Shifting Horizons by Lynn Beaton
Among those who had returned to work was Pip’s best friend. Howard. Pip and Howard had worked side by side for fifteen years, electricians and fitters always work in pairs and Pip and Howard had been a pair all that time. They had worked really well together as a team, and through that, the two families had become very close. For the six years I'd been living in Blidworth, Howard and his wife Marilyn had been our best friends. The two families had been on holidays nearly every year together. When we first moved into this house and I was seven months pregnant Howard and Marilyn came and helped us scrub the house out and move in. Whenever they had problems with their marriage, they would come and talk to Pip and I and we would do the same. Pip and Howard went on strike together and all through the early months we discussed things with each other. Howard taught me quite a lot about socialism and communism.
But Marilyn had never been in favour of the strike. They had moved to a big posh house in Rainworth a couple of years before and so they had a lot of debt. Howard had been working lots of overtime to pay for everything, their house had everything you could want in it and they had a car each. So since the strike started Howard had a lot of financial pressures and things between him and Marilyn got really bad because she wanted him to go back to work.
Six weeks before the Deputies talked about coming out Howard had said he was thinking of going back. We had a number of long talks about things and he decided to give it another month. Then he decided to wait and see what the Deputies would do.
On the first Monday that the men went back there was a National Delegates Conference in Sheffield. Pip and a lot of the other men went up to lobby it Everybody wanted to make it clear that we were still solidly behind the strike. Howard went in on the afternoon shift. The next day Pip went up and talked to Howard as he was going in. They talked until Howard was nearly crying, but he still went in. Pip was heart broken, he came back to the Centre looking sick, and he couldn’t talk about it he was so hurt. That night Pip was as miserable as a dog. He knew this would mean an end to his long and close friendship with Howard and he hated the thought of ever going back to work and having to work with someone else. Pip and Howard had worked together for so long and made a team that everybody in the pit respected and admired. I said I was going up the next day to try to talk to him, Pip didn’t want me to go. He thought I'd just lose my temper, but I was determined to go.
When I got up to the Centre that morning I told Dennis Browne that I wanted to stand with the Official Pickets and talk to Howard. He was all in favour of it, he said,
‘It might do some good, Howard’s a good lad, I can’t understand what he’s doing.’
‘Pip doesn’t want me to go. He thinks I'll just lose my temper, but I won’t, I don’t want to do that, I just want to talk to him and see for myself if I can change his mind.’
The last two days Howard had gone in one of the side gates, a gate they call the chicken run, he'd never gone in the chicken run before, it was as if he was trying to hide. It was pouring with rain and I stood at the chicken run with Dennis and the assistant picket manager , Pete Savage. There were three of us there and two cops and I thought the cops might send me away so I said to Pete,
‘If they move one of us will you go?’
I even had it in my mind to say I was a cleaner at the pit if the coppers asked me if I was an NUM member. But because of the pouring rain, the coppers left that gate saying,
‘You three will look after this gate won’t you.’
So I stood at the gate to the chicken run in the pouring rain waiting for Howard to arrive. Marilyn dropped him off about two hundred yards down the road. He walked towards us, his head down. He was going to walk right past me but I said,
‘Howard, you're not going to walk by me are you?’
He said , ‘I've got nought to say.’
‘Well, I have.’ I said, ‘What do you think you're doing?’
‘I'm doing what I've got to do.’
‘What, crossing picket line?’
‘I've got no choice.’
‘Course you've got a choice, you come back with me now, back into the Centre.’
All the time he looked down at the ground, He wouldn’t look me in the face. I said,
‘I've never ever stood here before in the pouring rain to talk to anybody, but I'm doing it this morning for you. I've never asked anybody to come back to Centre wi’ me that had betrayed us, but I'm asking you, I'm not asking, I'm begging you, turn around and come back now to the Centre for your dinner and come to Sheffield with us to see Arthur Scargill.’
‘I can’t, I've got to go.’
‘Have I got to call you a scabbin’ bastard like I do them down there?’
‘It looks like it.’
‘Because that’s what you are, your worse than them that’s been going every shift.’ He almost looked up at me but not quite, I continued. ‘Do you realise what you're doing to me and Pip let alone ,your own Dad? Do you know what your Dad says to me last week?’ He says he’s got two lads, one’s a scab and ones on strike and he’s really proud of the one that’s on strike. Did you know that your Dad aid that?’
‘No.’ He could hardly open his mouth to say anything.
