Solidarity Against Neo-liberalism

The film 'Pride' shows that there can be such a thing as a society, or community, that thinks of its own struggle against oppression as part of a broader resistance to oppression.

Ofer Vaknin

The film “Pride,” which is being shown in Israel, sticks quite close to the true story of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), a group that operated in Britain in 1984 and 1985. Theirs is one of the most fascinating stories not only in the history of the LGBT community in Britain and the world, but also in the history of solidarity with workers’ struggles.

The miners’ strike is considered a seminal event in British and global history since it was one of the main efforts at resisting the policy of Margaret Thatcher, who was prime minister at the time. As this policy of neo-liberalism spread from the Iron Lady’s London and American President Ronald Reagan’s Washington to the world, it reached Israel as well. Its fundamental principles were reduced public spending, the privatization of social services, expanding sources of private profit, breaking the unions and seeing the person as a completely individual creature – or, as Thatcher famously put it, “There is no such thing as society.”

The group of gay men and lesbians threw in their lot with the striking miners in the belief that both groups were victims of similar oppression by the same government. By raising a great deal of money for the miners and even going to Wales to support them, LGSM made the statement that there was indeed such a thing as society and that solidarity, or perhaps mutual responsibility, was the basis of this idea.

It is no accident that the union anthem, “Solidarity Forever,” appears a great deal in the film. By doing as they did, LGSM came out against the neo-liberal values that went well with homophobia in Thatcher’s government, which was behind the notorious Section 28 (Local Government Act 1988) that stated that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality.” It is important to remember this as we marked Human Rights Day on December 10.

Some of the people who appear in the film said that their work with the miners was their way of dealing with the early years of the AIDS crisis – a time also dealt with in Larry Kramer’s play “The Normal Heart,” which is being put on at the Gan Meir LGBT Center in Tel Aviv. Both “Pride” and “The Normal Heart” deal with the LGBT community.

The word “community” often sounds amorphous and strange, but the film and the play show the kind of meaning it can have: not community in the sense of an unconnected group of people to whom things can be marketed, or the word used to market Israel in the world as an enlightened and progressive democracy, but a political community based on solidarity. This refers to two kinds of solidarity: the sort that is directed inward, as portrayed in “The Normal Heart,” which deals with the organization of the gay community in the early years of the AIDS crisis in New York, and outwardly-directed solidarity, as shown in “Pride.”

This film is particularly important at a time when LGBT communities are being co-opted by conservative power structures. Britain has a conservative prime minister who says he supports same-sex marriage not despite the fact that he is a conservative, but because of it. This raises questions not only about the conservative nature of the institution of marriage, but also about the co-opting of the LGBT community, which may have difficulty speaking out against a government that is supposedly sympathetic to it, unlike the openly homophobic Thatcher government.

But against the backdrop of all these questions, “Pride” shows that there can be such a thing as a society, or community, that thinks of its own struggle against oppression as part of a broader resistance to oppression, which is based on solidarity. The film’s strength lies in the idea of solidarity.

In the neo-liberal state, oppressed groups are thrown at each another (such as, for example, the residents of south Tel Aviv and the asylum-seekers), and social struggles turn into struggles of various identity groups, each one fighting for itself alone. The social-justice protest of 2011, which was promising because it appeared to be based on boundary-crossing solidarity, failed to fulfill that promise.

“Pride” reminds us of that moment of possibility, and also shows that solidarity could work in all directions, since it was the pressure applied by the miners’ unions following the meeting depicted in the film that influenced the British Labour Party to put the recognition of gay rights on its agenda. “Pride” is an important film, then, particularly in present-day Israel, since it teaches something about resistance to neo-liberalism and homophobia, and about the possibility of LGBT politics based on solidarity of resistance to oppression.