Bernadette Hyland’s purpose in presenting nine short biographies of radical northern women is to celebrate the struggles and achievements of political activists who might otherwise be overlooked but who “follow in the footsteps of many working class men and women who changed the history of this country”.
She hopes that young women drawn into political activity today will be inspired to get involved in campaigns, so each “conversation” ends with a link to a relevant organisation.
There is also a selection of Hyland’s articles written between 1988 and 2014.
The interviews are inspiring. Many of the women describe important events that shaped their thinking and political involvement.
Betty Tebbs, born in 1918, was horrified by Hiroshima and is still campaigning against nuclear weapons. She was arrested at the age of 89 for blocking the road at Faslane.
Linda Clair, from a Jewish and communist family, joined a delegation to Palestine in 1986. “I came home a different person”, she says, and became the backbone of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Manchester.
Mandy Vere is from a Quaker and socialist family. She attended a Quaker work camp in Belfast at the height of the struggle against the British and joined the campaign calling for withdrawal from Northern Ireland. She has had a lifelong role at Liverpool’s radical bookshop, News from Nowhere.
Many of the women became political at a young age and had to challenge the views of their families. Karen Reissman was active in the National Union of School Students at 16 and her parents “worried about me being political and that it would lead me into trouble”.
In 2007 Karen was sacked for speaking out against NHS cuts and privatisation. Over 700 workers went on strike in her defence and she is still fighting to save the NHS.
Alice Nutter’s dad was a Tory councillor, but with the advent of punk, and the help of a radical bookshop in Manchester, she found a new way of living. With her friends she founded the band Chumbawamba and is now a scriptwriter.
Her recent series The Mill, about life and politics in 1840, showed the continuity of struggle today as workers still build and defend their unions.
Claire Mooney’s parents “weren’t really political” but had a strong sense of social justice and this imbues her radical song-writing today. She says Thatcher coming to power “pushed me into politics”. She discusses the hurdles facing professional but committed musicians today.
The booklet shows how varied women’s lives can be. Some had to fight for an education, and many benefitted from the post-war boom and expansion in opportunities for women. Most have had to juggle their activism with parenting.
Great events and movements have influenced these women’s lives and all decided to throw themselves into creating a better world.
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