Pride! The power of solidarity

Author: 

Karina Knight

The writer, Stephen Beresford, first heard the story of LGSM from a friend. He told a pre-screening audience that it inspired him greatly — the film is clearly a work of care and love. The characters are the real members of LGSM. Mike Jackson and others input into the writing and production, infusing the personalities, lives and experiences of the LGSM activists.

Refreshingly, Beresford does not consider it necessary to provide background to justify the miners’ strike; it is accepted in the film that the strike was valid. That lesbians and gay men and miners share a common enemy in the ruling class. That it is right and necessary to organise and fight back.

When we talk about Women Against Pit Closures, LGSM and their role in labour movement history, we talk about how communities, identities and ideas can change rapidly in struggle, about the potential for personal change and growth. Pride explores this ­­— it is essentially a film about solidarity, acceptance of difference, and ultimate recognition that working class people have much more that unites us than divides us.

Pride tracks these personal journeys. Joe (Bromley) Cooper, a young man who discovers the strength to come out and finds acceptance and a new family; Gethin, a gay man estranged from the community he grew up in, who by facing his fears in entering a pit village is able to reconnect with his Welsh working-class identity and rebuild a relationship with his mother; Dai, whose life experience is “expanded” in the gay bars of London; Hefina and Cliff, who recognise the value of the solidarity offered, the bravery, of the LGSM activists.

The power of homophobia to divide us is all too apparent when Maureen, so threatened by the presence of gay people in her community, provides fodder for The Sun. In her intransigence she acts against her own basic class interests and is prepared to undermine the strike, such is her fear of change and of the unknown.

This is a mainstream film on general release, so it gives a feel-good factor similar to Made in Dagenham. Adverts describe it as “hilarious”, but that isn’t quite right. While there are a few good belly-laughs (A “great big Lez-off”, anyone?), I found more that I was moved to tears and laughter in equal measure: hope, disappointment, resolve, and hope again. A positive film, it tells an important part of our history to those who were not aware of it, and will remain a useful organising tool, a permanent, widely accessible and true record of a seminal time for gay rights and for our class.

Go and see this film, possibly with a pack of tissues. Then get out and organise.

“The miners needed solidarity”

Clive Bradley was active in Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners. He spoke to Solidarity.

Solidarity: What was LGSM and what did it do?

Clive: It was a group that was set up of lesbians and gay men set up to support the miner’s strike. It has to be said it was initially mainly gay men, but more and more women got involved over the time. Practically it raised money for the miners who were on strike for a year. Mainly by standing outside lesbian and gay pubs rattling buckets, it raised quite a lot of money. This was sent to a particular mining community in south Wales, in the Dulais valley, with which connections had been made.

Solidarity: Why did this get started, and how did you get involved?

Clive: It was the idea of two people in particular, Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson. Both are dramatised in the movie. They put out a call at Pride in ‘84 and organised a meeting at “Gay Is the Word” bookshop in London. At that time I was just moving to London from Manchester and was a member of Socialist Organiser [forerunner of the AWL]. It’s not rocket science to see how I got involved.

I went to the second ever meeting of LGSM. I was active in supporting the miners and thought it was a brilliant initiative. It proved to have a very powerful effect on lesbian and gay men and on the miners. The NUM went on to lead the pride demonstration in August 1985. The NUM, a traditional union, not famous for its view on matters such as lesbian and gay rights, became quite prominent in the changing policy on gay rights in the Labour Party.

Solidarity: What impact did it have in the gay community, and what arguments did LGSM make about why gay people should support the miners?

Clive: The strike lasted for a whole year and divided the country, divided everybody. A lot of people supported the miners and didn’t need to be persuaded, but we argued that we needed the miners to win. If the miners lost then the Tory government would be going for everybody, and these lesbian and gay communities would be an easy target. People would put a lot of money into the bucket to show solidarity — presumably a lot of money they didn’t have in many cases. LGSM was the first really concrete example of how an “autonomous” movement of the “specially oppressed” (as we used to say) could struggle alongside the organised working class, and transform working-class consciousness in the process.

Solidarity: Were other left groups involved in LGSM? What was their attitude to it?

Some members of different left groups were personally involved, even members of Militant [forerunner of the Socialist Party] and the SWP, whose organisations were more hostile to the project. Militant , for example, generally argued that any kind of autonomous organisation was necessarily divisive. LGSM and Women Against Pit Closures, etc. showed that quite the reverse was true.

Solidarity: How was LGSM received in the mining communities?

Clive: The film does this quite cleverly. It is basically a rom com between two communities. The film shows you both acceptance and hostility, but a growing acceptance. That isn’t far off what actually happened.

I went to South Wales twice, the second time when the strike was actually finishing in March ‘85. That was very emotional for all of us. My own experience was that people couldn’t really have been more welcoming.

The first time we went down, there was a minibus load of us, we were being put up in people’s houses, that was the deal. We all went down to the miner’s welfare in the evening to sing songs and get drunk. It was completely fine, no hostility at all.

The reality was we were raising money for them. The miners needed solidarity, and I’m sure if people were at first dubious about where the solidarity came from, need overcame that. And, of course, as you make contact with people you realise that you have more in common than you initially thought. Why the suspicions broke down, as I’m sure there were some, is no mystery. It was the nature of people meeting each other and the power of solidarity.

Solidarity: What do you think members of LGSM learnt from the experience?

Clive: For many people it was their first time going to that sort of working-class community, though certainly not for everyone. We were a mixed group and certainly there were people from working-class backgrounds, it was not all middle class lefties. The vast majority were just people who wanted to do something.

When you have a big confrontation between a section of the working class and the government you have to take sides, more than just in your head.

There have been reunions [of LGSM] recently and many people still seem to hold broadly the same views that they used to. You can tell for many people in LGSM it was an absolutely formative experience in their lives, and very important to them.

Solidarity: Do you think there was rolling back after the defeat of the dispute, both in the gay community and in the mining community?

Clive: The miners were beaten and most of them lost their jobs. Generally speaking in the class struggle, the defeat of the miners had a hugely bad effect. We’re still living with the consequences of it.

I doubt miners' attitudes rolled back too much with regards lesbian and gay rights. You started to get stories of miners coming out. At reunions we get visits from miners. We often hear “it turns out my son is gay”.

Ex-miners and their families came up from south Wales for the film premiere.

In the lesbian and gay community, struggle wasn’t rolled back. You got growth of the lesbian and gay movement after 1985. Not long after was “Section 28” [the Tory law which prevented the “promotion of homosexual lifestyles”] against which you had enormous demonstrations. The pride parades in the early ‘80s were relatively small, but by the late ‘80s and certainly the early ‘90s they were enormous.

Solidarity: What do you think about the film?

Clive: It gets an awful lot incredibly right. It’s in the broad ball park of something like The Full Monty, but much more political. Over the credits you have someone singing Solidarity Forever. It takes for granted that the strike was right. It’s absolutely about the importance of class struggle and solidarity between communities. The portrayals of the real people are very close and a good tribute.

Its good that for the anniversary, this particular act of solidarity will be remembered.