‘Well I can assure you he did, you're breaking his heart and you're ,breaking my heart and you're breaking Pip’s heart, you're betray ing everybody.’
He didn’t say anything, he just stood there looking ill.
I said, ‘All I've done through this Strike and you've sat and talked to to me about it in beginning and now you're betraying everything that I've done.’
‘I can’t help it, I've got to go and sort myself out.’
‘You don’t have to sort yourself out down there, you can come and ‘sort yourself out with us.’
He looked up at me and said, ‘I've got no mates down there, they're bastards the lot on ’em.’
‘Howard, you've got no mates up here, not now, but you can have. Do you know what this has done to Pip, he’s been your best mate or years and years, do you know what you've done to him?’
He looked as if he was just about to cry. Then he looked down at the ground again and said, ‘Yeah, I know what I've done to him.
I seen him, other day on here.’
‘Yes, but you've not seen him in house Howard, you don’t know what you've done to him. Neither of us had any sleep last night we're both so upset. What are you going to do when we've won and Pip comes back to work, he'll not be your mate you know, you've got to work on your own from now on.’
‘That’s up to him.’
‘It’s not up to him, it’s up to you.’
‘I can’t help it, it’s not him that has to live with this, it’s me who’s got to live with it.’
‘Yeah, if you keep walking, you've got to live with it, but you're betraying everything. Where’s your principles? What about Ken Petney, he’s got three kids, but he can’t go back.’
He just said, ‘That’s not my fault.’
‘Howard, where’s your principles? What’s the first rule of a trade unionist? You're breaking it, you've been a trade unionist all your working life and now you're breaking the first rule.’
He just shrugged his shoulders, ‘Doreen,’ he said, ‘I can’t do anything about it, I've got to go. Do you think it isn’t making me badly?’
‘I know it’s making you badly, but don’t do it. What’s two months mortgage, we're on the verge of winning, so what’s two months mortgage compared to what we're gonna get? What are we gonna get next year, what are you gonna do when they close this pit? It’s gonna be one of the first to go you know.’
‘I'll have to bury my head, same as them scabbing bastards that’s going down.’
‘Howard, you're a scabbing bastard and I'm telling you straight, you go across here today and you're a scabbing bastard. I'm telling you that.’
He started to walk away, I said
‘That’s it then, Howard, I'm done.’
As we walked back to the Centre I started to cry. Dennis said, ‘Don’t let it upset you duck, you did best thing you could've done, you didn’t lose your temper, you said what you wanted and he’s got to think about everything you said. He’s had more than anybody else’s had, he’s had an invitation back to the Centre.’
All that day I couldn’t get it off my mind, I kept thinking and re-thinking the conversation and wondering what I could have said that might have changed his mind. But in the end I knew I'd done all ,’.I could. I hadn’t lost my temper and Howard knows as well as anyone What a temper I can have. Once, when we were laying carpet I went for him with a Stanley knife. We had an argument about something land he made me so mad that I just went for him with the knife I had in my hand and he flew out of the house. I knew that he’ must know how deep my hurt went because I didn’t lose my temper, and A knew Howard well enough to know that he'd take what I'd said to heart and think about it. I kept remembering all the things we'd talked about since the strike started and about the night at the Youth ,Club we'd all spent in the kitchen. Howard was there then and there as this big joke because Howard and I knew each other so well that ,we'd snuggled up to keep each other warm just like a brother and sister.
When I got back to the Centre, Mick Taylor came in with his wife who'd never been in before. Mick was a close friend of Howard’s and Pip’s and I knew that Howard had visited him both nights after he'd finished his shift. Mick had said that Howard was sick with worry about what he'd done and could hardly bear to live with himself. But Mick had also been talking about going back to work. Mick was a cat joker and at first it was hard to know whether he was joking or not, he kept saying,
‘I'll be back by Christmas an’ all, I can’t manage any more, the need a good Christmas.’
‘He'd said it so many times that in the end I'd said to him,
‘If you don’t stop talking like that Mick you can get out of here not come back, we're not slaving to look after anyone who’s going back to work.’
