Shifting Horizons by Lynn Beaton
By the middle of August we had settled into life on strike. It was becoming hard to remember what life had been like before. The Centre was running efficiently, money was always a problem but we now had a number of regular supporters who we could depend on to provide a certain amount each week. Our relationships with these supporters had grown, they all visited the Centre regularly, sometimes just for a few hours, and sometimes for a few days. Most of the supporters would help with the chores and we would always talk endlessly about any recent events. We talked about events in the village and they talked about their fund raising and organisation and we all talked endlessly about what was happening in the strike at a national level. There had been an attempt at talks between the Coal Board and the NUM, but they had broken down. We felt very strong, we had been out for nearly six months and in that time we had managed to organise so that everybody was fed and clothed well.
At about this time, Doreen came back from a trip to Cambridge saying that some of the women in Cambridge had asked if they could come up and stay with us for a few days and help with the work. We all thought it was a great idea and after a bit or organising they arrived on a Sunday. Four women came and two of them brought their kids, so altogether there were four women and three kids. On Monday morning they went up on the early picket and then went to the Centre and cooked breakfast, then they helped us with lunch and clearing up. By two o'clock they were back in the houses where they slept until they'd stagger up to the Centre for their teas. This became the pattern of their stay, some days they'd even miss their teas, they were so tired by the pace. It was great for us to have them, they really helped take some of the burden from us and it made us realise how hard we worked to see how tired it made them. We'd been doing it for nearly six months by this time and we'd got used to it but it was a very hectic pace. It wasn’t just the work, there was always something unexpected coming up, something which would make extra work and cost extra money. On the Monday night we threw a party for them at my house. It was quite funny really because by ten o'clock they were all fast asleep and we were all merrily enjoying the party. They stayed until the following Friday. During the time that they were here we took them to a women’s picket at Bilsthorpe and to one of the court cases which resulted from the siege. They all sat up the back and the Magistrate asked,
‘Who are those peace women, sitting in the back row?’
He wanted to move them but Gareth said they were supporters and he couldn’t make them leave. We had a lot of discussions with them. They all called themselves feminists, and a lot of our discussions were about what they meant by that. We agreed with a lot of what they said, they just talked about wanting to live their own lives in the way they wanted to. There was a notice board in the kitchen at the Centre and when they left they had written on it,
‘Women not Ladies.’ We all laughed and laughed, all the men called us the ladies, they would walk into the Centre and say,
‘Mornin’ Ladies.’ And we'd all answer. We called ourselves ladies as well, and while the women from Cambridge were here they were always referred to as the ladies from Cambridge and we always addressed them as ‘ladies.’
‘Would you ladies like a cup of tea?’ It had obviously really annoyed them, but they hadn’t said anything, they'd just written the note in the kitchen. But the thing about the note was that we all knew what they meant. It wasn’t something we'd talked about, we'd always used the word ladies. Suddenly we realised that the men were men and not gentlemen and therefore we were women and not ladies. Suddenly we saw that we didn’t want to be connected to those ladies who sat around and did nothing. Although it’s only a word, it made quite a difference to the way we saw ourselves. We recognised a strength in the word women, and we recognised our own strength so from that time on we have always insisted on being called women.
At first the men didn’t know what had struck them, they'd walk in and say, ‘Mornin’ Ladies.’
There'd be a chorus of us saying, ‘Women, not ladies.’
Some of the men asked why and when we told them, they agreed, they saw the sense in it. Some of the men never stopped calling us ladies, but every time right throughout the strike we'd always tell them. Even visitors, or people who came into the Centre on business of one sort or another, any man who called us ladies, was told we were women. It meant a lot to us, it was our way of telling the men that we had changed.
And we had changed, we could feel it within ourselves. We talked about it a lot between ourselves. Everybody around the country was talking about the strength of the Miners’ Wives. Margaret Thatcher had thought that the women would send the men back to work, but the very opposite had happened. It was the women who had so solidly backed the strike that had made it possible for it to go on for so long. People often asked us why that was. The women had been totally inactive in the Strikes of ’72 and ’74, but this time we'd become the backbone of it. I thought it might have something to do with the fact that the strike was really a community issue, if the pits closed, we lost our whole way of life, our children’s future was at stake and the villages we called home. We all knew what happened to mining villages when the pits closed. They became ghost towns, none of us want to see that happening to our homes.
