Ray Goodspeed, who was a founder member of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group portrayed in the film Pride, fills in some more detail in the real-life struggle it depicts so movingly.
Ray Goodspeed in those days (furthest right) as well as Mike Jackson (second from left). Both are now members of Left Unity.
Many members of Left Unity will be aware of the recently-released movie Pride, which deals with true story of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group and their links with a South Wales mining valley, Dulais. It is a really remarkable film for a mainstream film company, in that it is a warm-hearted, hilariously funny comedy-drama designed to reach a wide audience but which still preserves the essential politics of the original campaign.
Original members of the LGSM group and the Dulais mining community were involved in the making of it (indeed a few of them are extras in it!) and they are happy to endorse it. I am proud to say that three original members (including me) are now members of Left Unity, including Mike Jackson, a central figure in the film portrayed by Joe Gilgun. For me, Left Unity is an heir of LGSM in its attempts to unite the left and campaigners from wider struggles around issues of solidarity and common action.
The film deals with the appalling situation of LGBT people in the mid-80s, who faced a battery of legal, social and employment discrimination and oppression, and it deals with the issues around the beginning of AIDS. The film also portrays the links made between the two disparate groups and how all sides deepen their understanding of the issues involved. The role of the women of the mining communities is central, and how the strike transformed many of their lives.
There is an in-built sadness to the film as it deals with the failure of the miners’ strike and the most important victory of Thatcher, which led, as we know, to the triumphant victory of neoliberal ideas and the present austerity, as well as to the rise of New Labour and their capitulation to pro-capitalist ideology. The mining communities were effectively destroyed following the strike and those vibrant, supportive communities taken to pieces as problems of mass unemployment, poverty, and drugs and alcohol took their hold.
Yet the film still manages to create an upbeat, feel-good movie full of idealism and hope, which I would love to inspire a new generation of activists to take up the struggle.
To go with the film I thought members would appreciate an edited form of a longish article which I wrote back in 1989, which tells the true story of LGSM. In the film some characters have been amalgamated and details changed. The most obvious change is that the antagonism towards us in Dulais has been exaggerated for dramatic effect. The welcome we received was actually even better than in the film, which also downplays the extent to which the original members were actively involved in the organised left, and reduces the numbers of those involved to tell a manageable story. Most of the important things portrayed are true, however, and Pride stays true to the spirit of a wonderful episode of British labour history.
Hope you enjoy it – but beware of spoilers, watch the film first!
Here We Go! – Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners 1984-1985
by Ray Goodspeed (1989)
The 1984-85 Miners’ Strike was, without doubt, a watershed in the history of the British labour movement and of British politics as a whole. All the pretences behind which the capitalist class usually hide behind were torn away, as battles were fought between striking miners and their supporters on one side, and the armed might of the state, the courts and the lie-merchants of the press on the other. Society was polarised as never before and in that year the only political dividing line that mattered was whether you were for or against the miners.
Similarly, the work of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) was a watershed for the left and the lesbian and gay movement. There had been attempts at this kind of solidarity work before. In the 1972 Miners’ Strike, Lancaster University Gay Liberation Front made warm and close links with Parkside colliery near Preston, Lancashire. Other attempts were made, such as a gay contingent on the 250,000-strong march against the Industrial Relations Act in 1971 and solidarity work again in 1974 in the Barnsley area. However, it was LGSM which achieved the breakthrough which led to its almost legendary reputation and interest shown from all over the world.
So what was it all about?
LGSM was formed in July 1984, four months into the strike, from an initiative of taking a collection on the Lesbian and Gay Pride March in June, where there was also a successful fringe meeting addressed by a striking miner. Many, though not all, of those involved from the beginning were active in unions and/or left parties and were already involved in collecting at work, in the street and so on, and they had the quite modest aim of extending this to collecting for the miners inside the lesbian and gay community.
Their support for the miners was unconditional, as the success or failure of their struggle would have dramatic implications for all workers, regardless of sexuality. However, there was a tentative hope that a breakthrough in the understanding of the mining communities of the situation of lesbians and gays could be achieved. It was thought that there would be more chance of this if one main community was targeted, so Dulais Valley, near Neath in West Glamorgan (and Powys) was chosen, and this was through a previous contact in the area of one of the founder members. Twinning was actually the norm for all support groups, as the funds of the main NUM had been sequestered [confiscated] by Thatcher’s government.
However, the response of that mining community and the success of the group exceeded the wildest expectations of its founders. Within a few weeks, regular collections were held outside every main gay or lesbian venue, sometimes two or three times a week, and outside ‘Gay’s the Word’ bookshop. A striking miner addressed an ecstatic crowd at a pub in Kings Cross, interrupting the disco! The weekly meetings became larger and larger. At the peak of the campaign there were 50 regular attendees. More importantly – these 50 were all activists. A broad ruling was agreed early on that only those who did at least one collection a fortnight could vote, regardless of any other administrative, creative or fundraising work etc. that they did.