The approach of Christmas was making it hard for us all, none us wanted to see our kids go without so it was a pressure we were all feeling. We had all talked to our kids, telling them that they would have to wait for their presents until their Dads went back to work. They'd all understood, but it was still hard for us to feel that we were making them go without. It had seemed for a while that we would be looking toward a very bleak Christmas, but suddenly there seemed to be lots of talk from supporters of the strike saying that everybody would make sure that the Miners had a good Christmas. I'd already been given quite a lot of things for the kids from supporters and we'd been gradually buying bits and pieces for Christmas Day. I'd been approached by two of the organisations that supported us asking if they could buy Christmas presents for all the kids, and asking what sort of food we wanted for our Christmas dinner. We'd decided to have Christmas dinner all together in the Centre and then to have a party there on Boxing Day as well. We all felt that whatever it was going to be like we'd share it with each other. And we were just beginning to think that perhaps Christmas wouldn’t be so bad after all. We were all fairly sure that we'd still be on strike, there was no longer any hope of a quick settlement.
When Mick and his wife walked into the Centre, I knew something was up, I looked at Mick’s wife, Elaine who I'd met a few times and said,
‘Hey up duck, what you doing here?’
She looked really miserable and bit shy, I said,
‘What’s the matter, duck?’
She said, ‘Oh, I'm just a bit low.’
‘Well, what’s making you low?’ I said and she started to cry.
Mick said, ‘She’s been nagging me to go back to work.’
I took Elaine over to a quiet corner where we could be on our own. She had never been up to the Centre before. They lived at Rainworth and she had three kids the youngest was only about two so I knew it was probably hard for her to get in. I'd seen her at a couple of rallies and demonstrations with the little ’un in a push chair so I knew she was behind the strike. I said,
‘What’s up, are you worried about Christmas?’
She said, ‘Oh it’s partly that and also I'm sick of being on my own. Mick’s always up here and I see less of him than I do when he’s working. I just get very depressed about everything stuck at home on my own and I can’t see any end to it all. Debts are mounting up and I'm just not coping any more.’
‘There’s no need to feel like that you know. Why don’t you come up here and help us, we always need more people to help, there’s so much to do all the time?’
‘I can’t get here.’
‘You could come in with Mick in the mornings. Lots of women bring their little ’uns up, they all have a great time, you'd find it much easier than sitting at home on your own. You don’t want to ,see Mick like Howard do you? And that’s what he'd be like if he went back, could you live with him seeing him like that?’
‘No, I couldn’t, I don’t really want to make him go back that’s why I'm so low.’
‘How about You come up to my house with me now? I've got to make a couple of phone calls and I can show you what we've started get ready for Christmas, it’s beginning to look as if Christmas won’t ,be that bad after all.’
Back at my house, I showed her all the things we'd got for Christmas and talked about all the support we were getting. I rang Doug Shaw and he told me that they were raising money to buy chickens, hams and turkeys for our Christmas dinner and he asked me what vegetables we wanted. He said,
‘We won’t see you go without for Christmas. As a matter of fact, think I'll come and have my Christmas dinner with you if you'll invite me.’
I told him that of course he would be welcome and then I told Elaine at he had said. She was quite surprised, the thing is no-one knew at support we were getting unless they were involved. I think that lot of the men who just went picketing and then ate their dinners didn’t really understand what was going on. As far as they were concerned meals just miraculously turned up on the table every day. They didn’t understand that those dinners were there because thousands people outside of the mining communities were one hundred per-cent behind us and wanted to see us win. It made a difference to know that we weren’t on our own and that other people were depending our victory and prepared to back it with their money.
That night a lot of us were going to Sheffield to a rally which had been organised by the NUM Executive as a morale booster after the let-down we'd had by the Deputies. I knew Mick was coming and so I asked Elaine if she'd like to come too and also if she'd come up to the Centre the next day to help with the cooking.
She said, ‘Yeah, I feel guilty now, I had no idea there was this much involved, I'd be pleased to help.’
I knew it would be much better for Elaine to be up at the Centre helping us, even if she was just sitting with us making Christmas decorations. It would be better than sitting at home on her own letting all the problems get on top of her. I also asked her if she'd like to come up to London with me the next time I had a meeting there, she said she would.
When we got back to the Centre we said to Mick,
‘Elaine’s coming to Sheffield with us tonight.’
He said, ‘Oh good, we'd better organise a baby-sitter then.’
But Pip said to him, ‘Coach leaves here at 4.00, you'll never get a babysitter for that time.’
I said, ‘Right then Mick, how about you stay home for change and babysit so Elaine can come. It'll do her more good than it will you at the moment.’
Apparently her and Mick had had a fight that morning and he'd said to her, ‘Right get your coat on, you're coming up to the Centre with me and see how hard those women are working for yourself.’
It was the best thing he could have done. It’s a shame more of the men didn’t encourage their wives to come up. Elaine came up to the centre after that every day and became one of us. It was better for Mick too. it meant that he wasn’t divided about whether to spend his time at the Centre or at home with Elaine.