I think women have been gradually asking more and more questions over the last ten years or so. In the last strikes the women didn’t ask any questions, it was all left to the men. If the men were involved in a dispute, then it was their dispute, just like it was their work. But now women wanted to be more involved in the decision making, we wanted to know why the men were going on strike, so we could understand and support them. We wanted to find out more and more, it was like wanting to know what’s beyond that fence. When we first went on the picket line, it was because we wanted to know what was there, what was over that fence. Once you step over the first fence you want to know what’s over the next one and the next. That’s what it had been like in this strike we didn’t just get over the fence, we went over the next one and the next one and it was like going downhill. The more we found out the more we wanted to know and the more we wanted to do as well.
Also I think, because Margaret Thatcher’s a woman we expected something better from her. I didn’t vote in the elections but when I heard that we had a woman Prime Minister I thought that might be better, I expected that as a woman she would be more compassionate, but it was just the opposite. When I watch her on television it makes me really angry and I don’t think I'd be so angry if she were a man. I wouldn’t expect him to understand, but I do expect a woman to. Of course now I realise that this is not the case, now I realise that she is a Conservative and that is the difference.
We all knew that we had become fully active people, who had to be reckoned with not just ignored as we had been when we were housewives.
Some of the women started to go out every Friday, they called it the Women’s Night. I didn’t go with them, I thought that was taking it all a bit far but there were lots of discussions about it and about women’s roles in life. We also started to talk about what life would be like after the strike and every single one of us knew that we'd never go back to what we'd been before. As for me, I knew that the only interests I had before the strike were my house and my kids and I knew that my views about all sorts of things had changed. Before the strike I thought I was quite content just to be in my own little kingdom, or my own little cell, whichever you want to call it, at home looking after the kids, doing washing, ironing and general chores. I was quite content some of the time, but at other times I used to ask myself if this was all there was to life. Sometimes I'd get quite fed up of it and Alan and I would have words about it. I'd say to him,
‘It’s alright for you, you can get out of these four walls, you see people, you see friends, orright, they might not be ya best mates. but at least you're seeing someone different to talk to. I'm stuck, in this house, in these four walls with these two kids who you can’t have a decent conversation with.’
But once we were well into the strike I started to realise that there could be a lot more to life than that and that it didn’t necessarily have any bad effects on anything. I'd always believed, I'd always been brought up to believe, that a woman’s place was with her family. Not necessarily doing everything that her husband tells her or at the kitchen sink slaving all the time, but taking care of her children, and being with them when they needed her. I'd always thought that children needed a mother to be there before they went to school and then before and after school once they'd started school.
But all that had changed. My involvement in the strike and my continuing commitment to the responsibilities I'd taken on meant that I wasn’t spending as much time with my kids. It didn’t seem to be having a detrimental effect on them, in fact I think it was quite good for them. They've learnt to fend for themselves more, to become more independent. I also found out that Dad can look after the kids just as well as Mum could. If someone had suggested to me before the strike that Alan could look after the kids as well as me. I would have been quite hurt. I would have felt that they were attacking me as a mother. Being a mother was the only thing I had to do in life which I thought was important. It would have been hurtful for someone to say that Alan could do that as well as I could. But it’s true, my involvement in the strike meant that Alan took on a lot of the looking after the kids and they were just as happy as when I did it. In fact I realised it was good for them, good for Alan and good for me. Lots of men became closer to their children through the strike and lots of them were pleased to have the opportunity. Many men said to me that they hadn’t known their children before the strike, that they were always at work and then when they were home they were too tired to bother. Suddenly all these men had a lot to do with their kids.
