Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2895

How the Miners’ Strike changed women’s lives

A new book, Women and the Miners’ Strike by Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite and Natalie Thomlinson, looks at women’s experiences
Issue 2895
A picture of women on the march during the Miners' Strike

Men and women fought together in the Miners’ Strike (Picture: John Sturrock, Socialist Worker’s photographer at the time)

Women played a big role in the strike, and a new book details their experiences. Women and the Miners’ Strike by Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite and Natalie Thomlinson says for some women “standing ‘by’ or ‘behind’ one’s man” was a strong reason for supporting the strike. For others it was a matter of “political principle”.

But some women also supported their husbands working and were against the strike. Women’s mixed feelings were the “messy reality” in the early days of the strike and as it dragged on.

Women’s groups supporting the strike grew out of existing political groups, or were set up by miners’ wives who were angry at the media’s portrayal of women as anti-strike.

Janie Robertson from Stirling remembered that her group “kept us sane”. And getting involved “gave many women a sense of agency”.

A protest on 12 May in Barnsley saw up to 12,000 women from support groups on a march. Janet Slater from Nottinghamshire said, “There was definitely a feeling of pride. To get among people where you’re all of the same thought was really uplifting.”

The success of the march saw the movement expand and the NUM union sensed its usefulness despite some branches being against women’s action. NUM president Arthur Scargill and women from the movement set up the National Women Against Pit Closures (NWAPC).

A women’s rally in London on 11 August was its first major national public event, with over 20,000 people. Some women also picketed during the strike. One of them, Linda, said, “It was scary but it was good. Standing up for what you think is right.” This led to debate among miners about whether women belonged on the pickets.

Another woman, K, said she felt like a “different person” on the pickets because the normal rules for women were rewritten or temporarily forgotten. The cops were just as brutal to women as they were to men. Aggie in Nottinghamshire said the police “don’t give a shit whether you be male or female”.

The aid provided by women’s groups alongside help from family, friends and local small firms was crucial. Between July 1984 and September 1985 NWAPC raised over £710,000. In the run-up to Christmas, the Mining Families Christmas Appeal, instigated by NWAPC, brought in nearly £400,000.

But winter was bitter. Poppy remembers in her house “all of a sudden there was no fences, there was no bannisters, various doors would go missing” to heat the home. Norma Dolby recorded that by December, “Gone was the feeling of togetherness. Arkwright Town was now a village with a big black cloud over it.”

The activism and new networks disappeared in the aftermath of the strike and most groups folded, with women focussing on getting “back to normal” than on continuing their political work.

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