At about four o'clock we all started gathering at the Centre waiting for the coach to arrive to take us to Sheffield. The NUM had organised five rallies each night of that week in different parts of the country, and had arranged coaches to bring everybody in from the coalfields around the centres. At about half past a monstrous double decker coach arrived and as we all piled in, there were lots of jokes about how ‘posh’ it was and ‘riding in style.’
There weren’t a lot women going and four of us claimed the upstairs back seat, the others sat with their husbands. As the coach moved off it started to sway and when we looked down we felt very insecure, so far above the ground.
Betty started to talk about the coach overturning,
‘They do you know, I've heard they do quite easily when they build up a bit of speed. Ooh Doreen, I don’t like this.’
‘Shurrup Betty,’ I said, I was feeling as nervous as she was and didn’t want to be reminded of it.
‘It’s bad enough, just try and forget it.’
We laughed, laughter filled the coach, everybody was in high spirits. We'd been so low for so long and we were all looking forward to being part of the night’s events. Before any of us expected it we were in Sheffield. It was only six o'clock and the meeting wasn’t due to start until seven thirty. The hall wasn’t even open yet and so we decided to go and have a drink, one of the men asked one of the hundreds of coppers that were standing around where there was a pub. ‘Closed them tonight ’cause they knew you lot was coming to cause trouble.’
But he was lying, we found a pub but as soon as we'd ordered our drinks we all became impatient to get back to the steps of the hall ,to make sure we all got a good seat. They were expecting thousands And only the first five thousand could fit into the main hall. Everybody else was going to be seated in other halls and have the meeting relayed to them on closed circuit videos. So we rushed our drinks and hurried back to the steps of County Hall.
It’s a great big grey stone circular building and just standing on the steps was quite awe inspiring. On top of that it was very exciting to see coach after coach pull up and striking miners pouring out of each one. Some of the groups brought their banners with them. We had brought the Notts. banner and at first unrolled it and stood with it by the wall, but soon it was obvious that we would get crushed so we rolled it back up again and carried it with us. People were crowding in but the atmosphere was very bright, occasionally there were bursts of song and everybody talked to everybody else, we all knew we were there for the same reason so it was easy to be friendly. ,As we stood there, at the top of the steps, looking behind us at thousands of people all in the same situation we were in it suddenly struck me that we were the masses they always talk about. I swelled with a feeling of pride and in that moment saw more clearly than I'd ever seen before the strength of the masses. I said to the woman beside me,
‘We're the masses aren’t we?’
‘Yes, I suppose we are,’ she said.
When they finally opened the doors, they didn’t open the central door that we were all expecting to open. They opened side doors instead and so there was a great push from behind us. Everybody was scared that they would miss out on seats in the main hall. The pushing crowd would've been quite frightening but the solidarity we all felt was reassuring and we trusted each other.
We had Willie with us, he was a miner from Blidworth who'd been off on club for some time because he had tumours behind his eyes and was nearly blind. He was solidly behind the strike, he picketed every day and after dinner always cleared up the plates and took them out to the kitchen for the men washing the pots. We were nervous about him in the crowd because of his poor sight so the four of us surrounded him and all grabbed hold of him to make sure he didn’t get lost in the crowd. As we were all pushing to get into the hall everybody was singing ‘Here we Go’ and the noise was so loud that you felt as if you couldn’t hear anything. It was a bit disturbing, it was like being blind, we were just going forward because we were being pushed from behind.
Inside the hall the atmosphere was strong. There was lots of noise, people were taking banners up onto the stage and as each banner was displayed there was a great roar from the crowd.
Betty and I took the Notts. banner up which was greeted by cheers and thunderous clapping, we felt very proud. The cheering continued and there were more outbursts of singing and chanting, the sound echoed off the walls and sounded fantastic. As the people on the stage started to come on the cheering got louder and I began to think that we'd never hear anything at all but as soon as the Chairman got up to start speaking he only had to raise his hand a couple of times before everybody quietened down to hear.
He started off by welcoming everybody, he said,
‘Could I just open the meeting by welcoming the lads from Nottingham.’ There was a great cheer and I sang out, ‘And women.’