just as the adults at the Centre were learning to live together and to see each other as family, so were the kids. Because the village was divided over the strike, that of course was reflected at school so the kids quite often got into scrapes, but they would defend each other. One day all the kids came racing into the Centre excitedly singing out that one of them had been threatened by some other kids. They all supported him. It had become quite a thing for the kids to be part of the Centre. They were identified by the outside kids as ‘the Strike Centre kids’, and they were really proud of the label. They all understood what the issues were, they all knew that their Dads had taken a stand and their Mums were supporting it. They knew that we women were travelling around the country speaking at public meetings and they knew that we had lots of visitors. All sorts of people from all over the country came to the Centre to see us and talk to us about what was happening. Suddenly I think the kids were forced to see their parents in a different way and that was very good for everybody. The older kids set up their own committee. They claimed that the women had one, the men had one and they needed one too. So it was set up. They had a very large number of office bearers, I think they wanted to make sure that everyone had a title, but they were quite serious about it. They called themselves ‘Kids Against Pit Closures’ and whenever they were unhappy about something they sent a notice to the women’s committee meeting and their complaints were usually taken seriously.
As far as I was concerned, it was quite good for my two kids to find themselves in the middle of something much bigger than just our own family. They learnt to be part of that bigger organisation where they couldn’t be the centre of things all the time. At the same time, I missed not having any quiet time at home to ourselves. Sometimes I longed just to be at home and to cook food for just the four of us. I was spending very little time with the kids and sometimes I missed that.
I was surprised at how complete my involvement was. I had no idea before that anything could become so important to me or that I could get so involved in anything. The issues of the strike really ate at me inside, really made me want to stand up and say, ‘All right, enough is enough, I won’t take this, I will do something to change it.’
Once you've felt that once, you can feel it again over other things and we all knew that we'd never be the same again, that we'd always fight, when we saw something that we thought was wrong. Already there were other issues which we knew we wanted to get involved in. Mainly they were the peace movement, and campaigns against cuts to the health service, but there were lots more. The situation of black people in Britain and the situation in Northern Ireland both worried us now because we knew what was causing those situations and we knew that the only way they could be solved was by everybody standing up and fighting. Just as we knew we could only win our strike if everybody stood up and fought.
I'd always accepted things even if I didn’t like them because I didn’t think I could do anything to change them. But now we had all joined the Labour Party, suddenly realising that we weren’t totally powerless, that we must try and change things wherever we could. I hadn’t even voted in the last elections because I'd never thought much of politicians, I'd thought they were all the same. Now I had joined the Labour Party, we all had, we all believed that if we joined it we could have a say in its policies and in who stood for Parliament. The Blidworth branch was shaking in its boots because they all knew that we'd joined to change things, but they couldn’t stop us.
At the same time it was quite terrifying, because we had such a lot to learn, and we were frightened of putting our feet forward and stepping in shit.
I also learned I was capable of doing many things, apart from just being a mother. I could still do that, but I discovered that there were other things which are important for me and which give my life more meaning. I had no idea that anything could become as important to me as the strike did. The strike was twenty-four hours a day. I went to sleep with the strike and I woke up with the strike. Some nights I'd go to bed and wonder what it would be like if I woke up the next morning and the strike was all over. I usually thought that when I was depressed. It was easy to get depressed because there were so many tensions. It had been six months and we had no idea how Much longer it would go on for. Just that created a tension in all of us, then there were conflicts that arose at the Centre that were hard to put right and on top of all that we never knew what lay around ,,.the next corner. We'd heard rumours that the Government was going to send troops in to break the strike. We had no reason to suppose they wouldn’t, anything seemed possible.
At the same time, whenever I thought about the end of the strike, that was sad too, it had become such a way of life and my life had expanded such a lot as a result of it. I knew that when it ended I would stay politically involved but I also knew that life would have 1, a balance that it didn’t have now. I could go out and do the things I saw as important, but I could also switch off sometimes when I wanted to.
