Women and Resistance – The Miners’ Strike 84/85

The In Defence of Youth Work campaign, of which I was the coordinator has just hosted a Zoom Seminar on Resistance. My dear friend, Sue Atkins opened the event with a tour de force on the 3R’s – Resistance, Rebellion and Revolution. to be found on the IDYW web site. Other contributions will appear in the next few weeks. All of these in different ways pose the question of how we resist the closing down of alternative, dissenting voices in reactionary circumstances.

By coincidence I discovered belatedly the other day an on-line version of the special exhibition, ‘Women in the Miners Strike 1984/85′ which is being hosted in the National Coal Mining Museum. It contains an essay on the significance of women in the Great Strike, photos and a video.

Download the exhibition essay here

By twist of fate Marilyn and I found ourselves involved closely with the women of the Derbyshire coalfield. Part way through the strike we had moved from Leicestershire where we had been members of the ‘Dirty Thirty’ Miners Support Group to Chesterfield. Marilyn was caught off guard, not being a miner’s spouse, by the invitation to join the Chesterfield Women’s Action group. The women decided her heart was in the right place and ‘with her being a clever lass who could type’, she became the Minutes Secretary. It’s a matter of great historical and political regret that the tapes of the meetings she kept were lost.

Women from North-East Derbyshire prior to a sponsored run

As for my part I took up the job of Community Education Officer for the district, which contained, amongst others, the Bolsover and Shirebrook collieries. Going to work on my patch meant running the gauntlet of police harassment. In Shirebrook itself the old primary school had been converted into the food distribution centre, housing the supplies brought in solidarity from near and far. At the end of the strike such had been the immense contribution of the women – organising the canteens, ‘womanning’ the picket lines and speaking eloquently from the platforms, here, there and everywhere – the school was transformed into the Shirebrook Women’s Centre, offering a creche run by qualified staff and a diverse programme of workshops and activities. I was proud to have my office tucked away on the first floor and privileged to be swept away in the energy of the first few years.

On our way in solidarity round the now silent colleries

Inevitably as the neoliberal project to undermine traditions of solidarity and community deepened its hold on society even this partial gain was to disappear, all the more so as employment prospects in the coalfield communities dwindled.

Where is this perhaps romantic nostalgia leading? For now it renders me obliged to visit afresh the legacy of neoliberalism’s ideology of self-centred individualism and to explore whether we are in transition to a form of technocratic capitalism, an anti-democratic rule by experts. In doing so the crucial question is to ponder how we resist collectively the conscious closing down by the powerful of our relationships with each other in the personal, social and political sphere? To be melodramatic how do we fight back against an assault on our very humanity?

Whether I write anything of use is quite another matter but I’ll give it a go.

In the meantime the women and men of the Strike remain an inspiration as does the very best of a youth work practice that knows it does not know what is best.

Thanks to Dave Dronfield for the photos.

One thought on “Women and Resistance – The Miners’ Strike 84/85

  1. Phil Scraton

    I can’t help noticing the ‘perhaps’ that precedes ‘romantic nostalgia’, Tony. Your reflections and both (Marilyn and yourself) your contributions at the time were not only vital in the struggle but reinforced the solidarity that many of us from non-mining families attempted to assert. As a then young-in-career academic from a dockers/ seafarers/ shop assistants/ ‘in-service’ family it was clear what I should be focusing on in my political-economy classes by day and where we should be speaking by night. We covered miles and spoke a million words drawing parallels between how Thatcherism had attempted to isolate and police Black communities, escalated the Conflict in the North of Ireland and set its sights on pit communities. It was ‘suggested’ that the campaign stickers on my study door be removed, that my teaching programme be changed to ‘ensure a more balanced approach’ to ‘contextualising’ the inner-city uprisings and the coal dispute and that any attempt to use one of the institution’s minibuses to transport students to evening meetings at which I was speaking would result in disciplinary action. That was a red rag to a socialist! In 1985 I published The State of the Police (Pluto) and two years later edited the collection ‘Law, Order and the Authoritarian State’. Of course, the prominent names within South Yorkshire front-line policing re-emerged in 1989 at Hillsborough and after. I am reflecting on my modest contribution neither to project myself nor as an act of self-congratulation but in response to your closing questions. As you state, eloquent as ever, the continuing struggle is to resist the diverse, intense multi -pronged ‘assault on our very humanity’. Yes, the legacy of those struggles is that we must persist at every opportunity to reaffirm and regenerate the personal-social-political triptych. To be optimistic – both in intellect and spirit – I witness that here, in Belfast and Derry, among young people. And it is rising throughout communities internationally. I’ll pause there … to draw breath. In solidarity, as ever, Phil.x

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