U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984.U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984.U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984.
Say the word pride, for many it brings to mind "Gay Pride." For others, it recalls Proverbs 16: "pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall."
But Pride is a film about virtuous pride—class pride, gay pride and gender pride. Overall, it is a feel-good picture of solidarity and union of interests that seemingly don't speak to our condition when money and the free market have the upper hand, as well as a sharp rebuke to "identity politics." For Americans with an interest in labor history, it should call to mind between attacks against trade unions by an aggressive government, a hostile press and very forceful police. Actually, today the attacks continue against public unions, minorities and sexual and gender minorities. What make Pride of interest now is its politically charged message that sharply contrasts with the attempt to increase the state of suffering and want of the poor and the declining middle classes, in the same way Ken Burns seven-part documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History finds the relationship Americans have with their government seriously wanting. When Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, she turned a prayer to her own advantage: "where there is discord, may we bring peace, where there is error, may we bring truth and where there is despair, may we bring hope." She brought discord and despair when she threatened to close coal pits, which would rob thousands of their livelihood and leaves even thousands more in want and poverty. The National Union of Miners launch a yearlong strike in 1983 that they lost, thereby initiating the decline of the once powerful trade unions. You know your not going to watch a "gay" film when the opening scenes are of miners on a picket line, with Pete Seeger singing "Solidarity Forever," rarely sung in America today. Thus the theme of solidarity and union is struck from the very start of Pride—"there can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun, yet what force on earth is weaker that the feeble strength of one, but the union makes us strong." And what union surprises us than straight miners and gay activists? And that is at the heart of this unearthed fragment of history. A natural-born activist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) rallies a small group of gays to raise funds for the striking miners as Lesbians and Gays Support Miners. Not only is he homosexual he also comes from Ulster and knows something about sectarian and sexual oppression. He immediately grasps, from a class and gender standpoint, Thatcher's hard-nosed policies to close the mines as a way to support the miners subsisting on handouts to oppose government repression. And thus begins LGSM's fund raising to help the miners. The money and the food they collect, they bring to a small Welsh town, not sure how they will be received when the first meet the miners. Since they are from anti-union London, there is an immediate sense of mistrust, compounded by homophobia. Yet they find at first support in miners' wives—especially Hefina (Imelda Staunton), Siân (Jessica Gunning); they are loyal to their husbands, just as much as they are determined to support the strike and just as important, they are of strong will and mind. In a way, these vigorous housewives walk in the way of the Daughters of Mother Jones who participated in labor actions, or the wives of striking New Mexico zinc workers in the suppressed film Salt of the Earth. There is a point in the film when the press got word of support of striking miners. The printed media had at first a field day with headlines saying Perverts and Miners, undoubtedly publicity the parent union NUM wanted to avoid. But Ashton took ownership of this headline by organizing an energetic fund raising campaign under the banner of Perverts and the Pit that brought in even more money and support. Although the strike failed, the support LGSM did not go unrewarded. In 1985 a large contingent of straight miners led the Gay Pride Parade in London with band and unfurled banners of one hand grasping another in solidarity and union of purpose. Furthermore, as a sign of this identity of common endeavor, were it not for the NUM the timorous Labour Party wouldn't have come out for Gay Rights in the party platform The Welsh are known for singing, so it is not surprising at the community hall to hear a swelling chorus of voices intoning Bread and Roses, a song associated with the 1912 Massachusetts textile strike. Nor is it astonishing to hear the voice of Paul Robeson, who became a working class hero of the NUM's through his singing and 1940 film Proud Valley. Characters in Pride are neither, soapy, sappy or maudlin; they are finely drawn and played by first-rate actors, including Bill Nighy, Dominic West and Andrew Scott. Pride is an intelligent picture. It carries the forceful message that gays don't necessarily stand up for gay people, straights for straights, workers for workers, but acting in concert they can act towards political change for the better. As the trade union saying goes: a single finger has the force of one, but four fingers joined by the thumb makes a fist and there is power and determination, strength and power. Pride is highly recommended and not to be missed..
- Nov 11, 2014