Review of the 1984 Miners’ Strike: The Struggle for Britain – the Lingering Emotions of Grief and Bitterness
The 40th anniversary of the largest industrial conflict in Britain is the reason for Channel 4’s three-part documentary. However, as indicated by the subtitle of “Miners’ Strike 1984: The Battle for Britain,” this event is not just a thing of the past. We are currently residing in a nation where Margaret Thatcher emerged victorious and the miners on strike were defeated.
The series presents the plot by presenting each episode as an individual story focused on a specific location or time, told by individuals who were directly involved. Many of these individuals have not shared their perspectives before. The first episode explores the theme of communities being permanently separated due to a dispute, and how unresolvable ideological discrepancies guaranteed that the conflict would be intense and lengthy. This episode takes place in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, where the current headquarters of Sports Direct used to be a coal mine in a thriving mining town.
Sherwood, a BBC2 show created by James Graham, takes place in Nottinghamshire, but it could easily be mistaken for Shirebrook. The visuals used in the show are quite recognizable: conversations occur in community centers and men’s clubs, with dull daylight pouring into spacious rooms filled with neatly arranged, empty chairs. Feelings of bitterness and sorrow quickly resurface, as they have never truly faded away.
The program effectively conveys the significance of the miners’ strike, highlighting the fact that their entire lives and identities were on the line. We are shown a glimpse of Shirebrook during its heyday, when the town was a close-knit community of 14,000 people who spent their evenings at the pub playing dominoes, darts, and dancing. Even a typical Tuesday night was comparable to New Year’s Eve. Despite the grueling and dirty work in the mines, young men couldn’t wait to turn 16 and join the workforce. The collective took care of injured workers, creating a strong sense of camaraderie. The emotional toll of the strike is evident as burly men break down on camera, but the strikers are determined not to forget their cause. To them, being a miner was their ultimate goal and it remains a part of their identity to this day.
The conflict started in March 1984 when the National Coal Board declared that 20 collieries across the country would be closed, resulting in 20,000 job losses. Strikes seemed imminent, but the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had not yet called for a national vote, so individual regions held their own votes to determine whether they should join in the strike. The choice of Shirebrook as a location for the strike may be seen as controversial, as the Midlands had less support for industrial action compared to the north. In Derbyshire, the local NUM overruled the outcome of a vote in which miners who wanted to continue working had narrowly won. The reason for the county’s union leaders prioritizing solidarity with striking workers in Shirebrook and other places over the results of the ballot is not fully explained, leaving those in favor of the strike at a disadvantage.
Roland Taylor, who was the spokesperson for the miners who continued working during the strike in 1984, is leading the other side in the interview. He is shown manning the phone at the pit and reassuring workers who are considering breaking the strike that they will have support. However, in present times, Taylor claims that he was only receiving calls and not actively persuading workers to cross picket lines. However, his statements from 1984 suggest otherwise as he states, “We’re only doing what the NUM has already done to us – divide and conquer.”
In a documentary about the mining strike, there is a scene where a striker angrily attacks Taylor, accusing him of being an opportunist who does not truly understand or care about mining. This attack may seem unnecessary to some viewers, who can judge for themselves. However, as the documentary continues, it becomes clear that many workers who initially supported the strike eventually returned to work and now have a chance to express their opinions. The documentary also shows how the criticism and intimidation did not just target the miners, but also their families, who were subjected to insults and harassment in public. As footage of burnt “battle buses” and reinforced windows on buses heading to the mines is shown, it becomes apparent that both sides resorted to aggressive behavior, which was unacceptable in a disagreement over deeply held beliefs.
Next week, the attention will shift to the Battle of Orgreave, where the state’s use of violence and deceit will be highlighted. This may bring more attention to the idea that the strikers may have faced unspeakable actions that led to their loss of dignity. The miners’ strike marked a turning point as modern forces of power and wealth crushed community values, work ethics, and the collective welfare. This battle continues to this day, but the history of Shirebrook serves as a reminder that not all citizens are willing to fight for these ideals.
The Miners’ Strike of 1984: The Fight for Britain is airing on Channel 4.