Still The Enemy Within
David John Douglass
The film was originally made to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the great coal strike with the view to it being purchased for TV viewing but the deal was apparently never made probably because of its length rather than its deeply sympathetic content. It has though been raising the costs of its production by private showings at small cinema’s and theatres and clubs pretty much everywhere.
The first thing to say of the film is that it is brilliant, capturing as it does the sheer enthusiasm of the strike and mass participation of the communities, the newsreel film from the 50’s and 60’s and from the time; together with reflective retrospectives keep the pace coursing along and if your heart doesn’t beat faster watching this you need to have yourself checked out.
There are problems with the film, due entirely to the composition of the miners chosen to speak throughout and narrate, as far as I can judge everyone with a speaking part is a member of the SWP. The makers of the film assure me that this wasn’t a deliberate selection but the result of being given one SWP miner contact who introduced all of the others to them. The SWP throughout the strike and even yet, had a much fractured view of what was going on .
There are no officials of the NUM in this film, from Branch level through to national level, so there is no ‘official’ explanation of what the plans were, and what at any one time we were trying to achieve. The SWP was convinced that all union leaders with the exception of Arthur Scargill were born to betray workers, that everything and anything they (or actually ‘we’ since the executive of which I was a member was included in this tag) did was a step to betrayal. This in turn led them to pose challenges at every turn to strategies we had decided upon through area and district picket co-ordinating committees, and pose diversionary actions which often undermined plans weeks in the making.
The position in Nottingham was so vexed and to many confusing they mixed up the badies with the goodies. Henry Richardson and Ray Chadburn were left pro strike officials of the Nottingham NUM who had an impossible balancing act at the outset of the strike. In the first weeks they refused to abandon the whole area to the scabs and fought within the area union to turn it round finally getting a united Area instruction calling on all Nott’s branches to join the strike and not to cross picket lines.
For those on the outside, boxing within the constitution of the union so as not to abandon the whole structure to the scabs, looked like you were against the strike. it wasn’t true, but the film sadly gives the impression Richardson and Chadburn were scabs demanding a ballot or no strike. Harry Pattison’s excellent book on the Nott’s area during the strike Look Back In Anger, explores the facts of this situation in great detail.
Nowhere is this more true than in the issue of Orgreave. At the early period of the strike the management and direction of pickets, picket targets and strategies were decentralised to area and district controls under the direction of elected picket planners. This had been the pattern during the successful strikes of 72 and to a lesser degree in 74. The police on the other hand had become more centralised, breaking free of regional restraints and MBC Police Committee’s coming under the control of the ACPO and a strike breaking operation managed from London through a complex surveillance network including the Stolen Vehicle computers and motorway camera systems. They were deployed en-mass throughout the country ready to respond to surges of pickets and their targets. In the first months of the strike our flexibility outflanked their rigidity, they could never assemble masses of police as quickly as we could assemble masses of pickets responding to sealed orders anytime in a 24 hour cycle. We could move with rapid deployments switching targets from pits to power station to wharfs and back before they could pull their boots on. It was true to say Arthur hated this strategy, as did the SWP, firstly if you’re the leader of the NUM and you don’t know where the army of the strike is and cant deploy them anywhere you think they should be going, it was chastening. For the SWP the self-declared vanguard of the class not knowing where the field of action was until after we had done it tended to blunt your claims of being our leaders. Additionally, Scargill didn’t want decentralised mass picketing, at surprise targets, he wanted another Saltly Gate, a fixed target at which the whole of the NUM could be massed into a huge trial of strength into which we would demand the Trade Union movement as a whole intervene and we flood the target with the solid Falange of the working class and win another brilliant victory. I think 30 years on its safe to say Arthur in large part manufactured that situation in the shape of Orgreave. Arthur went over the heads of all elected officials and all agreed strategies and declared Orgreave the sole target and called on all pickets and all workers to descend on the coke works and close it down. Arthur being Arthur with his charisma and given the wall to wall TV coverage of the call, our troops deserted Nottingham the power stations and the wharfs to go with or without us to Orgreave. Chief cheer leader for this strategy was the SWP, who lobbied and shouted for Orgreave as the target and accused all of us not convinced of this strategy as being chicken livered at best. We were forced by the situation to get involved and help Arthur plan a strategy for Orgreave. But the cat was out of the bag, the date for the mass picket was publically declared and publicised and the police machine swung into action, deploying an army of their troops into pre ordered battle lines. From the road blocks which stopped us on the borders of Nottingham now we had pubic motorway signs directed us to Orgreave! Police waved us into the fields, told us where to park, conducted us into the fields which they already had occupied and laid out. So when we come to the films coverage of the battle of orgreave some crucial facts are missing, indeed the SWP spokesmen on screen may to this day not know how the situation came about.
