Solidarity Forever

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Review of ’Burning Issues‘ by Banner Theatre, touring

In 1984 Banner Theatre threw themselves into support for the miners‘ strike. They raised money, sang at demonstrations, toured picket lines, and put together a passionate, committed chronicle of the events. This year they interviewed many of those involved in the struggle for their latest show, Burning Issues, which tours the country from March. It weaves together filmed interviews with other documentary material and songs to produce what the company refers to as a video ballad. This powerful production tells the story of the strike within the context of earlier miners‘ victories and later political protest. The musicians shift easily from traditional English folk songs which were created in the 1984-85 strike to the newer songs which are influenced by rap, reggae, jazz and Middle Eastern music.

The show opens with Arthur Scargill‘s defiant speech detailing what was at stake in the strike. It is followed by moving descriptions of the devastation of mining communities since 1984. But why was the government so determined to inflict a defeat at such an enormous cost? The show tries to answer this by taking us back to the successful miners‘ strike of 1972. There is an exciting account of the decisive closing of Saltley coke depot in Birmingham by thousands of workers walking out of work one morning and joining the picket in response to an appeal from miners.

Governments were determined to break this unity and power. The show details something of the journey Tory and Labour governments took to reach the bitter battle of 1984 when miners are shown as having little choice but to strike. Archive footage and interviews convey the determination of pickets, the activity of support groups, the ferocious battles with the police, the disappointments with the TUC and the bitterness with the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, who berated the striking miners. Miners‘ wives talk about the way their view of the world changed as they were drawn into building solidarity. Despite the defeat, those recalling the events speak with pride about their involvement and the lessons they learned about media bias and the injustice of the police and the judiciary.

The final phase of the show shifts the focus to more recent struggles. As the performers sing ’Bella Ciao‘ the screen fills with film of the anti-capitalist demonstrations and the protests against the war. ’The show is called Burning Issues‘, says Dave Rogers, the company‘s coordinator, ’because the strike exposes the real divisions in society and the revolutionary potential of ordinary people to change the world.‘