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Saturday 17th
posted by Luke James in Britain

Revived supporters celebrate our history

MINERS’ strike film Pride has inspired the Welsh coalfield community it portrayed to re-form their famous support group — but they want to bust the blockbuster’s homophobia myths.

Labour MP Sian James has shot to fame since the Bafta-nominated industrial epic showed her role in building solidarity with legendary organisation Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM).

Now Ms James has taken a post as secretary of the newly revived Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valley Miners Support Group.

And the two hardy bands are set to unite once more in March to mark the 30th anniversary of the era-defining dispute that sparked their relationship.

Their shared solidarity is not however as unlikely as the culture clash portrayed in Pride, according to Labour MP and miners’ historian Hywel Francis.

In the film, members of LGSM arrive in the Valleys to a frosty reception and are given their marching orders by miners after their support is revealed in the right-wing press.

But Dr Francis told the Star: “We were a highly political support group and we welcomed the relationship.

“The overt homophobia that was clear at the beginning of the film didn’t exist and neither did the meeting where that relationship was severed.”

The former miners support group chairman also dispels the idea that the groups united by accident, remembering the “deliberate, strategic attempt to build an alliance.”

And he says the Communist Party “played a big role” in uniting the two groups, especially through then-Young Communist League general secretary and leading LGSM member Mark Ashton, which was written out of the film.

However the historian is clear that Pride will have a “positive impact” on Britain’s collective memory of the 1984-85 strike.

“People will be struck by the social and political solidarity between two besieged and vulnerable groups and the lessons to be drawn from that,” he said.

“The message is a powerful one.”

Ms James believes the support group now has an urgent new task — to extend that message of solidarity to benefit claimants.

Speaking to the Star in Parliament, she said: “What’s the new group under attack?”

“I tell you who it is — it’s benefit claimants. I make no bones about that. They are the people who are belittled, derided, made to feel marginalised.”

The MP, played by Jessica Gunning in Pride, expects to have more time for that case when she follows in the footsteps of Tony Benn by leaving Parliament to spend more time on politics.

She said: “I’ve had a wonderful time in Westminster.

“It’s been an honour and privilege to serve the people of Swansea East but I want to get back to real politics, back to the issues that concern people really at a street level in Wales.”

The two Labour MPs will be reunited with lesbian and gay comrades at a special event on March 14.

Pride actor Bronwen Lewis and Dulais Valley Divas choir will be among acts performing at the Onllwyn Miners’ Welfare Hall, the site of some of the liveliest scenes in the film.

All money raised will go towards the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund.