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.