When the cheering died down he continued,
‘And the lads from Lancashire.’ There was more chanting. He went on and welcomed everybody from Yorkshire and then from Derbyshire and there were cheers everytime and everytime I sang out,
There were a number of speakers and we all listened carefully to what they had to say. A French trade unionist came and spoke in French which was translated for us. It seemed strange listening to someone talk to us in England in another language and some laughed, but when we heard the translation it brought tears to our eyes. He talked about the situation of the French miners and the struggles of workers all over the world and said,
‘To us in France the British Miners are the flagbearers of the struggle against policies of closures and deindustrialisation which have been decided by the Common Market Authorities and which are accepted and carried out by the Governments of both France and Britain.’
He finished up saying that the French unions would do everything to help us to victory and ended up saying, ‘And your victory will be ours too.’
His speech was followed by a round of ‘Here We Go’ and everybody cheered.
The Chairman introduced Betty Heathfield as the next speaker, she said that the women in this strike had taken the Union into new dimensions. Betty was the first woman ever to speak from an NUM platform and the importance and significance of that was recognised by everyone.
She said, ‘Like thousands of women in the mining communities all over the country my lifestyle has changed a bit in the last eight and a half months. Like them, I've been in food centres, on demonstrations, speaking at meetings on a scale that none of us ever thought previously we would be able to do. But of all the meetings I've been at, this meeting is the most important meeting in my whole life.’ Everybody cheered.
‘I'll tell you why, because I consider it a great honour to be on this platform tonight, speaking on behalf of the Women Against Pit Closures movement and the Women’s Action Groups. Eat your heart out Maggie Thatcher.’ Everybody laughed and cheered and Ken, who was sitting just behind me shouted out, ‘She hasn’t got one.’
Betty continued and talked about the work of the women in the strike and the example that we had set to women everywhere. She went on to talk about the police activities she said, ‘We are also very disturbed at the way our communities have been criminalised in a most brutal way. Our men and women have been arrested on any any pretext, there is no joy from the judicial system, which is weighted heavily against miners and their families in this country now. The increasing number of injuries and massive police presence in all villages and their intimidation and harassment of our families should make all lovers of freedom and democracy shudder with horror. But we women are most concerned at how Mrs. Thatcher and her Tory Government has used the hunger and the deprivation of our children to further her political fight against the trade unions and labour movement. And in particular the NUM, whose destruction they need as a first step to this end. The fifteen pound removal from every family’s DHSS Benefit’s a total of fifty million pounds now, that this Government owes us, that has been stolen from us .... This money we paid in taxes to the Government’s Treasury it’s our money and they've stolen it from us.’
She talked about the importance of solidarity and the scabs who would never know the strength that came from fighting for our union.
She said, ‘They might be able to break the picket lines with their buses, but they'll never be able to take away the shame of the word scab.’
Then she asked for trade unionists everywhere to support us, ‘We're asking all the trade unionists and all the Labour Party activists and everybody that’s on our side, to give us now some more tangible evidence of their solidarity. We are saying to you, we don’t care all that much about the half-hearted statements from some trade union leaders and some political leaders. What we're bothered about is the members, the members to come on our picket lines with us. We're saying to you, it doesn’t take much to come on our picket lines with us to show the lads that you're there I want to make a special appeal tonight to the women, to come on the picket lines with us. Just a few women have a very electrifying effect on a picket line I can assure you. Thatcher doesn’t like us there, the Government don’t like us there and the police don’t like us there because they don’t know what to do about women who sing and chant slogans and sound very happy and very positive, they just don’t know what to do with us.’
I thought about that, in some ways I didn’t agree with her, I'd seen women treated just like men on picket lines, but at other times I had seen the police quite put out by women being there. I remembered one night in particular when quite a few of us were on the picket line and it was the first really cold and wet night we'd been there. To keep warm we started singing and dancing along the pavement, not even political songs, we were singing, ‘Singing in the Rain’ and linking arms and dancing. The police brought their reserves out from the back of the pit to surround us, our frivolity made them nervous.
There were a few more speakers, among them someone from the TUC and a Labour politician. Neither of them had much to say and neither of them got a very good reception. Neil Kinnock, the Labour leader had been invited to attend this series of rallies but he'd declined the invitation. We were all disgusted with him, he wasn’t prepared to back us, he wanted to stay sitting on the fence, so we weren’t very impressed by the speaker who came in his place and lots of people shouted out, ‘Where’s Kinnock?’
Then finally it was Arthur’s turn to speak, it’s what we were all waiting for. We had come to respect the man so much we all looked to him for inspiration to keep going when things were hard. As he got up to speak everybody started singing the song we had dedicated to him.
‘Arthur Scargill, Arthur Scargill,
We'll support you ever more.’
Everybody sang it over and over again and he had to wave his hands for quiet before he could start speaking.
