Worth a look: Still the Enemy Within
Directed by Owen Gower (2014)
By Lenka Tolich Ryall
During the NZ International Film Festival last month I went along to Still the Enemy Within, a documentary on the 1984 strike of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in Britain. After seeing the excellent film Pride last year, about a group of LGBT activists who supported the miners during the strike, I was keen to see something that focused on the miners themselves and the impact that historical strike had on them and the union movement they were apart of.
The 1984 miners’ strike was the longest national strike in British history and spanned 12 months from 1984-1985. Still the Enemy Within brings together interviews, archival footage and photography of the strike. Director Owen Gower uses the interviews of five miners involved in the strike to set the structure of the documentary. Their stories take us through key events and give us insights into the long-lasting impact the strike had on the miners.
Gower does an excellent job of using the miners’ stories to weave through the events leading up to and during the strike. Early on, the documentary highlights the underlying motives of the government, discussing the government document titled the Ridley Plan – Countering the Political Threat. This outlined the government’s plan for taking on the trade union movement. The document set out how to undermine striking workers and in turn break the unions. The plan included stockpiling coal, cutting off striking workers’ families from benefits they had been able to access and training up large mobile squads of police to suppress frontline pickets.
Setting up these overarching motives of the government early on gives you a better understanding of the actions of the government that followed. It clearly shows the government’s intentions were never to settle the dispute with the NUM, but to instead use the strike as a catalyst to break the NUM and further their overall goal of breaking the British union movement.
What struck with me most in this documentary, was the lasting effects that the strike had on the miners, their families and the mining towns in Britain. The documentary finishes by looking at the actions of the government in the years following the strike. Before the strike began, there were 170 mining pits in Britain. By 1992, only 52 remained open with a further 35 pits closed that year, with 30,000 jobs lost. By 2013, 80% of coal used in Britain was imported. For many communities, the mines were the only source of income so poverty grew when the pits closed and no other work was available.
The government’s actions are well-defined by one of the miner’s final comments. He reflects on that period stating ‘That’s how far they were prepared to go…they were prepared to lose an industry to defeat that beacon of hope, the NUM, that organised group of workers…’.
Whether you’ve never heard of the miners’ strike or whether you experienced it first hand, Still the Enemy Within is an insightful look at the determination of a government to destroy a movement they felt held too much political power and saw as a threat to their wider agenda of privatisation.
It’s well worth a look.