At the beginning of September the Trades Union Council had their Annual Congress. A coach load of men from Blidworth went down to Brighton on the first day to lobby the conference to give More support to the Miners. The first afternoon of Congress had been given over to a debate on the strike. We heard that a motion had been passed which called on the TUC to co-ordinate industrial action in other unions to support us. We began to hope that the end was near.
Some of the Labour Party women in Nottingham were so fascinated by the way we had changed that they decided to do an interview with us about it. They came out one Sunday afternoon with their tape recorder and asked Sue, Doreen and I a whole lot of questions. We all sat around one of the wooden tables in the main hall with the tape recorder in the middle of us. The kids were beginning to get used to people coming and interviewing us, but still everytime they made more noise than usual. I think that was their way of trying to get in on the action. One of the women, Mary, had been out to Blidworth a lot at the beginning of the strike. She arrived one day and stood on the picket line.
It was a dinnertime picket and three men were arrested, Mary said to us,
‘I've never seen the like of that sort of intimidation by police before and I've been in politics for thirty years. I recognised the Miners’ Strike as one of the most significant fights against capitalism for some time in Britain, and as important as many of the struggles being fought out in third world countries around the world. But I hadn’t understood the full impact of that struggle until I stood that day with you and watched the treatment the cops gave out to you.’
Mary asked us about the changing roles between the men and women. Doreen said,
‘Men are having to do washing and cleaning up, I've not washed a garment for six month, men are having to do all that. I'm going to Blackpool next week for three days. Most weeks I go away and the men have to look after the kids.’
Sue added, ‘And they accept it, I've been married for nearly nineteen years and we never went anywhere without each other. He was the man of the house, he was the breadwinner, we just sort of fell into that pattern as things are. I went to London with Pauline last week for three days, and Ken just accepts that. Well we've been liberated really haven’t we.’
‘Yeah’, said Doreen. ‘And men don’t mind.’
‘After the strike we'll never go back to what we were before,’ Sue said, ‘men will just have to accept that.’
‘Thing is,’ Doreen went on, ‘the men know that through this fight it’s the women who've come to the forefront and it'll be the women that'll win it. And the men know that. They've said times many in here, that if it weren’t for us and this place a lot of them would go back to work. When this strike first started Margaret Thatcher thought that it would be the women that would send the men back to work. She was convinced, she'd told us to buy our houses, get our cars and our H.P., Visa Cards, get up to your eyeballs in debt. This is not a thing she’s had in mind for the last year, she’s had this in mind for years and that’s why she has allowed the country to get into the state it’s in. She thought when the Miners’ Strike does come, she knew it was going to be a big battle and she was prepared for it. The Tory Government have been preparing for years. She thought the women would send the men back to work. But she’s wrong.’
‘She underestimated us’ Sue said and Doreen continued.
‘She’s wrong with the women involved in the strike, there’s a lot of women involved just like us and we know, we're in contact with them, from Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Wales. This is one big mistake that she’s made.’
We continued talking about the changing role of the women and how widespread it was. We talked a bit about other groups in Britain that were suffering at the hands of the Tory Government and ,the links that we were making with them. Then we started to talk about attitudes to work. Sue said,
‘I'll give you an instance. I went strawberry picking last summer, it’s hard work, you're on your hands and knees. Last summer we earned about eighty or ninety quid a week, not this year we're working just as hard for about forty quid because there’s no bonuses. One day I was there and I was crawling along this row and there were a woman and her friend next to me and one woman said t'other, ‘It’s not so good money this year is it?’ Her friend said, ‘No, but still you've got to be grateful for a bit extra, haven’t you.’ I knew that I might have thought that a year ago, but this year I was so angry. I thought it’s not right, we should not have to be grateful for a bit extra, we're working hard for less money this year than we did last year, and it made me stop and think. And it made me angry. That’s what this strike has done for us, it’s really made us think. If you work hard you deserve your money.
Then someone asked us about the Women’s Movement and whether we thought it was important. Sue said,
‘It’s like a lot of other things, you read bits in the paper and you think what a load of fanatics, going over the top. But we didn’t really look at back of it to see what it all meant, now we're learning about it, we're learning about a lot of things every day.’