For many members, it was their first political activity, and for those who were more experienced, in either the left or the lesbian and gay movement, it was different and refreshing (if occasionally exasperating). It was a down-to-earth group focused around the achievement of practical tasks, and it managed to create a united front from a baffling array of differing political and non-political views. The concentration on taking issues (as well as collecting buckets) deep inside the gay and lesbian ‘scene’ was a departure from the lobbying tradition of many lesbian and gay rights campaigns, in or out of the labour movement.
In particular, the group managed to assemble many young working-class gays and lesbians. Part of the reason for this was that LGSM put ideas of class solidarity at the centre of lesbian and gay debate, as a review of the gay press at the time will confirm. The feeling of taking sides in an historic event was very powerful. This inevitably highlighted the divisions inside the lesbian and gay community itself and provoked some bitterly anti-working class responses, particularly from some well-heeled gay men.
In addition, many of those involved in LGSM felt it was a way of identifying again with a class and a set of values from which they had been exiled by their sexuality. Many, although living in London, had left working-class areas throughout Britain and Ireland – not to mention the working-class Londoners. Those collecting were often struck by how many of those they spoke to were not only from working-class communities in general, but from mining communities in particular. It is true, of course, that some had very unhappy memories of prejudice or violence from those mining communities.
When 27 members went down to Dulais for the emotionally-charged first weekend visit to Dulais to stay with the miners and their families and to share in their meagre rations, the welcome they received was astonishing and deeply affected those present. Onllwyn Miners’ Welfare Hall was suddenly transformed into a mixed/straight/gay club with everybody singing, dancing and hugging everyone else. Mike Jackson, the secretary of LGSM throughout its existence, has said “it was like returning home.”
There were many other visits to Dulais, including one which coincided with the decision to return to work. People from Dulais made many visits to London, often to speak to LGSM’s weekly or public meetings and they visited gay and lesbians venues. They also attended a massive benefit at Camden’s Electric Ballroom – Pits and Perverts – on December 10th which featured performances from many lesbian and gay performers, notably Bronski Beat. The benefit and all the raffles raised more than £5,000. The event was free to striking miners and many who were based in London for the strike attended, along with over a thousand lesbians and gay men. At all these events moving speeches by the miners or their wives or girlfriends were always greeted by thunderous applause and cheering.
The group also produced a famous miners-style badge, T-shirts, a mega-jumble sale/fashion show, videos, exhibitions and many other things which testify to the enthusiasm and vitality of the group. LGSM members were caught up in the violent police attacks on a miners’ demonstration in Whitehall in early 1985 where one of them was arrested.
In Dulais, the strike and the involvement of LGSM allowed lesbians and gay men an unprecedented opportunity to ‘come out’. This is important. Geographical and cultural differences between LGSM in London and Dulais, a traditional, rural, working-class community, tempted some to see the campaign as ‘two communities’ learning to understand each other. But there are lesbians and gays in South Wales and in all mining villages, and there are militant class fighters among lesbians and gays in London. It was not really so much about ‘community’ as socialism and class unity.
So what did it achieve?
Firstly, LGSM raised more than £20,000 for striking miners and their families [a lot of money in 1984 – RG]. It played a major role in feeding mining families from three pits in South Wales, pits which were 100% solid until the end of the strike. Secondly, it established links of friendship and comradeship which, contrary to the carping of some cynics, survive to this day [and are still going strong in 2014! – RG]
The Dulais Valley Support Group minibus carried LGSM’s name and a pink triangle logo. The 1985 Pride march was led off by miners’ banners, and visits have been regular ever since, on happy occasions and very sad ones, such as the funeral of Mark Ashton, LGSM’s founder, who died of AIDS in February 1987.
But it had a much wider impact on the fight for lesbian and gay rights inside the labour movement. The NUM had been notoriously backward on issues of sexism in the past, including its general secretary Arthur Scargill, and had totally dismissed gay rights lobbyists. The role of women in the strike and the role of LGSM totally reversed this position. Henceforth the NUM was in the forefront of campaigns for women’s, lesbian and gay rights issues leading to favourable resolutions at both TUC and Labour Party conferences in 1985.
LGSM proved that issues of sexuality could be taken directly to working class communities, especially those in struggle themselves, and get a positive response, rather than just relying on lobbying of politicians or union leaders. It pointed the way for LGBT people to play their part as integral members of the labour movement, individually or as a group, committed to united struggle of the movement as a whole.
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
Events and protests from around the movement, and local Left Unity meetings.
Sat 2 Mar, 9.30-17.00
Confronting the Rise of the Far Right, European Conference
Organised by Transform UK.
Bloomsbury Central, 235 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8EP.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign up to the Left Unity email newsletter.
Get the latest Left Unity resources.