A new book by a former Huddersfield University lecturer has revived memories of the miners’ strike. GRANVILLE WILLIAMS has edited Shafted: The Media, The Miners’ Strike and The Aftermath. It is a collection of reminiscences, good and bad, about the infamous dispute. Here he looks at the role of women in the dispute.
THE bitter miners’ strike was very much a family affair.
The thousands of working men who went on to the picket lines were staunchly backed by their wives and girlfriends.
And in many mining areas, the women formed solid support groups to back the miners in their struggle against the bosses.
Retired Huddersfield lecturer Granville Williams, who has edited a new book about the strike, has collected tales from some of the women involved.
Here is Heather Wood’s story:
Heather Wood was the driving force behind Save Easington Area Mines (SEAM) and the women’s support group associated with it, and is a widely respected organiser and thinker in the area.
“If she came to my door,” she told me, talking of Mrs Thatcher, “I’d be strong. I’d speak my mind. She’d never know how broken I was. Afterwards I thought, I’d be exhausted.”
Heather was talking about what Thatcher’s defeat of the miners’ strike had done to her, to her health and to her spirit. She’d been politically active long before the strike, not so much in the Labour Party as in the community. With foresight, she and her husband and others had set up SEAM a year before the strike. Soon after the strike began, many of the women in Easington District got together: “200 of us met in the council chamber.”
It was not the first time women had come together to take action in Easington. Heather was aware of something of a tradition.
She even remembers as a child in the 60s how, “the women poured on to the streets with their prams to occupy the streets and stop the traffic to get baths in the colliery houses.” And they won.
The struggle in 1984-85 was of a different order. Heather felt this harshly – though she has no regrets: “I have everything I’d got, and when we lost I felt if we couldn’t win then, when could we?” She was exhausted in every way. Totally drained.
“I felt I’d become owned by the public...” She describes visiting her doctor: “He said that if I was in my coffin in the corner and someone asked me to help them I would say “Yes” and he was probably right.”
It was not just her health that was broken, it was her spirit too. Behind this was a perception that it wasn’t just that Thatcher had defeated the miners’ strike, it was also that her values, her credo that “there is no such thing as society” had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“By her defeat of the one social group who had stood up to her she’d succeeded in creating “a society in which individualism, everyone for themselves, became normal.” For Heather it was the defeat of everything she believed in and held dear.
For someone whose spirit was broken however, and whose health has been declining Heather Wood’s life has been remarkable. “I made myself keep going.”
For eight years she was the youngest one of the few women councillors on Durham County Council, with responsibilities for education and social services.
She was “very outspoken which did not go down well at all.” Then in 1993 she got a full-time job as a probation service officer. “I thought that was the best way I could do something to right the wrongs that had been done to people.”
She worked with young offenders, trying to show them that there was another way. “I was challenging, showing how their behaviour hurt others, but showing them they were not alone; maintaining the punitive side but helping them unravel their predicaments.”
Shafted: The Media, The Miners’ Strike and The Aftermath is published by Campaign For Press and Broadcasting Freedom, priced at £9.99. To order copies visit www.cpbf.org.uk/shafted