Those of us of a certain generation may find it difficult to perceive the political and cultural significance of the 1984 British miners’ strike. Although the year-long dispute was fought by a particular industry, it united all workers in an ideological campaign against injustice and oppression at the hands of an arrogant Tory government. Such was the impact on the British nation as a whole that the repercussions of the strike can still be felt to this day.
Directed by Owen Gower, Still The Enemy Within takes a revisionist view of the strike solely from the perspective of the miners, their families and staunch allies. Although the miners paint a brutal impression of life underground, it was not only their way of life but was also a highly political way of life. At the height of industry it was promoted as a responsible career choice due to its life security, and advertising campaigns in 1977 attempted to glamourize the profession and attract men into the industry. In 1984, Margaret Thatcher threatened to close twenty coalmines in the North of England, Scotland and Wales, resulting in mass unemployment. After three successful strikes in 1969, 1972 and 1974, 160,000 miners retaliated by implementing industrial action under the leadership of Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers.
Using previously unseen archive footage and interviews, Still The Enemy Within is a visceral account from those who were actively involved in the strike, from its nascent stages to its ultimate devastating defeat. The film avoids the use of a voiceover narrator allowing a raw and emotive account from “Arthur’s Army” to drive the story. The miners give a kaleidoscopic interpretation of events, from early optimism and unwavering national support to the deaths of three people and the hysterical chaos at the Battle of Orgreave. Bleakness and despair is palpable throughout as debt, divorce, starvation and suicide became prevalent in 1984, tearing families and communities apart forever.
While the film succeeds in capturing the zeitgeist perfectly from the miners’ perspective, it is quite clear who ‘the enemy within’ is. The establishment comes under scathing attack from the director, who denies the political players the opportunity to present their account of the dispute. They are merely reduced to carefully selected archive footage casting them as the Machiavellian villains of the piece. The director fails to acknowledge that since the end of World War Two, the coalmines had become less and less economically viable. Failure to close the mines would have resulted in further inflation and tax increases in Britain. Thatcher’s decision to stop social benefits to miners to force them back to work creates a caricature of an embittered, despotic leader who henpecked her political and trade union allies with manipulation and dogmatism. The police also come under ferocious attack, cast as barbaric military-styled platoons, randomly engaged in unprovoked tactics to halt the miners’ growing support.
Anger, frustration and disappointment still resonates with the miners who fought for their livelihoods, communities and futures but had it cruelly snatched away. The British miners’ strike will go down in history as one of the greatest battles of power between the marginalised working classes and the establishment and has been a murky stain on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s political career. Still The Enemy Within may not present a balanced view of the events between 1984-1985, but whatever your political persuasion, it will bring home the devastation and loss to the many families and communities whose suffering as a result of the strike, still continues to this day.
Still The Enemy Within is available on DVD from 8 December