‘This industrial dispute is now the longest in the history of British trade unionism. And over the past two or three days we have seen in the media time and time again suggestions that miners are drifting back to work. It must be right it’s in the Daily Express. “The National Coalboard said today that 53,000 miners are back at work,” that’s dated the 6th November. On the 25th June, that’s before November, National Coalboard said, “Miners drift back to work, 60,000 have now gone back to work.” If there’s anyone in this union thinks for one second that the media are going to paint a picture in support of miners who are on strike fighting for their jobs, they're living in proverbial cloud cuckoo land. We won’t get support from this bunch of hyenas in Fleet Street. I say to my colleagues in the NUJ, who send us cheques and messages of support, ‘Stop easing your consciences with a few quid, stop writing your filth about these brave lads.’ The cheers were so loud that I couldn’t hear the next few sentences he said, but then he started to talk about the Government and the Coal Board, he said that we were advised by the Government to negotiate, ‘Have you ever tried to negotiate with a bloke in a plastic bag?’ Everybody laughed. He talked about the pit closure programme, that was supposed to bring supply into balance with demand, that he said, meant the closure of twenty pits, the loss of twenty thousand jobs and the destruction of mining communities, of a culture and a way of life. ‘But that,’ he continued, ‘is not the end of the story, it’s the beginning, because this Government’s policy and Ian McGregor’s tactics are to close seventy pits and destroy seventy thousand jobs and I say to those that are scabbing in Notts., they're your jobs that will go as well as ours.’
‘Our demands in this dispute are not very much, in fact our demands are far too modest, the only people demanding in this dispute are the Coal Board, they're demanding that this union become signatories to a closure programme. They're demanding that we decimate the north-east coalfield from seventeen pits to four. They're asking us to become signatories to an agreement that wipes out sixty percent of the Scottish coalfield, they're asking us to become partners to an agreement to destroy seventy percent of the South Wales coalfield and twenty-five percent of the Yorkshire coalfield and fifty percent of the Derbyshire coalfield. I think I'm speaking on behalf of every miner at this magnificent rally when I say, not only will we not become partners to an agreement of that kind but we will not sign away one pit or one single job.’
He went on to say that the NUM wanted an agreement to keep the pits open, to keep Cortonwood open, not for three or six months, but to keep it open until the point of exhaustion, in line with the Plan For Coal.
He talked about McGregor’s history, first at British Leyland where he dismissed the senior shop steward for writing a pamphlet on the survival of British Leyland.
‘This movement,’ he said, ‘to its eternal shame, stood by and saw Derek Robinson dismissed from his position.’ Then he talked about McGregor’s attacks on the British Steel Industry. Then he returned to our dispute and said,
‘How many times have we heard the saying, “Young people today are not like their forefathers, they've got too much invested in HP or in mortgage repayments.” We're sick and tired of listening to the Jeremiahs of this movement who said young people will never fight like the older generations who built the movements. Well I say, without fear of contradiction that if those who built our trade union could look on this scene today, they'd salute our young miners and their families. Not only throughout Britain, but throughout Europe and the world, for the first time in an industrial dispute we've seen women take their place, not in the soup kitchens, not merely giving moral support but in those magnificent Women’s Support Groups standing shoulder to shoulder fighting for their jobs, their communities.
‘I wonder if Thatcher understands, she can probably sequestrate our funds, she can probably freeze the operations on a day by day basis of our organisations, but she can’t sequestrate our minds, she can’t imprison our principles and she cannot freeze our will to win.
‘I want to see the same commitment to this union from rank and file trade unionists in power and steel and in transport that we've given to them when they've been involved. I'm calling on all trade unionists to examine their consciences, I want to ask our brothers and sisters in the power industry and in steel, how muc longer can you stand to one side and see this union battered by a galaxy of the Tories, the Coalboard, CBI and the Institute of Directors. Come and take industrial action now and stop accepting scab coal, scab oil and scab iron ore, practice what you preach and stop....’ The rest of the sentence was drowned out by clapping and cheering.
The speech came to a close, Arthur said, ‘I've never felt as proud or as privileged to be in a leadership position as I do here today. Members of this union, their wives and families, have displayed a solidarity, have displayed a commitment that has inspired not only workers in Britain but inspired workers throughout the entire world. During the course of this struggle, when once again we've discovered ourselves, we are beginning to understand the meaning of real trade unionism. Never again will this union be the same because of what we've learned and what we've discovered during the course of this eight month strike. When people ask why we should go on, we say to them that Davy Jones and Joe Bean were killed fighting for this union. You are fighting to preserve your right to work.
