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We will support you

Posted by Pete on 30th Jun 2020

Today, in 1984, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners was founded. It was the start of a wonderful chapter in the radical history of modern Britain.

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue skies and the sun. Source: Wikimedia Commons

"One community should give solidarity to another"
- Mark Ashton (1960-87), co-founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.

Bitter as it is, the struggle is beautiful.

There are few better examples in recent British history than the great Miners’ Strike of 1984-5.

Click to view our Battle of Orgreave tea towel

Against Margaret Thatcher’s vicious assault on the power and autonomy of Britain’s working class, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) took a stand for their jobs and their communities.

Facing endless slander by the Tory-aligned press and brutal, militarised violence by Thatcher’s police force (not least at Orgreave), the miners fought and the miners, in the end, fell.

But they didn’t go through it alone.

In the valleys of South Wales, the strikers found friendship and solidarity in a somewhat unexpected place.

36 years ago today, in central London, 'Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners' (LGSM) was founded to raise strike funds for the NUM.

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Dastardly as ever, Thatcher’s government was working through the courts to sequester the union’s funds, so the only way to get money and supplies to the strikers was to set up external support groups which could 'twin' with specific mining communities.

On the 1984 Pride march in London, two socialists, Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson, had the idea of setting up an explicitly lesbian and gay support group to back the strike.

From this came LGSM, which managed to twin with the miners of the Neath, Dulais, and Swansea valleys in the South Wales Coalfield.

This alliance of lesbian and gay radicals with striking miners stuttered at first – the Welsh working class wasn’t free of the homophobic prejudice rampant in 80s Britain and the bigoted right-wing tabloids tried using LGSM to 'taint' the Miners’ Strike, with the ever-contemptible Sun printing a frontpage titled "Pits and Perverts".

On 28th June 1969 New York’s besieged LGBTQ community rioted against homophobic police raids at the Stonewall Inn. That was the first Pride.
Click to view our Stonewall tea towel

But the solidarity between LGSM and the Welsh miners proved far stronger than homophobic hatred.

Workers, lesbians, and gays came together as friends and united in the recognition that they were all together in the struggle against Thatcherism.

Just as Thatcher’s regime went after the trade unions, so it persecuted the LGBT community, before and after her introduction of the notorious Section 28 in 1988.

Together, LGSM and the miners struggled and grew over the hard-fought months of 1984-5.

Based out of 'Gay’s The Word' bookshop in Bloomsbury, LGSM raised well over £20,000 for the strike and built up a consciousness of how interconnected the struggles for socialism and LGBT liberation could be.

In South Wales, meanwhile, the miners and their families came to learn about the LGBT struggle and embraced it.

"You have worn our badge, and you know what harassment means, as we do. Now we will pin your badge on us, we will support you. It won’t change overnight, but now 140,000 miners know that there are other causes and other problems."

These were the words of Dai Donovan, a Welsh miner, speaking to his LGSM comrades in London.

The defiant coalition of miners, lesbians, and gays was not enough to overcome Thatcher.

The Miners’ Strike ended in March 1985, and the British labour movement is still struggling to recover.

But the miners’ new-born alliance with the gay liberation movement went on.

The London Pride march in 1985 was led by a group of Welsh miners, forever grateful for LGSM’s solidarity, and it was the NUM’s support which in 1986 ensured the Labour Party added a commitment to lesbian and gay rights in its manifesto.

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The story of LGSM had its share of tragedy, from Thatcher’s victory over the unions to Mark Ashton’s death, just two years later, at the age of 26.

Another young, gay man taken from us by the AIDS epidemic.

But it’s also a story of hope and friendship – a glimpse of true solidarity against oppression.

The struggle is beautiful, and rest assured, it will be won!

Click to view our radical tea towel collection