Philosophy Football have produced a T-shirt to raise funds for the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. Mark Perryman explains why the Miners Strike 30 years on still matters
Do you remember 1984-85? Digging deeper for the miners. Frankie Goes to Hollywood at number one. Everton win the league championship. And a medium-sized t-shirt was ample big enough. For those whose principles have endured the test of time it all seems just like yesterday and Tony Blair only a bad dream.
The strike ended up as a defeat, there is no point avoiding that awkward and painful fact. But that doesn’t mean it hardly matters, then or now. This was twelve months of communities across Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Kent, the North-East of England, South Wales, Scotland and elsewhere effectively under police siege. Miners Support Groups twinning metropolitan Britain with coalfield towns and villages. Convoys of trucks full of seasonal hampers to brighten up Christmas for miners families’ who had already endured 10 months on strike. Women against Pit Closures projecting a powerful message of solidarity on and beyond the strike picket lines. Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners connecting social movements and identity politics to a common cause. Bands and stand-up comedy mobilised to put on benefit after benefit to raise not only much needed funds but the case for the miners too. Keep on keeping on kept on for twelve magnificent months.
Prolonged and courageous. British politics hadn’t seen anything quite like it for a generation or more and in terms of industrial action nothing like it since either. In the late 1970s the historian Eric Hobsbawm had provocatively argued for an analysis he called ‘The Forward March of Labour Halted’. The decade after the miners strike we were to discover not only had it been halted but it had turned decisively rightwards too.
A decade after the miners strike had begun in ‘84 this process saw Tony Blair elected Labour leader and the symbolic, yet politically significant dumping of Labour’s Clause IV commitment to common ownership as its model of society. As we would soon learn, things could only get bitter.
Of course thirty years on simply celebrating the cause of going down fighting, however gloriously, isn’t enough. The Left as an historical re-enactment society doesn’t have much of a future, or appeal. We don’t however do the new any favours by a blank refusal to connect with the past.
Orgreave 18.06.1984, as it is beginning to be revealed, was policed by junior and senior officers who five years later would be involved in another cover-up of their foul and illegal actions, HIllsborough. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is a vital part of the recovery of history to reveal the rotten state we’re now in.
New Labour was founded on the claim to be all things modern. Bright and shiny vs dull and boring. The vibrancy of the solidarity that the miners inspired nails the lie that the Left is incapable of modernisation. The point should always be that new Labour represented one particular model of being modern, a conservative modernity. The activist culture of the miners strike represented at least in embryonic form a different version of change, a radical modernity. Broad, imaginative and dynamic while being unashamedly militant. A cause defined by but never restricted within class politics.
The demoralisation of eventual defeat in ‘85, allied with the variety of factors that contributed to the defeat, meant the alternative version of what it means to be a modern left never became fully formed. Instead for too many new Labour became ‘the only game in town’ and the rest is unfortunate history.
From late 1970s Rocking against Racism to mid 1980s digging deep for the miners via a mass movement against both Cruise Missiles and nuclear Trident. The past sometimes seems almost another country. There have been spikes since then, most notably the 2001-2003 peak activity of Stop the War, and the huge 750,000 strong March 2011 TUC march against the cuts. Other movements, demos around Gaza after Operation Cast Lead 2008-2009, the 2010 Student actions against tuition fees, Occupy have been more momentary and relatively narrow in their special appeal. Feminism has retained perhaps the most impressive capacity to reinvent itself and re-connect to a new generation, the impact this will have on a broader political terrain that remains male-dominated however remains uncertain.
And the miners? It is unlikely, though not impossible, we will see again a strike on the scale and duration of 1984-85 from any section of an increasingly un-unionised workforce. But that simply means the terrain of establishment against opposition has changed, something in marking the 30th anniversary we should all pay careful attention to. The Enemy Within? For some of is guilty as charged and ever-present.
T-shirt available now from Philosophy Football
Seumas Milne's book, The Enemy Within : The Secret War Against The Miners also from Philosophy Football
Tickets for 18.06.2014 London Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign Benefit from Philosophy Football
Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign Follow on twitter @orgreavejustice
Mark Perryman is a member of both the Labour Party and Momentum. Co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football, he has also edited numerous books on the politics of the Left. The latest is Corbynism from Below and is published by Lawrence & Wishart, available to order from here.