Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Which Side are You On?

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 16, 2009

Report on the group building an exhibition about Salford:

This week was a real treat as we put down our usual books and artefacts, sat back and studied the Ken Loach documentary ‘Which Side Are You On?’ which was blocked from transmission for 20 years due to its perceived bias towards the miners’ cause. The film moved many in the group emotionally and a lot of people were left with tears in their eyes.

Before we saw the film we heard from ex-miner Paul who worked at Agecroft Pit and was part of the 1984/85 strike. Paul pointed out the historical importance of coal to Salford as an industrial centre and the role ‘clean’ coal could have in the future. He compared the police at the time to a ‘paramilitary’ force: ‘The fighting was unbelievable’.  He touched on the forthcoming postal workers’ strike and said that he thought the aim of Thatcher and her heirs (he included Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in this) was and still is (some may argue) to crush union militancy.

Paul’s experience had taught him that you have to fight (figuratively if not physically) and that it’s too easy to get academic about things like the miners’ strike. The issues that the miners fought for are alive today in our low paid, un-unionised,  service sector economy. You have to go through the experience to make sense of it.

The films was composed of snippets of miners, miners’ wives, children and supporters reading poetry, singing songs and making speeches intercut with scenes of violent repression on the picket lines.  It goes without saying that this film supported the miner’s point of view and painted Margaret Thatcher’s crushing of the NUM as a pure piece of class warfare (whether you agree with that analysis or not).  The police were painted as a politicised, right wing force not disimilar to police forces in places like Latin America. At one point the miners were sparring with police on a picket in Yorkshire. At this point in the strike they were optimistic and told the police they would ‘topple’ Maggie’s government. ‘If you topple her we (the police) will be the next government’ said the police officer. It seems to me sadly true that in the history of working class struggles progress and the creation of libertarian structures are often crushed by violent repression, from Franco’s Spain to Pinochet’s Chile.

I personally was very touched by the film. I have my leanings and this film confirmed to me some of my convictions about the importance of trade unions. The role of women in the struggle was also highlighted. During the months without pay the women formed an unofficial form of welfare system which shows that working people can organise without the interference of politicians, bureacrats or bosses.

In the debate after the film there was much concern about how far police were actually prepared to go. The consensus was that the argument ‘we are just following orders’ is no defence. Alice emphasised how the strike ‘politicised’ a whole generation of women and led them to get involved with other causes such as Greenham Common.



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