Doreen said, ‘This country’s in one big bloody mess, do we lie back and let it get worse and worse or do we stand up as women and fight. The thing we've got to do is stand up and fight. If we lose, What have we got to lose. Nothing, if we win we've got a lot to win.’
We discussed events in other countries and compared them to England and then they asked us if we thought the Labour Party had the answers.
‘No,’ said Doreen, ‘Not at the moment.’
‘I don’t think they realise,’ Sue said, ‘That we're ready for somebody that’s going to stand up and say what’s true and not worry about images, not try and sell themselves like a box of chocolates. There’s a lot of people that are ready for somebody that’s got the guts to stand there and say what’s what. And we haven’t got that yet.’
Mary said, ‘What would you say to the arguments of the right wingers who say we're going to lose votes?’
‘Let them say it and have a go.’ Sue said.
‘The Labour Party,'Doreen said, ‘are supposed to be working for the working class. What are they worried about, they shouldn’t worry about votes, if they were doing their jobs for the working class they'd be throwing their full support behind this strike, instead of sitting on the fence and seeing which way it’s going to go.’
‘It would get them votes, wouldn’t it?’ Sue said adamantly.
We talked about joining the Labour Party because we wanted to change it, then we started to talk about what we would do after the strike. Betty Savage had joined us by then, she said,
‘After it will be good to get women together to form peace groups, and get this over to other action groups as well. We've had contact from other groups that are thinking about the same things. We'll definitely continue after the strike.’
With the beginning of September we approached the six months point of the strike. It was a strong time for us all, we felt that we'd been out now for six months and that was quite an achievement. A social was organised at the Ollerton Miners’ Welfare for Blidworth and Rainworth Strikers and their wives. It was one of the most amazing nights of my life. About six hundred of us danced and sang with so much self respect and pride. There were two acts arranged, the first Glenys and Colin, who were on strike and from Blidworth, they played in a band and sang lots of sixties songs which we all knew. We all sang along, it was fantastic to have our own musicians, the audience were all striking miners and it was great to have strikers who we all knew providing us with the entertainment. The other act that had been arranged was a pair of folk singers from Cambridge. They sang lots of songs about strikes which were very moving and it was quite emotional to listen to these songs which we'd never heard before but which described our situation and our feelings.
I had sung a ditty at a party we'd had in Blidworth a few weeks before and everybody had thought it very funny. Without my knowing, Doreen arranged with the performers for me and one of the men from Blidworth to perform the song on the stage. I had never sung to that many people before, but it was a great success, everybody sang along and hooted with laughter. After we finished everybody sang all the miners’ songs we'd learnt at rallies. It was great, six hundred of us standing on tables and singing our hearts out. When we started to sing ‘We will win, We will win,’ we changed the words half way through to ‘We have won.’ That was how confident and strong we felt, we felt that if we'd been out for six months we could stay out for as long as it took to get a victory.
The next morning a women’s picket had been organised at Bentink. We all got up very early after a very late night, and rugged up in all our warmest clothes. I made a flask of coffee to help keep us warm and we set off. Nicki, one of the women from Cambridge, who'd stayed with us before, had come up for the Social. She had stayed the night in our caravan and came on the picket with us in the morning. When we got there it was still dark and freezing cold. There were about sixty women, twelve men and sixty police there. The police set up a cordon around us as the scabs started to arrive for work. Doreen’s brother worked at this pit and she said that if she saw him going into work she would get arrested, but he didn’t come in on that shift.
After we'd all been standing and singing out things to the scabs for about half an hour we saw a police woman arrive. She stood next to some police vans which were parked across the street from us and next to the pit. As soon as we saw her we knew that the police were going to lift someone. Sure enough, five minutes after she arrived three police moved into the crowd and lifted Nicki. She had screamed, ‘Scab.’ They took her across the road and put her in one of the vans.
