Monday, 30 March 2015

Five Leaves, the movie

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Five Leaves and the strike year

On Saturday I travelled up to Wakefield by train with more boxes than is sensible for a bookstall at With Banners Held High, a celebration of the end of the strike year, thirty years after the defeat of the National Union of Miners strike against pit closures. There were hundreds of people there - a thousand maybe over the day - packed into the old Co-op stores, now reinvented as the Unity + Works centre. As at all the other celebrations it was as if the NUM had won. I talked to and joshed with old comrades and friends - from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Committee, from the Notts minority who struck, to miners who'd written about their experience, to young people who were not even born when the strike took place, to women whose lives changed forever during the year...
Thatcher destroyed the mines but she did not defeat the spirit of those who stayed loyal to their union. The Cabinet documents released on the thirty year rule showed the NUM was right in saying that the Government always planned the massive pit closure programme.
The journey back was a lot easier - not least as the Durham miners cleaned us out of Dennis Skinner books and all our Pride DVDs were sold. In the past, could anyone have believed that a best seller at a miners' event would have been a lesbian and gay film?
Our involvement with the NUM has been one of the highlights of the last period for Five Leaves. With the anniversary coming we commissioned the rock journalist Harry Paterson to write a short book on Nottinghamshire and the miners' strike. Harry came from a mining family and his father-in-law was out the full year, his mother involved in a women's support group. There had been a handful of books about Notts in the strike, personal experience books, but nobody had told the full story of the minority who struck and the subsequent rise (and fall) of the UDM. We'd previously published David Bell's Dirty Thirty about the Leicestershire strikers, a tiny minority, but here we wanted to publish the definitive story, or as near to it as we could. The book was unashamedly pro-strike but interviewed everyone who would speak to Harry to create the narrative. The book grew and grew (and is still growing, the new e-book editon includes some additions) becoming Look Back in Anger - the miners' strike in Nottinghamshire, thirty years on. This was Harry's first book and, if not blows, we certainly traded a lot of emails. Harry is still scarred by my comment on his first draft that this was like a Mills and Books novel written by Lenin. We are proud of the result and became good friends over the duration which means I have to now support his football team, if that is what Alloa Athletic really is!
We did not have a book launch somehow, but Harry went on tour to union branches including Notts County UNISON, UNITE and even Ayrshire UNISON. The book was well reviewed and well received and was reprinted quickly.
If ever we had any doubt about the book it would have been dispelled at the Notts Retired and Ex-Miners celebration of the strike when Henry Richardson, former General Secretary of the Notts NUM, said to the 400 people at their event in Kirkby that  "This is your story. Every striking miner should have a copy of the book in their house to tell your children and grandchildren what you did." That, shall we say, helped sales on the night. It was a grand night anyway. Not least as the Notts NUM brought in a vegetarian alternative to their (meat) pie and pea supper, giving me a doggy bag of fifteen more veggie pies to freeze and bring back to other NUM events! We sold a lot of Coal Not Dole T-shirts on the night too - mostly XXL. As one miner said, we were all medium size once. The outside speaker was Owen Jones (who would later come to our own Bread and Roses weekend) who started by saying he looked like a minor rather than a miner. The most applause came when he mentioned the Government's then current advertising campaign against immigrants. This touched a chord with a 99% white audience and, like the Pride CD showed how much the militant minority in Notts know the word solidarity.
The Kirkby event was really for NUM members and their families, so Five Leaves took on organising a Nottingham city commemoration. Harry spoke, the Clarion Choir sang, Joyce Sheppard from Women Against Pit Closures, Bianca Todd from Left Unity, Keith Stanley from Notts NUM and the Guardian's Seamas Milne all spoke too. 150 people packed the Friends Meeting House. We sent a donation to the Doncaster Care Workers, then out on strike, who were at our evening. This was an important event for Five Leaves as we had only opened a few months beforehand and we wanted to see if we could pull off the sort of event we thought Nottingham should do to remember the strike. It was another great night.
As a result of the Nottingham event the Retired and Ex-Miners booked Seamas to speak at an event in Mansfield, which we supported, and at Christmas two of the staff were honoured to attend the NUM Christmas dinner with Dennis Skinner as the speaker. Another occasion when we ran out of books.
Over the summer two of the team also set up stall at the big event commemorating Orgreave, using our new gazebo (which did not survive its second outing, but that's another story) coming back again with big sales but also hearing lots of miners saying "got that one, read that one, I'm on the cover of that book, there's a picture of me in this one..."  We also did a bookstall for Derby People's History at which our local NUM colleagues Alan Spencer and Eric Eaton spoke, the Clarion choir sang... And recently we did a stall for the Notts and Derby Labour History Group with Huw Beynon speaking, Huw gave the clearest presentation on the Ridley Report and government preparations for the strike - a strike they provoked, yet (read Harry's book!) came so close to losing.
And throughout the year our miners section in the shop has been popular - especially Harry's book, Seamas's latest edition of The Enemy Within and the DVD Still the Enemy Within.
Thinks will be much quieter now - but in the coalfields people still organise. At Wakefield there was a big present from those who organise the "Big Meeting", the Durham Miners Gala - now bigger than ever, as the NUM remains committed to community organising and social change. This was instanced by the "Darlo Mums" NHS march when it passed through Mansfield to a tremendous welcome organised by the Retired and Ex- gang.
It's been a great year. My only regret is that so many involved in the strike are no longer with us. I've mentioned before four women who did so much to support the strike but who died, in some cases well before their time. The Nottingham meeting was dedicated to them: Ida Hackett from Mansfield, Liz Hollis and Pat Paris from Nottingham and Joan Witham whose book Hearts and Minds, sadly now unavailable, recorded the activities of the Nottinghamshire Women's Support Group.