‘When you’re in a battle with an enemy that’s so much bigger, so much stronger than you, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well that’s the best feeling in the world. Can you see what we’ve done here, by coming together all of us? We made history’ – Dai, The Miner
‘I have never met a gay before’, says the miner Dai to the London gay activist Mark. Mark replies gently, ‘It’s okay Dai. I have never met a miner either’. Can two groups, one representing the urban gay activist community and the other representing the rural mining community share a bond in opposing the conservative political economy that unleashes assault on both communities in different ways? Can simple acts of solidarity break the barriers in existing attitudes and mindsets? Can breaks in barriers bring momentous change in the history of a nation?
Of course, says the British movie Pride, which teaches us a lesson in history, as it chronicles the emerging solidarity between the queer community from London and a rural mining community in Wales amidst a major mining strike. Based on real events, this movie, filmed in 2014, is set in 1984 when the Thatcher regime launched a massive assault on the English working class, by closing several pits in Northern England, Wales and Scotland that would end employment of more than 20,000 workers. The National Union of Mineworkers had announced a major strike to stop the government’s action.
A chronicle of solidarity
The movie ‘Pride’ starts in this backdrop, when Mark Ashton, a gay activist watches a newsreel of Thatcher coming down heavily on the striking workers. He rallies a small group of gay activists to collect funds for the mining community because they face the same oppressors and because its the right thing to do.
Mark: “Mining communities are being bullied, just like we are. What they need is cash!”
Ray: “Yeah, because the miners have always come to our aid, haven’t they?”
Mark: “It doesn’t matter. It’s the right thing to do!”
The unions mirroring the homophobic attitude of the establishment want to have no truck with the gay activists. The activists are forced to reach out to a mining village ‘Onllwyn’ in Wales and that starts an uneasy and cautious bond between the mining community and the activists. While some miners such as Dai, Gwen, Sian, Hefina, Cliff and others take to the activists and help them with accommodation in their own houses, the majority of the community is reserved and in some cases, outright hostile. As the activists press on with misgivings, Mark reminds the miners that ‘one in every five Brit is gay’ and indeed, one of the miners’ own is gay, as is revealed later in the movie.
It is the women of the mining community, who play a decisive role in either side of the solidarity forcefully. Sean, a miner’s wife who goes on to become Labour Party MP, and Hefina, are unabashed supporters of the gay community, and as the members of the committee which seeks to generate funds and basic material support for the striking mining families, they see the importance of the queer activists’ material support and their solidarity. Incredible friendships open up when the women are invited to London for a fundraising musical event, titled ‘pits and perverts’ that deepens their relationship.
On the other side, is Marion, a widow of a miner, who is opposed to the solidarity between the two groups. While she fears that the queer activists have their own agenda, she is not willing to interact with them giving into the homophobia. This creates fractures in the relationships especially when the union and other mining communities shun the Onllwyn community and even ridicule them for their alliance with the queer communities. Some of these are overcome by the incredible fund raising support given by the queer communities, who also bring the issues of the miners to their own community.
The movie also delves into the dark corners that the communities face. At one point, Cliff highlights the contradiction of trying to save a kind of employment which puts workers in inhumane working conditions in the pit and loss of a member in every family in the village and yet this is the lifeline of thousands of villagers in the region. The queer community not only is dealing with the alienation of lesbians within the overall struggle but also the health issues that were hounding the community. Mark himself is a victim of this, as the end credits show that he dies with in 18 months of the struggle’ due to AIDs. It must be noted that the exposure to AIDS was not because of homosexuality but rather unprotected sex that was practiced.
A battle is lost but hearts are won
The miners’ struggle was bitter as it lasted for almost a year. Thatcher had prepared for the strike and had stockpiled on coal and used the state machinery to crush the striking workers in violent and bloody confrontations. After almost one year of the strike, the miners voted to end the strike and went back to the pit as the union funds dried up. But what the struggle won was the mind of miners to the issue of gays and lesbians, as shown in the end. In the following Pride march in 1985, scores of mining communities joined their brethren in a show of solidarity and marched ahead in the pride march.
And, thanks to National Union of Mineworkers, the Labour party, one of the largest parties in England, passed a resolution in support of gay and lesbian rights for the first time in its history.
Building alliances for an alternate society
The Thatcherism of 80s in Britain is playing out now in India. While neoliberalism had unleashed the assault on working class for the past 3 decades, what we now have is an iron-willed Prime Minister Modi in power who aims to replicate the ‘success’ of Gujarat nationally. The economic onslaught on workers in terms of labour reforms, precariousness and unemployment has increased substantially under Modi regime. The fatal violence on Muslims, that were started in Gujarat pogrom in 2002, are continuing under the garb of ‘cow protection’. Dalits are persecuted for refusing to fall in line in the altar of cultural hegemony of RSS backed Hindutva program. The LGBTQ+ community continues to be persecuted under Section 377 which criminalises homosexuality in the name of culture. Women are killed because they choose to decide who they should marry. These oppressions are indicators of the society that our oppressors mark for us. They want to be the one to say what we do, who we love, who are our kins, and who we should worship.
Individuals and collectives, whether it be unions, workers, gays, lesbians, Dalits, Muslims, women, peoples movements are fighting their own battles every day. We lose many battles, win some and even when some battles are won, new battles are thrust upon us. But, one question that we must ask ourselves: Is winning against our oppressors the only goal here? Our collectives, whether it be unions, movements and civil society groups have become institutionalised in only making demands from the state (which is increasingly anti-us) to think of building material and cultural connections between the oppressed. This is the message that Pride brings to us. That whether we win or lose our goals, the friends we find along the way are those we keep for ever.
The Chennai Rainbow pride, a coalition of LGBTIQA communities, marks the month of June to highlight the issues and celebrate the diversities in our sexuality. On June 25th, the coalition initiates a march. Let us show our solidarity with the community not only because we face the same oppressors but because we strive towards a society of liberty, equality and fraternity for all of us irrespective of our race, religion, gender, caste and sexuality.