A bit later the van started to drive off with Nicki in it, but it only got five hundred yards down the road when it turned around and came back. Within a few minutes the police had again moved into the crowd, this time they picked up a woman who was sitting on the fence behind us and started to cart her away. Some other women furious with the injustice of the two arrests, threw themselves at the police and they were eventually carted off too. Nicki told us later that as the van moved off it had received a radio message telling it to come back that there would be more arrests. At that stage absolutely nothing at all had happened. We left that picket feeling very angry, you never did get over the feelings of frustration being on pickets when for no reason someone was arrested.
Towards the end of September we went to Greenham Common. We'd heard a lot about Greenham and quite a few of the women from there had been up to the Centre to visit us. They had told us stories about police violence and the difficulties they were having there and we always found it exciting talking to them. They were different to us, but they had put themselves in a situation which had similarities to ours, so we had lots in common. Of course, before the strike I'd always thought that the Greenham Common women were just a lot of weirdos and gypsies, but since talking to them and since learning myself about a lot of issues, I'd realized that what they were fighting for was very important and was really the same fight as ours. The Government was clearly very keen to introduce Nuclear Energy to replace coal and that was part of the reason for the attacks they were making on the coal industry. We therefore wanted to support the women at Greenham Common as much as we could. Some of us had even talked about going there to stay at different times after the strike was over.
There was a Women’s Peace Group in Nottingham, they'd been out to the Centre and a few of us had been to some of their meetings. They organized a few coaches to go down to Greenham one Sunday and eight of us decided to go. The coach left Nottingham very early in the morning, it was a long journey and we were very excited. We'd heard that there was likely to be thousands of women from all over the country there. When we arrived we felt a big strange, we didn’t really know what to do or where to go. We went into one of the tents by one of the gates and the women told us that there was a blockade on at another gate so we walked around to it. Loads of women were sitting on the road in front of the gate and a lot more were standing along the edge of the road. There were certainly not thousands there, more like a few hundred. We all just watched, we were pleased to be there, but felt a bit out of place, we were so used to being at pickets and demonstrations to do with the strike and this was quite different. Every now and then the police would move in on the women sitting ,and pick a load of them up and cart them away. Then they brought a couple of horses in and the horses gently walked in among the women but nevertheless succeeded in scattering them so eventually the road was cleared. As we watched all this going on we were amazed by the number of women who were chatting and laughing with the police. Later we talked to some women about it and they said that they thought there was some point in talking to them, because you might be able to convince them of your point of view. We all shook our heads, none of us could talk to police at all after what they'd done to us.
At about lunch time we all went back to the gate at which we'd arrived and sat on the grass to eat our lunch. Soon after we'd finished our lunch it started to rain and we wandered into a small wooded area to look for some shelter. A woman sitting under a plastic canopy outside a tent asked us if we'd like to share her shelter and started to make us a cup of tea, talking all the while about things at Greenham. After some time she asked us where we came from, when she found out she asked us lots of questions. The rain stopped and she took us for a tour around the edge of the base. It was so eerie, miles of fence guarded on the inside every few yards by soldiers who were just young boys, and guarded on the outside by police. Behind the guards on the base itself, the large ominous looking hills which housed the missiles looked more like something from a science fiction movie than something from real life.
The whole day had been quite an experience, it was a world away from our own struggle, but we felt the links between the two very strongly. The other thing we'd learned from this strike was that material things don’t matter nearly as much as we'd thought they did. We'd risked all of ours and in doing so we'd learnt that it didn’t matter what people had or what they looked like, the important things were what they were as people, how they acted as people and how they fought.
A couple of weeks after our trip to Greenham, Sue and Ken came into the Centre looking white.
‘Whatever’s the matter,’ Doreen said.
Ken had received a letter from the pit Manager stating that he'd been sacked. The letter said that management were convinced of Ken’s guilt even though his case hadn’t come for trial. They went on to say that they were sure that none of the men employed at Blidworth Pit would want to work with him. We were witnesses to Ken’s innocence and to see in black and white that the pit management had assumed his guilt before his trial went against all our ideas of justice. Immediately it made our resolve stronger and at the open meeting that Friday morning a unanimous vote was taken that no-one from Blidworth would go back to work until Ken was reinstated.
