Shoulder to Shoulder: An Analysis of a Miners' Support Group during the 1984-85 Strike and the Significance of Social Identity, Geography and Political Leadership

Article excerpt

Introduction

While the 1984-5 miners' strike differed from most other industrial disputes in several important respects, one of its particularly unusual and significant features was the extensive and diverse network of community-based strike support groups that was established throughout the UK, and also internationally. Although financial and material aid was given directly to the National Union of Mineworkers, and to the miners themselves and their families by trade unions, by some sections of the Labour party and a wide range of other organisations and individuals, the local miners' support groups that emerged played a key role in providing this kind of assistance, and one that may have been the critical factor in enabling the strike to continue for so long (e.g. Massey & Wainwright, 1985; Richards, 1996: 149-57; Winterton & Winterton, 1989: 109, 113-14).

In 1984-5, there were fourteen miners' support groups in the Liverpool area alone, which raised over 1 million [pounds sterling] for the strike. There were at least nineteen groups in Lancashire and Manchester ('Miners Strike Committees and Support Groups', undated circular, Chorley and Coppull Miners' Support Committee archives); thirty-four women's support groups in North Yorkshire; and possibly over three hundred support groups nationwide (Labour Research Department, 1985: 3; Massey & Wainwright, 1985: 151; Winterton & Winterton, 1989: 121). The groups were united in the common goals of raising money, providing food and welfare, accommodating visiting strikers and supporters from other areas, maintaining morale and generally discouraging a return to work. While some of their members did participate in picketing, the support groups did not play a role in trying to organise industrial action by other groups of workers in support of the miners. Therefore, the resources the support groups needed in order to achieve their goals were largely financial and material donations, and people's activity in terms of helping to organise this. However, the membership and forms the support groups took were diverse, ranging from miners' wives' and women's support groups (some of which were formally linked to the Women Against Pit Closures national organisation), to more broadly-based miners' support groups and committees, to lesbian and gay, student, unemployed, workplace and local union support groups, as well as important international networks and systems of support.

Previously published literature about the 1984-5 miners' support groups can be divided into five categories: writings focusing on women's role in the strike; support groups' own celebratory publications; brief case studies published in edited collections; a largely factual and descriptive national survey; and fragmented references to support groups in more general accounts of the strike (e.g. Adeney & Lloyd, 1986; Barnsley Women Against Pit Closures, 1985; Bloomfield, 1986; Goodman, 1985; Knight, 1986; Labour Research Department, 1985; Massey & Wainwright, 1985; Miller, 1986; Oxford Miners' Support Group, 1985; Richards, 1996; Seddon, 1986; Stead, 1987; Winterton & Winterton, 1989; Worsbrough Community Group, 1985). However, in spite of the considerable value of this literature in painting a vivid picture and providing important ethnographic data, absent from it is an analysis of the actual processes involved in establishing, organising and developing community support for the strike.

Such an analysis might help to explain why these groups were successful in meeting their objectives and why they became such an important and influential element in the strike, as previous literature has clearly demonstrated. This article argues that three main factors and their interrelationships can make an important contribution to an analysis: the means and process of social identification with the strike, its geography and its political leadership.

The notion of social identification can be related to social movement literature and its exploration by industrial relations specialists through mobilisation theory (Fantasia, 1988; Frege & Kelly, 2003: 13-14; Kelly, 1998: 24-38; McAdam, 1988). …