Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We Are Women, We Are Strong

This was the logo of Women Against Pit Closures during the 1984-5 Miners Strike. It is in the colours of the Suffragettes.

To mark the 25th Anniversary of the Miners Strike, Barbara Jackson addressed a packed meeting of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group on Sunday to outline both the nature of the strike and her and her colleagues' roles within it. Not only did she work with Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures, but she was also on strike herself with others who were members of the Unions' White Collar Section, COSA. They were employed at the NCBs Regional Administrative Office at Queen Street in Sheffield and picketed the site (see below).

The title of her talk was "We are Women, We are Strong" which was the anthem of Women Against Pit Closures. Here are the words -

We are women, we are strong
We are fighting for our lives,
side by side with the men
who work the nation's mines.
United by the struggle,
United by the past.. and it's
Here we go, here we go
For the women of the working class.

Don't need government approval
for everything we do,
We don't need their permission
to have a point of view.
Don't need anyone to tell us what to think
or what to say
We've strength enough and wisdom of our
own to go our own way.

They talk about statistics, about the
price of coal; the cost is the communities,
dying on the dole.
In fighting for our future, we find ways to organise;
Where women's liberation failed to move,
this strike has mobilised.

Ours is a unity that threats could never
breach; ours an education
that books could never teach.
We face the taunts and violence of Maggie's
thugs in blue;
When you're fighting for survival, you've got
nothing, nothing left to lose.

Barbara (left) pointed out that the NUM had to struggle against the full power of the State. The Thatcher Government prepared its ground by building up coal stocks, having already picked off the Print Unions and the Steelworkers in conditions of mass unemployment. Under what was known as the "Ridley Plan" it had introduced a set of anti-trade union laws, which it went on to use to the full against the Miners.

Whilst the NUM had imposed an overtime ban to counter the building up of coal stocks, during the strike 11 people were killed including 3 miners and numbers of young people mainly picking coal, 11,312 were arrested, 7,000 injured, 5,600 placed on trial, 200 imprisoned and 960 sacked.

The full power of the State was used against the Miners by a Conservative Government who resented the Miners Victory in the 1973 strike which led to the defeat of the Heath Government in the subsequent General Election. They turned Police Forces into a centrally controlled operation; whilst Power Stations were taken out of mothballs, Gas from the North Sea was squandered and Nuclear Power was used to the full.

The ability of the Miners to hold out for so long was a result of their own determination and their communal strength, supported by the international trade union movement in nations such as Australia, Russia and France.

This source explains something of Barbara's role in the strike, stating -
"She had a white collar job at the National Coal Board offices on Queen Street near Sheffield Cathedral. Although she had no family mining connections, Barbara felt so strongly about the Miners Strike that she was one of a handful of women who went on strike for the whole year. Nine people from her office picketed the National Coal Board building for the duration of the year-long strike, and Barbara quit work there within 24 hours of the strike ending in March 1985. Barbara had one teenage daughter at the time of the Strike. She is now retired and lives near Graves Park in Sheffield."

In Barbara's own words - "We welcomed all women and supported 30 support groups throughout South Yorkshire, we met weekly from May 84 to 87 when we closed the group at the point where we had our book published "We are Women , We are Strong" about our experiences during the strike. We raised hundreds of pounds through collections, jumble sales, benefit concerts, selling tee shirts, badges, Christmas cards, calendars. We talked to groups all over South Yorkshire, Belfast, Manchester and Germany. We picketed at the local pits with local women and tried to support other workers in dispute as well as the Greenham Common Women. We regarded ourselves as supporting the miners and their families but equally importantly making the political arguments and links about state power in all its forms. We were proud that South Yorkshire women and children were invited to the Soviet Union by the Soviet miners in the spring of 85 for a 5 week holiday in Moscow and the Black Sea coast."

Amongst the efforts Women Against Pit Closures undertook locally was the support they gave to Miners taken before the Sheffield Magistrates Court. When the strike was over, the Miners marched back to work behind their Colliery Bands and NUM Banners. But this wasn't an option at the Queen Street Office. Barbara decided not to return to work and was instead accepted as a Mature Student onto a Degree Course although she lacked the paper qualifications. As with many of the women who supported the strike her experiences were positive and life changing. A sentiment that came to be expressed by many Miners themselves.

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