Things at the Centre were starting to get quite uncomfortable, a division among the women had developed and although we'd tried to arrange things so that it didn’t interfere with our work it kept cropping up. Some of the women had complained at one stage about having to get up to the Centre early to cook the men’s breakfasts. That led to a discussion at a meeting about what we were doing. We were after all supporting the men in their strike. That was our first priority. But the division just grew. A small group of women seemed always to be upsetting all the others and there always seemed to be someone upset. Snide remarks would be made about who did the most work and silly things like that but they made it quite uncomfortable. We were all determined to keep the Centre going and to keep our differences away from the men, we felt that we could work them out ourselves and that if the men saw our difficulties it might demoralize them.
By this time I was taking on a lot of the responsibility at the Centre, I was enjoying it but it worried me too. Knowing how many to cook for was still a problem and I was always worried that there wouldn’t be enough or that there'd be too much and some would be wasted. I also worried that something would go wrong with the cooking and it wouldn’t taste very good, or worse, that there was something in the cooking that would make people ill. I felt that responsibility quite heavily, our facilities weren’t very good and although we tried always to be very hygienic, you could never be sure. We had heard stories about some groups accepting cans of food that had been blown, and although nothing had happened the dangers were always there.
I took the Treasurer’s job very seriously too, our money was limited and it had taken the people who raised it lots of time and effort. I had the same problem with buying food as I had with cooking, I never knew quite how much to buy. I suppose I must have planned quite well, because we really didn’t have any disasters, but I worried about it a lot. Every day after dinner, when I could relax because I knew that everybody had been fed and there were no problems with the food, I would sit down with my cash tin and my books and balance them. There were a lot of transactions from the tin each day. We paid people’s expenses if they were going anywhere and needed money for petrol or anything else. Everyday there would be several people taking money for one thing or another. Sometimes if people had special hardship we would lend or give them the money to get them through. When cars broke down, if they were used by the Centre we would pay to have them repaired. There was always money needed for something. As well as that there was nearly always some money come in each day. Most of it would arrive through the mail in cheques, but often people were given money at meetings they'd been to the night before and they'd nearly always give me the money up at the Centre. Every day it was an enormous relief to find that the cash tin balanced. Once that was over I felt I could relax for the day. Although that wasn’t really true because as soon as I'd balanced the tin, I had to start preparing for the next day’s dinner.
I started taking a lot of the meat home with me and cooking it there. It was easier than trying to do everything at the Centre the next day. Nearly every night I'd have my kitchen covered with meat, some cooked, some waiting to be cooked and some cooking. I usually didn’t finished that cooking until eight or nine at night, by then I was wiped out and ready for bed.
But quite often there'd be a meeting or an outing that I'd somehow raise the energy to go to. Whenever visitors stayed overnight we always went out for a drink with them. It was a chance for everybody to get to talk to them in peace away from the bustle of the Centre. Mostly when I did go out I found a second wind but bed was always very welcome when I got home.
In early October there was talk that the pit Deputies would go out on strike. They had been claiming money from the Coal Board for crossing picket lines, but they hadn’t had any success. They made statements to the press that they agreed with the NUM’s position on pit closures. New Government legislation required all unions taking strike action to hold a ballot of their members and the pit Deputies did so.
Over eighty percent of the Deputies voted to strike. When they announced the result of their ballot they said that the decision about the strike would be referred to their branches. None of us trusted that they would strike. They had been on strike before and their relations with NUM members in the pits was not good. They were the overseers and most of the time they acted on behalf of management. However the branches overwhelmingly voted to go ahead with the strike, it was announced that they would come out on Thursday 25th October.
