rich, whilst increasing them for the poor with the poll tax and through VAT rises.
This was, apparently, another big triumph of her economic policy. In truth, inflation rose to 18% in 1981, and moreover, was higher when she left office than when she came in: 11% compared to 10.3%. It’s true that on average inflation was lower in the ‘80s than in the previous decade, but then again inflation fell around the world during the 1980s: Given that inflation is largely determined by the price of raw materials the fall hardly seems like a major achievement, particularly in the light of the aforementioned figures.
Where to begin on this one? The proportion of children living in poverty in this country more than doubled under Thatcher: rising from 14% of children in 1979 to 31% by 1990. Meanwhile, according to a recent Guardian ‘Data blog’, the number of people living below 60% of medium income rose from 13.4% to 22.2% under Thatcher. These figures continued to rise under John Major, but when seen in comparative context it ought to be understood that they were far from inevitable. The number of people living in poverty had been falling throughout the 20th Century up until 1979, and, to give credit where it is due, the number of children growing up in poverty also fell slightly during the New Labour years.
In 1979 there were 2.5 million crimes recorded in the UK; by 1990 that number stood at 4.5 million. The 1980s also saw some of the worst rioting in British cities of the 20th Century. You’d think that things like this would embarrass the ‘party of law and order.’
In short, Thatcher’s legacy is a thoroughly shameful one.
While searching Youtube for the famous (infamous?) “Kinnock: The Movie” 1987 election broadcast, I came upon this less well remembered, but excellent broadcast from the same election. I understand that Ed Miliband’s in a rather awkward position right now (not helped by Blair’s disloyal intervention), but he really ought to have a look at this, and reflect on the fact that there was a time when the Labour leadership felt able to tell the unvarnished truth about Thatcher, the Tories and what they represent:
The Thatcher fan club (led by the Daily Mail) howls with rage at those who dare ‘disrespect’ her memory.
Remember when harmless, decent, old Michael Foot died?
From the Daily Mail (two days after his death):
NB: Wikipedia states that “at the outbreak of the Second World War, Foot volunteered for military service, but was rejected because of his chronic asthma. It has been suggested (2011) that he became a member of the secret Auxiliary Units.
“In 1940, under the pen-name “Cato” he and two other Beaverbrook journalists (Frank Owen, editor of the Standard, and Peter Howard of the Daily Express) published Guilty Men, a Left Book Club book attacking the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain government, which became a run-away best-seller.”-JD
H/t Sunny at Liberal Conspiracy
Recalling the Commons and the Lords for “debates” on Thatcher yesterday was, of course, a grotesque act of political manipulation and well as an outrageous waste of money at this time of austerity. All 650 MPs were emailed with the message that they could claim up to £3,750 just for turning up. Peers could draw £300 for attendance. Then there are the tens of thousands for security and running costs as Parliament was not due back until Monday.
Former miner Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), one of many Labour MPs who stayed away, may well have been right to say simply “I’ve got better things to do.”
But of those Labour MPs who did turn up, two were pretty good:
David Winnick (Walsall North)…
…and Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn):
Well done, you two: proper, serious and honest, reformists.