international women’s day – silver jubilee

25 years ago the miners’ strike ended. the women of the pit communities stood in the front line.

there was no ‘typical’ way in which women were involved – some supported the strike in ways that would be seen as traditionally ‘women’s work’, soup kitchens, looking after each other’s children. others went from providing part of the family’s income to being the sole bread-winner. some found a whole new thread of political activism in their lives, others simply continued the political work they were doing already. some kept on this new direction after the strike, others just tried to get back to normal.

but they didn’t just stand shoulder to shoulder in support of the men; they took a lead. many picketed – on one picket line they danced a conga; they agitated, they travelled, they spoke. they were ambassadors for their communities – communities of both men and women. i met one group of pit women from nottinghamshire and they were startling, direct and open. and ordinary. they spoke from their own experience and from the heart. some were (they said) lacking in formal education or political experience, others quite the opposite. all told their story straight and true, just the way they lived it.

and when the strikers were finally defeated, they marched back to the pits with their families, heads held high under the banners, to an industry that was already dying.

what did they take from that defeat? not a new courage; ask anyone from those communities and you will know that for centuries courage has run through them all like a river. without courage, you couldn’t wait at the pithead to learn how many of your family have been crushed beneath the rock. without courage, you couldn’t take your son’s broken body, wash it and dress it one last time before you send him back underground for ever. without courage, you couldn’t watch a man cough away the last of his strength to pneumoconiosis.

the women of the strike endured 12 months of poverty, being mocked, demonised, patronised in a situation that was not of their choosing. and they walked out the other side, heads held high. meeting them i learned about … well, what? keeping on, surviving when your world turns upside down or just … getting on with stuff. it takes strength, the strength women must be using across the planet every day to get to the end of that day. whether they are helping others survive violence, educating people about unfairness, banging their heads on the glass ceiling or smashing through it or nothing so dramatic, just … getting on with stuff. getting through to the other end of the day with heads held high.

here’s to a day celebrating the strength to get on with stuff.


18 responses to “international women’s day – silver jubilee

  1. Fantastic article. I’ve heard so much about the role women played in the miner’s strike, and heard from people involved how they looked at issues of equality in a totally new way after that. It is nice, on the hundredth anniversary of IWD to have something said about it – it’s something I missed out on.

  2. that’s a very kind response – i have to say that my own view at the time without the benefit of distance was the unsophisticated ‘oh look at all these mining women having their lives changed’.
    it may be down to a combination of my male privilege and the romantic view of someone 2 generations removed from the miners in my own family – my mother for instance had a very different view.
    a study i found interesting after all these years is by jean spence and carol stephenson at:
    (i have included this link without contact with or permission from the authors or the site itself – if they have a problem with this i will happily apologise and remove it). it takes a more rounded view of it all.

    for us, just working to support the strikers, their families and communities, there was no such rounded view, just the chaotic energy of what really felt like a war in which we were fringe participants. but on any view, i found those nottinghamshire women powerful and inspiring. ironic of course that (as was the case in past disputes), the notts coalfield was one of those where opinions were most divided on the strike. i always remember a line from ‘close the coalhouse door’ (sid chaplin, alan plater and alex glasgow’s play about pitmen) when they are discussing the miners’ staying out months after the end of the general strike of ’26, someone adds bitterly: ‘nottinghamshire and derbyshire went back – the bastards!’.

    thanks for visiting, dave – i enjoyed my trip to ‘though cowards flinch’; i will add you to the bogroll if you don’t mind. get ready for the traffic, as both my readers flock over there! (‘both’ may be an exaggeration, just so you don’t get too excited).

  3. Excellent piece, Simply. But no mention of the role played by Thatcher. Then, as now, there seems little doubt that the dispute was inspired, if not engineered, out of her desire for revenge for what the miners did to to Heath. I venture that no male politician of Thatcher’s generation, a generation directly or indirectly blighted by WW2, would have displayed Thatcher’s tendencies.

  4. cheers bb –
    i didn’t mention thatch because:

    a) i always bang on about her;
    b) i try to keep the air clear round here – it’s a place for us, not them;
    c) i wanted to celebrate the impact on my life of those pit women.

  5. Well yes SW, but most working class women also had/have wages jobs as well (as all the unpaid important stuff). It was only once you’d made it into the lower middle classes you could give up *work*.

  6. Thatcher just hated unapologetically working class people BTW, she didn’t need an excuse. We see her heirs everywhere. Currently dealing with a couple…..fingers crossed.

  7. i always thought thatch was an equal opportunity hater. anyone not like her was fair game. not like my shiny mate dave. must have a beer with him again and see what he’s up to…

  8. Dave just despises those who’ve never heard of the Boden catalogue. Ooh did you see his ‘casual’ outfit BTW? Got terribly criticised in the Male. Personally I think the shoes didn’t go. Oh and the rest was a bit too neatly fitting. Clearly he needs me as a stylist instead of Sam.

  9. ‘neatly fitting’ is that a euphemism for the kind of cut intended to make clear he is penis-possessor and therefore should be in charge?

    i saw all the papers (even the male) saying poll results show everyone hates all the parties and the gap had narrowed – and then there was the express telling us that sam cam is blooming and the tories are increasing their lead…

    and on the chancellorial debate, ben brogan in the torygraph had the balls to put under the figures of 38% for cable and 32 each for darling/osbore that osbore had won because he didn’t do any smug grins or sound squeaky! ah yes, the real criteria for victory. here was us thinking it was about how many people vote for you. silly, silly us!

    and you will be happy to see the tories out in force on the guardian comments. one commenter just tells them to fuck off back to the daily male so perhaps there are three of us still sane on the planet. it’s gonna be a long looooong election campaign. just focus on sam cam; lovely, lovely sam cam……

  10. those are poll results not poll(y) results, natch!

  11. and not prole results – heaven forfend!!

  12. Torygraph readers do not seem convinced of Sam’s loveliness though….

    They were being v rude about Osborne on five live when I listened. He should be in a powdered wig really, like that other bloke they used to have. Where do they get these restoration comedians?

  13. ‘He should be in a powdered wig really, like that other bloke they used to have.’

    who? pitt the younger?…

  14. oh polls, that torygraph article and the comments are a study in car-crash-awful fascination! it wastes no time in getting down to what this is all about:

    ‘What red-blooded feminist is not going to be secretly giving in to the little green-eyed monster when she looks at the photographic exposé of the Tory leader’s wife? ‘

    a message to feminists! how foolish of me not to realise. so that’s why you linked to it, polls…

  15. Nah Letwin. Face straight out of a restoration comedy. Remember Rory Bremner’s rendering of him? He could just dig out the same thing for Osborne.

  16. I can imagine though:

    I have no principles
    I have no manifesto
    I have no following
    But I do have a very pretty wife.
    Vote For Me!

    Actually ending up on a poster of Dave. I thought it was rather astute. As were the comments remarking on Sam’s somewhat marked resemblance to a horse.

  17. And of course I’m jealous. I want a beehive hairdo and a massive mouth and to lie on the floor holding a kitten. (ok maybe just the last one really, I like kittens).

  18. couldn’t afford the material for a whole skirt though…

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