Head in the Clouds is a 2004 Canadian–British war drama film written and directed by John Duigan. The original screenplay focuses on the choices young lovers must make as they find themselves surrounded by increasing political unrest in late-1930s Europe.
There’s a very informative scene in the movie where Penélope Cruz’s (the famous Spanish actress) character in the movie, suddenly says she has to go back to Spain because of the Asturias miners’ ferment which involves her family directly. “The Asturian miners’ strike of 1934 was a major strike action, against the entry of the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA) into the Spanish government on October 6, which took place in Asturias in northern Spain, that developed into a revolutionary uprising. It was crushed by the Spanish Navy and the Spanish Republican Army, the latter using mainly Moorish colonial troops from Spanish Morocco.
Francisco Franco controlled the movement of the troops, aircraft, warships and armoured trains used in the crushing of the revolution. While the insurrection was brief, historian Gabriel Jackson observed “In point of fact, every form of fanaticism and cruelty which was to characterise the Civil War occurred during the October revolution and its aftermath: utopian revolution marred by sporadic red terror; systematically bloody repression by the ‘forces of order’; confusion and demoralisation of the moderate left; fanatical vengefulness on the part of the right.”
The revolt has been regarded as “the first battle of” or “the prelude to” the Spanish Civil War.
Notice that miners have often been in the vanguard of radical labor unrest. This includes Thatcher’s England.
Remember the violent strikes in the Thatcher years and the Thatcher/Scargill feud: “Arthur Scargill (born 11 January 1938) is a British trade unionist. He was President of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) from 1982 to 2002. Joining the NUM at the age of nineteen in 1957, he became one of its leading activists in the late 1960s. He led an unofficial strike in 1969, and played a key organizing role during the strikes of 1972 and 1974, the latter of which helped in the downfall of Edward Heath’s Conservative government. His views are described as Marxist.
“A decade later, he led the union through the 1984–85 miners’ strike, a major event in the history of the British labour movement. It turned into a fierce confrontation with the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in which the miners’ union was defeated. A former Labour Party member, he is now the party leader of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP), which he founded in 1996.” (from Wikipedia)
Remember too, the Ludlow Massacre: “The Ludlow Massacre was a domestic massacre resulting from strike-breaking. The Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel and Iron Company guards attacked a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families in Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914, with the National Guard using machine guns to fire into the colony. Approximately 21 people, including miners’ wives and children, were killed. The chief owner of the mine, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was widely excoriated for having orchestrated the massacre.
“The massacre, the seminal event of the Colorado Coal Wars, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 21 people; accounts vary. Ludlow was the deadliest single incident in the southern Colorado Coal Strike, which lasted from September 1913 to December 1914. The strike was organized by the miners against coal mining companies in Colorado. The three largest companies involved were Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, owned by the powerful Rockefeller family; Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, and Victor-American Fuel Company.” (from Wikipedia)
The movie Matewan gives a glimpse of the Battle of Matewan (also known as the Matewan massacre) which was a shootout in the town of Matewan in Mingo County and the Pocahontas Coalfield mining district, in southern West Virginia. It occurred on May 19, 1920 between local coal miners and the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency.
Lastly, the movie Confidential Agent, based on Graham Greene’s writings, is a story about various participants in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) trying to convince British coal-miners and coal-mining companies to stop selling coal to the Franco royalists who will use the coal to work metal into gun and planes and steel for the military.
One has in a sense come full circle since 2012 to see a renewed Asturias, Spain, miners revolt and ferment: “The 2012 Asturian miners’ strike was an industrial dispute involving more than 8,000 coal miners in the Spanish autonomous community of Asturias.”
The geographer David Featherstone has described the strike as “one of the most dramatic forms of anti-austerity protest to emerge in the wake of the crisis of 2007–2008.”
The tremendous tensions between haves and have-nots in Europe before WWII, is also alluded to in the movie Julia. “Julia is a 1977 American Holocaust drama film directed by Fred Zinnemann, from a screenplay by Alvin Sargent. It is based on a chapter from Lillian Hellman’s book Pentimento about the author’s relationship with a lifelong friend, ‘Julia,’ who fought against the Nazis in the years prior to World War II.”
In Julia, Vanessa Redgrave’s character tells Jane Fonda’s: “There’s a lot of interesting progressive experimentation going on in Floridsdorf.” This scene goes unnoticed by the average movie viewer but is very informative since Floridsdorf was a section of Vienna that was trying all kinds of progressive communal social forms in the thirties, all of which, like the Asturias miners’ ferment in Spain, was crushed by right wing violence.
In other words, one can get a sense of Europe “seething” with left-right tensions before WWII, with the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939 as a kind of “overture” to all of it.
The current turmoil in Spain over the removal of Franco (died in 1975) remains to a less monumental site is tied up with all these fights of yesteryear and all the violent atrocities that accompanied the suppression of all progressive movements under the all-purpose “rubric” of anti-Communism.