‘You're determined as a result of this action to convey to this Government and to employers that we too have rights. When we talk about investment, we're not talking about financial investment in an industry, we are talking as men and women who have the greatest investment of all, the investment of our very lives in this industry, and that is something on which none of us can ever compromise. Time and time again the leaders of this union have asked the members to respond, never in our wildest dreams have we expected such a magnificent response and time and time again members of the union movement have demanded leadership. Well I say to you without fear of contradiction that you have not got in the leadership on this platform three leaders or members of the NEC who will finish up in the House of Lords, but what you have got are leaders determined to take this union, side by side with you to the most fantastic historic victory. Miners I salute you, you're magnificent.’
There were more rounds of the song we all sang in his honour and then the meeting broke up quite quickly. We all piled into our coach which took us home. I was very very tired, it had been a very big day.
But things were becoming harder and more difficult at home. The weather was getting colder and our lack of fuel became a major problem. Our houses were all heated by coal and our allowance had been stopped because of the strike. It was very hard to buy coal and very expensive. We tried to organise any sort of fuel we could. Some supporters helped with money for coal but it was never enough to last very long, it was so expensive. A lot of people borrowed gas heaters from friends and relatives because the cost of gas was less than coal. Everything seemed that much harder when we had to go home each night to a cold house.
The divisions between the women had become quite strong. There was a lot of ill-feeling and four of the women resigned from the committee. I felt that they had been the cause of the trouble and so I wasn’t really upset when they put their resignations in. They had upset a lot of the women and some of the men and their presence at the Centre was creating a tension we could well do without. Then I found out in a discussion with one of the men that two of the husbands of these four women were talking about going back to work. Some of the men thought that we shouldn’t accept the resignations because that would probably ensure that these men returned to work. I now felt sure that it was because of their failing support for the strike that the women had become so destructive in the Centre. The issue was widely discussed, but all the women felt that the Centre ran much more smoothly without these women and so we decided to accept the resignations. At the meeting that Sunday morning, it was announced that the resignations had been received and no-one made any comment.
After that there was still a lot of nastiness. The women who had resigned would come up to the Centre and sit to one side sniggering to each other. They came up one day and took all of their equipment which suddenly meant that we were short of pressure cookers and other vital cooking implements. But we managed quite well really, everybody was happy to get on with their work.
The two men returned to work the following week and although I hated to see anyone go back to work, I had to admit that their return was a relief, it made the issue much clearer. I hated the feeling that we were turning our back on any of our own, even if they had made life very difficult for us. Now it was quite straightforward and everything that happened before seemed to make sense.
The return to work stopped and we became a solid group again. More and more of our time was spent getting ready for Christmas. We were receiving massive support. Presents for the kids were pouring in. There were ninety kids altogether, sorting through the presents and working out what would be best for which kids became a mighty task in itself. One of the women offered her father’s house for storing them and they took up nearly two rooms. We sorted through them all, making sure that each kid got what they would want and each kid got a fair share. We had ninety red plastic garbage bags, each with a child’s name on it.
The other side of the preparations, the preparing of the food, was also a massive task. I didn’t have that much to do with it, I was busy with the presents, but Pauline and some of the others had all the food preparation under control. Every woman will know how much work it takes to prepare for Christmas. We prepared for a monster Christmas and the work involved was monstrous. But we did it willingly and happily, we were so surprised that the support had been so generous to us. We'd expected the worst Christmas of our lives and now it seemed we were going to have one of the best.
A lot of the men were spending Christmas Day with their families and so it was a chance for everybody to get together. The women decided to have a party of their own and that was prepared for. Then the kids, hearing all these arrangements, made a complaint through their committee that the men were having a party and the women were having a party so they felt left out. We decided to hold a kids party too. The pit always held a children’s Christmas party and this year none of us had been invited so we held our own. It was fantastic, the kids had a ball. Father Christmas came and brought them all a little present.
Pauline was in charge of the Christmas menu, the ordering and preparing of the food. It was an enormous job to take on but Pauline was enjoying it. A week before Christmas, she bent down to pick something up and her back went. She couldn’t move. The doctor came and told her that she may be laid up for some time. She would just have to wait and see. Pauline was very upset, she felt that she had done so much for Christmas and now when it was getting close she would miss out on the celebrations themselves and on the final organising.
