Review: Strike – An Uncivil War directed by Daniel Gordon

Reviewed by Thomas Carmichael

On the morning of 18 June 1984, a scorching summer’s day, 5,000 striking miners gathered on the fields overlooking the Orgreave Coking Works in South Yorkshire. It would become one of the most infamous days in Britain’s industrial history.   

The 1984-85 Miners’ Strike was at its height with the overwhelming majority of British miners out. Yet the strike was failing to have the maximum impact, largely due to scab miners in Nottinghamshire keeping the mines operational. 

In response to this, Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), called for mass picketing of the Coking Works at Orgreave (which produced coke from Nottinghamshire coal) to stop lorries from getting in to collect coke, or leaving loaded with it.

Determined to stop the miners from effectively picketing Orgreave, and to set a precedent for this sort of action moving forward, the police brutally attacked the miners with batons, shields, and horseback charges – later using greatly exaggerated claims of missile throwing by the miners as flimsy justification. 

Ninety-five miners were arrested and charged with riot, a charge that at the time carried a possible life sentence. However, their trials later collapsed as it became apparent that statements by junior police officers had been written according to instructions from their senior officers. In the course of the trials it was also exposed that the operations at Orgreave had been conducted according to a secret tactical manual based on the brutal methods of the various colonial police forces throughout the British empire. This manual had been undemocratically adopted by the British government in absolute secrecy, without any parliamentary oversight.

A worker’s-eye view 

Daniel Gordon’s gripping documentary Strike: An Uncivil War takes The Battle of Orgreave as its centrepiece, bookending it with a whistle stop tour of the history of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike before and after the events of that day. Told with no voiceover narration, rather relying on excerpts of interviews from the miners themselves (alongside their wives, many of whom, through the campaign ‘Women Against Pit Closures’, played a crucial supporting role without which the strike could not have survived). The film gives a worker’s-eye view of the events at Orgreave, contextualised in the history of the wider strike and the politics of the Thatcher government. 

It is a frequently moving story, both in terms of the inspiring solidarity the miners had for one another, and the incredible hardship that they endured at the hands of Thatcher – as punishment for standing up to her. The wife of one striker tells of how, while doing support work, she took a phone call from a striker planning to take his own life due the stress of not being able to pay his bills, while one of the miners tells us that he knew four men who did eventually commit suicide in the months and years following the strike. 

While falling short of providing a fully socialist analysis of the strike, the state, and capitalism, the film does paint a vivid picture of how the state was used as a tool to crush worker’s solidarity and protect the interests of the ruling class, callously discarding the rules by which democratic capitalist society claims to run because they became inconvenient for those in power. 

It should be essential viewing for all those who stand for equality and justice, and for building a better world – that they may get just a glimpse of what they’ll be up against.

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