Women in the Miners Strike

Much has been written about the women in the miners dispute. It has been claimed as an incredible phenomena – working class women organising themselves, apparently, is unheard of. But what is the reality? From day one of the strike, women have been on the picket lines; after all they have been active within the union (N.U.M.C.O.S.A.’),[1] and are directly affected if a pit closes. They also organized themselves into groups to provide food, moral and practical support in the struggle. Many of these groups have had to struggle to maintain autonomy from local branches of the N.U.M. Not that they are opposed to the strike – women are not the conservative element they were portrayed as at the beginning of the strike – but because they saw the need to take decisions and actions for themselves. The women had and still have no desire to have their new-found independence and power absorbed into a body over which they have no control.

Their organisation has been open and non-hierarchical with decisions being taken by all the women, and generally being unafraid to contribute or criticise constructively. Ideas are discussed and acted upon without the top heavy bureaucratic structures that imprison trade union actions. The enthusiasm and energy are just two of the constructive elements that will carry on after the strike, as political awareness has risen and things will not be the same as before. And all this in areas renowned for being rife with sexism. The closed masculine community that is the pit has led to distinct separate roles for men and women but those distinctions have had their edges blurred in this strike. Initially, there was resistance to women picketing (COSA members apart) and there still is to some extent. But those women who are picketing now are doing [it] because they want to and they see this as an important element, unlike some men on the picket lines who stand back while others push, and you don’t know who is with you when the push comes and who will just stand there. This assertiveness and drive must have come from somewhere. To say that it is purely because they see their interests threatened is simplistic and non-sensical and does not explain why or the scale of actions. Perhaps one of the factors is Greenham. We have been barraged with images of women working together in an imaginative and determined way without men. Whilst this factor may not be conscious, I am sure that it has had some effect. No matter how oddly they are portrayed by the media, they have proved that women have the guts to stand and be counted, and have the collective strength to carry out their principles. The Greenham women too have had their share of harassment – daily evictions and abuse and violence including being dragged through razor wire, tied up with barbed wire whilst soldiers masturbate in front of them and bad write-ups in the press.

The Greenham womens focus may be on the military and nuclear weapons, but they have been on the picket lines with miners and mining women to show their their solidarity. We must learn from all people in struggle, by making the connections that make up the framework of our oppression we gain sufficient strength to rid ourselves of that oppression. But this must be done independently of hierarchical bureaucratic structures. We must work in the ways we have found to work best; horizontal structures that are open and dynamic. And we must not hand that new found power over to anybody, union or party, as this will only destroy the energy and plunge us back into apathy and inactivity. Together we are strong, together WE WILL WIN. Don’t let them tell us otherwise.

1, National Union of Mineworkers; Collery Officials and Staffs Area.

From Stateless: Paper of the South Yorkshire Anarchist Group no.1 (August 1984) http://www.thesparrowsnest.org.uk/collections/public_archive/15187.pdf