The next day Alan came up to the Centre saying that Pauline was no better. At dinnertime he went back home to see how she was and then returned a half hour later with Pauline. She could hardly walk, but she said she couldn’t stay away from the Centre. When Alan had got home, he'd found her crying and she'd pleaded with him to bring her back up to the Centre. We were all very worried about her, we were nervous that she'd do more damage to herself. All that afternoon people were telling her to be careful and that she should really be at home lying down. As it was she was sitting in one of the straight backed chairs with a sleeping bag around herself to keep warm. At one stage she had to go to the toilet which was right up the other end of the hall from where she was sitting, it took two men to help her get there and as she walked back her face was. white from the pain. We were all very worried about her. Pauline had become a vital part of the Centre, she had shown outstanding organising capabilities, the work she was doing was equivalent to running a full scale restaurant and she did the bulk of the cooking as well. On top of that her serene personality often had a calming effect on others’ very frazzled nerves. Everyone that came into that Centre admired and respected Pauline and the enormous workload she had taken on.
The next day to our great surprise Pauline was back at the Centre as right as rain. The night before she'd got Alan to shift her back into place, she'd just laid on the floor and told him where to push and where to pull. Her courage left us all open mouthed. But we were all glad that she was back with us, it would have been tragic if she had missed out on the Christmas festivities.
Christmas Day itself was fantastic, we hadn’t been able to find out exactly how many were coming, in the end there were just over a hundred of us. Christmas dinner was as elaborate as any we've ever had, we went without nothing. Supporters had bought us food, drinks, Christmas crackers and cigarettes as well as all the presents. Even the women had been remembered, one of our support groups had sent presents for all the women, we carefully wrapped them all the day before. As we were doing that I realised that the only people not receiving presents were the men, so I checked with Pauline to see if we had enough money and suggested to the other women that we buy presents for the men out of the kitty. They all agreed so I sent two of the kids’ down the street to buy sixty pairs of men’s socks and then the kids all wrapped them.
On Christmas Day the Christmas tree was surrounded with all the presents, ninety red bags all full to the brim for the kids and presents for all the men and women as well. It was quite a sight. At four o'clock I asked the kids if they wanted to see Father Christmas.
‘Yes,’ they all chanted.
‘Well then, you sing jingle bells and we'll see what happens.’
Without any hesitation at all the kids all sang at the top of their voices.
‘Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way, I'd rather be a picket
Than a scab on Christmas day.’
We'd all learnt those words some time before and sang the song regularly at the picket line. The kids seemed to have forgotten that the original song had different words. Father Christmas arrived, he spent two hours giving out the presents to everyone. Each name was called out one by one and each kid came up and sat on Father Christmas’s knee and he had something to say to all of them. To see the look on the kids faces as they received their bags made all the hard work worthwhile. They had all been told by their parents that Christmas would be a dull affair and that they shouldn’t expect any presents and now there were more presents than any of them could ever have dreamed of. Most of the parents had managed to save a little to buy something for their own kids, so this was on top of that. They were ecstatic. Then it was the women’s turn. There were enough presents to make sure that every woman in the room got one. When Father Christmas started to call out the names of the men, they were ever so surprised. None of them had any idea that they would be getting anything, we'd kept it a well guarded secret. They were all delighted and there were lots of jokes about sitting on Santa’s knee as each of them came up to get their presents.
The celebrations continued until the New Year. Every day someone would arrive to visit us and usually bring something to drink. We had been given lots of wine and beer and a few bottles of spirits, it was like one long party. But once the New Year was over we had to come back to reality and that came with a bang.
More men said they were going back to work, they couldn’t see any end to it and they felt they couldn’t go on any more. Every day now for two months the media had rammed down our throats how many had gone back. They'd done it all along but after the Deputies’ sell-out they had intensified the campaign. Early in the strike it was clear that the NCB figures about the number who'd gone back to work were inaccurate. There was no evidence in the coalfields that there was any drift back at all. But now stories started coming through, first from Derbyshire and then from Yorkshire that the drift back was real.
Our spirits were low. Every week a few more seemed to go back to work. There was still a hard core of us and we were still as solid as ever, but our numbers were dwindling. Ken’s court case was due to be heard at the end of February, Ken and Sue started to get very anxious about that, so did we all. If he was found guilty he would face a gaol sentence and would never stand any chance of getting his job back. In the meantime Sue had been sacked from her job. They'd told her that she was a militant and they didn’t want her working there. She'd worked in that place for ten years, hard work for rotten pay and they sacked her just when her and Ken were dependent on her money. They were both very low and very anxious.