'An enormous sense of solidarity': London and the 1984-5 miners' strike: The 1984 miners' strike saw a blossoming of alliances between the labour movement and broader social groups.
David Featherstone and Diarmaid Kelliher
In March 1984 over 150,000 miners walked out on strike against plans for widespread pit closures, in action supported by the National Union of Mineworkers. Alongside the dispute a large and diverse support movement developed, within Britain and internationally, which provided invaluable practical solidarity. Thousands of people collected food and money, joined picket lines and demonstrations, organised meetings, travelled to mining areas and hosted activists from the coalfields in their homes. The three personal testimonies brought together here, extracts from a recently produced booklet on London and the 1984-5 miners' strike, give a powerful sense of the depth and diversity of that solidarity. (1)
Doreen Massey and Hilary Wainwright commented at the time that the support movement had 'as broad a social and geographical base as any post-war radical political movement'. (2) The solidarity campaign in London was organised through long-standing institutions of the labour movement--trade unions, trades councils and political parties--but also LGBT, feminist and black organisations, unemployed workers centres, student groups, and others. Too often in accounts of the 1970s and 1980s, class politics is seen in opposition to liberation movements organised around gender, sexuality and race. This is to ignore important forms of alliance and solidarity which cross-cut these differences in powerful and innovative ways. Not only was the miners' support campaign a moment when social movements and trade unions came together, as Massey and Wainwright noted; there was also a great fluidity across these boundaries, as can be seen in personal accounts of the time. Terry Conway's contribution, for example, discusses her activism around the strike in the Labour Party, as a shop steward for low paid nursery workers, and through Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM).
The three pieces give a powerful sense of the practicalities of solidarity: cooking collectively, providing beds for pickets and fundraisers, and all the while insisting on the need for joy in the midst of a tough struggle. The strike allowed people to visit places they would never have otherwise gone to, and created strong personal and political bonds that in some instances lasted far beyond the strike itself. Some of the connections made were entirely new, while others relied on existing contacts. As the three pieces demonstrate, activists were involved from across the spectrum of left organisations in Britain. The networks of the Labour and Communist parties, and other groups on the left, were crucial in linking up different parts of the country. Since the election of Corbyn as Labour leader, there have been ongoing discussions about what it would mean to transform the party into a social movement as well as an electoral machine. It is important that this debate starts with a version of Labour history that recognises moments like the miners' strike, when members demonstrated a much broader conception of their role than canvassing for votes.
The history of the miners' strike support movement is a powerful resource for thinking about the construction of solidarities today The past does not provide straightforward examples that we can simply recreate, even if that was desirable. Nevertheless, groups like Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, named in homage to LGSM, show how this history can inspire new relationships of solidarity that cross apparent social boundaries. (3) It also has the potential to move us past some simplistic ideas about the political geography of Britain. David Donovan notes here that in 1984 London was a 'hotbed of anti-Tory dissent'. The capital is once more looking overwhelmingly red, at least electorally. Yet London is also frequently perceived as isolated from the rest of Britain. These testimonies, and others in the booklet, from the miners' strike show how activists from across the left created relationships that linked London with people from across England, Scotland and Wales. Such political and personal networks, developed from below and rooted in solidarity, are as necessary now as they were in 1984-5.
(1.) David Featherstone and Diarmaid Kelliher (eds), 'There was just this enormous sense of solidarity': London and the 1984-5 miners' strike, 2018: www.tinyurl.com/ Londonminers.
(2.) Doreen Massey and Hilary Wainwright, 'Beyond the Coalfields: The Work of the Miners' Support Groups', in Huw Beynon (ed), Digging Deeper: Issues in the Miners' Strike, Verso 1985, p149.
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|Author:||Featherstone, David; Kelliher, Diarmaid; Donovan, David; Conway, Terry; Davison, Sally|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2018|
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