The men on the film tell us ‘there was a report in the Financial Times saying that if the miners stopped coke getting to the steel works then car production would stop’ and another ‘we had to stop steel and that meant stopping Orgreave.’ This was the story we had subsumed and to be honest until I started checking ‘the facts’ I had previously assumed before writing my book Ghost Dancers this is what I thought too, but it isn’t true. The truth was prior to Orgreave we already had closed off new supplies of coal to Orgreave by the rail blockade, and the only coke going into Scunthorpe steel works and the other major steel works in Wales and Scotland was via NUM warranty. That coke was supplied in authorised trains with the NUM riding shotgun, on condition no steel was produced, the coke just being enough to keep the vast furnaces hot and stop them collapsing. No steel was being produced. But Arthur who hated all such exemptions launched a coup against the area agreements and the strike coordination committees and took control of national exemptions he said, to achieve a national consistency and a single policy. He promptly then tore up the exemptions and stopped the supply of coke to the steel plants, upping the anti certainly to the point where he thought the government would back off rather than allow the steel plants to be destroyed. The trouble was this was pushing the steel workers further forward and nearer the brink to collapse of that industry than ours was. The pits had safety cover, the coke works themselves were operating under an exemption but suddenly the steel works would have none and this was done without the approval of ISTC who up until now had kept to side of their deal. With no exempted coke from the NUM and ASLEF they manned the scab Lorries and busted into Orgreave coke works to the coke without our sanction. When that happened Arthur had his single national target the single national focus, and he hoped his second successful Saltly. Myself and the Yorkshire co-ordinating committee refused to give Orgreave priority and used it only as a back-up target, but Arthur and the SWP constantly argued to drop everything and go there. As they say in the film “So we had to argue with the union to send more pickets…Orgreave had to happen.” Of course it didn’t, that pocket had been covered, we already had vital strategic targets to cover without opening up another front and one which was a god send from the police point of view. After having announced the biggest national picket in the history of Britain, and publicised it in their press and on posters the length and breadth, one of them says with surprise “They were waiting for us...we didn’t have a chance.” Another announces following the scenes of utter brutality, ‘we wanted to go back, we really wanted to go back but our leaders wouldn’t.” Truth was we actually shut the plant on 18th June, and there was no more ‘Orgreaves’ simply because the coke had anyway been exhausted and no new coal was being delivered to the plant so going back would have been pointless. None of this in any way excuses the actions of the psychopathic police the sadistic thugs in blue on that day and previous days, but it’s important that the truth of what happened and the version being portrayed in this aspect of the film isn’t let go unchallenged.
The film concludes more powerfully and accurately on the women of the coalfields, their dynamism their class instincts and perceptions, footage of the period revives the memory of just how heroic and vital was their contribution then and ever since.
The film is in many ways historic and heart-breaking, it takes us to our peaks of near victory , the intervention of NACODs and their wretched betrayal of all us their own members just as much as ours. We will never ever comprehend the depth of that betrayal by NACODS leaders and the huge consequences of it. We had the whole shooting match in our hands, we had them by the balls in a grip they could not have escaped from, and on the point of a national ballot which no-one could complain about it.
As we pass away from the 30th anniversary of our 85 defeat after the defeat ten years later in 93 of our last major stand against pit closures we are living in the last days of the last three mines. Davey the energy minister is as anti coal, anti miner and anti NUM as anyone we faced in the last 30 years only this time he spits in our eyes and doesn’t disguise or excuse the volume of double standards being employed to drive us to total extinction. This time round he is cheered by ‘the greens’ loved by the middle classes and the Guardian which once wept crocodile for the miners now launches its own absurd ‘leave it in the ground campaign’. To which we have started a ‘leave them on the shelves campaign’.
The film warts and all, is a fitting monument to this whole tragic inspirational emotional and heroic stand of men and women who are the bedrock of working class struggle and values.