Still nobody believed that they would actually come out. Daily the media talked about the end of the strike. If the pit Deputies did come out it would close all the pits, no-one is allowed to work without a Deputy. So although we distrusted this alliance they seemed to be offering us, we couldn’t help but hope. It seemed that if they did come out the strike might be over and we might have our victory. But for seven months all hopes had been disappointed and so we had learnt not to hope. Throughout that fortnight of waiting to see if the Deputies did stand up to their word, tension began to mount. At first we all tried to ignore the situation and continue as we always had done. We all felt quite strongly that we'd been out on our own all this time and that we'd have to finish it on our own as well. But as the days went by and the Deputies were still adamant that they would strike, we started to let ourselves hope, against our own better judgement. No-one dared hope out loud, but inwardly I know I was hoping and could tell everyone else was too because there was a sort of excitement in the air, that hadn’t been there since the strike began. On the Tuesday before the proposed Deputies’ strike it was as if that excitement suddenly burst out. As a few of us were clearing up the Centre before going home, a water fight broke out. We were all running all around the hall like children waiting for Christmas, screaming with laughter and chucking water all over each other. I got absolutely drenched, I was wet right through, when I got home I had to change everything, right down to my underwear. Although no-one actually talked about the end of the strike there were a lot of conversations about how the end would actually happen, how the men would go back, what would happen to the scabs and so on.
On Tuesday the Deputies met with the NCB, they spent all day talking, but there was no news about what was happening in the talks. We all kept a close eye on the News all day, someone had brought a small portable black and white telly up to the Centre early in the strike and that day it was on all day. Early that evening, there was a news flash that the talks had broken up and the TUC had been asked to get involved. It seemed then that a deal was bound to take place because the NUM had not been invited into the talks. Within another hour it was announced that the NUM was taking part in the talks and again despite ourselves, we hoped.
On Wednesday morning there was still not much news about the talks, but after dinner it was announced that the Deputies had settled with the NCB. We waited for news of the NUM’s decision. Arthur Scargill appeared on the television and said, ‘We are in exactly the same position we have been in for seven months’. The Deputies had agreed that the decision about whether a pit should be closed or not should be left to an independent tribunal.
No-one said anything particularly, we all felt flat, we got on with what we were doing. The next day a group of the men appeared in the Centre with a pack of cards and sat all day playing cards.
Over the next few days, a despondency started to creep into the Centre, people actually started talking about going back to work. The tensions between the women re-emerged and were worse than ever. Everybody was very depressed, there seemed no end in sight and we started to wonder if we would be on strike for ever. Those that were talking about going back to work were saying that there was no point going on, they still believed in the issues and in the union, but they could see no point in keeping on and putting themselves through so much hardship when they couldn’t see an end in sight. There were a lot of arguments between the men about the situation which just made everything worse and more depressing. The NCB announced that it was offering a special bonus to any miner who returned to work before Christmas. Some of those who had been talking about going back argued even more strongly now that it was the only sensible thing to do. It was decided that these discussions were just demoralising everyone and those who were talking about returning to work couldn’t come up to the Centre any more. Some of them had said that they were definitely going back.
On the following Monday eight men returned to work. It was really horrible, we all stood on the picket line and watched men who'd been with us all this time crossing our picket line and going into the pit. The official pickets talked to them but they nearly all said that they had had enough and were looking after themselves from now on. Some of those men had been in the Youth Club occupation with us, some had been arrested, they'd all been to rallies and demonstrations with us. They'd all stood on the picket line they were now crossing, most of them every day, they'd all been active members of the Centre. It was only a couple of weeks since they'd all voted to stay out until Ken was re-instated. We couldn’t understand them, they hadn’t spent the last eight months burying their heads beneath the sand like the scabs who'd been working since the beginning. They had seen with their own eyes what had happened, they had seen the police violence, witnessed the bias of the media, seen the comradeship of the strikers and the strength of unity. They couldn’t rationalise their decisions to return to work, they had to admit it was selfishness. they wanted the bonuses so they could have a good Christmas.
As they walked past the picketers, they looked down at the ground, their pride was gone. Someone said a couple of days later, ‘You can’t believe it, as soon as they start to scab they start to look like scabs.’ It was true, scabs all had a certain look about them, they looked sour and miserable, I think deep down they all knew they were doing the wrong thing, but the picketers always looked proud and held their heads high wherever they went.