Still the Enemy Within – film review

Materials World magazine
,
9 Oct 2014

Thirty years have passed since the National Union of Mineworkers dug its feet against the UK Government. Eoin Redahan went along to a screening of Still the Enemy Within, a documentary that bristles with the pride and pain of the coal miners who took part in the ill-fated strike.  

In 1984, 160,000 coal miners took on the might of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Government. For a full year, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) garnered support and rallied against subsidy cuts and mine closures, only to eventually succumb under the weight of hunger and poverty. The aftershocks from the strike still echo today. The UK coal mining industry didn’t recover and trade unions never wielded the same power again.

Still the Enemy Within tells the story of the strike from the miners’ perspectives. Through an assemblage of talking heads, it traces the historic tension between the NUM and the Conservatives. It tells of how the Government moved to blunt the power of the NUM – the UK’s largest and most powerful trade union – and sought to close mines that it considered uneconomic. Most importantly, it deals with the effect the struggle had on the coal mining community.

For the most part, the workers and their partners unfurl the tale with pride and humour, though bruised memories always seem to linger below the surface. Smiles break as they recall how solidarity spread like wildfire across the land, and the times they masqueraded as joggers to slip by police cordons near picket lines. Within minutes, these same souls bristle when they speak about clashes with police during the Battle of Orgreave, marriages disintegrating and hungry colleagues defecting when the bitter winter became too much.

While these earthy, eloquent interviewees bring a human element to the strike, the film is one-sided. Margaret Thatcher and the National Coal Board’s trade union buster Ian McGregor assume the roles of comic book villains, while  a propagandist national press is seen as distorting the trade union’s noble aims. The central thrust is weakened by the refusal to give air to those on the other side of the picket line – police officers, politicians and the coal miners who refused to strike.

Other relevant topics were mentioned and then skirted. What of the many mines that were said to be uneconomic? Did increased mechanisation reduce the need for so many workers? Would it not have been worth listening to the views of the non-striking Nottingham miners, who called in vain for a national ballot?

Nevertheless, Still the Enemy Within is well worth watching. It captures the suspicion and the schisms, the heartbreak and the hardship of a torrid time. Most of all, it conveys the passion, camaraderie and humour of those at the coal face.  

Still the Enemy Within will be in selected cinemas from 3 October. For more information, visit www.the-enemy-within.org.uk

What are your views on the 1984–85 miners’ strike?
Tweet us your views at @materialsworld or email materials.world@iom3.org