A couple of weeks ago I went up to Nottinghamshire with some other women to lend some support to the miners. These are some observations and thoughts about what I saw.
The strikers and their families seemed very determined to stick it out despite the hardships they are having to endure: most of them receive little or no State benefit, and are having to sell T.V.’s, videos, cars etc. to get by. (It’s easy to say “I can’t afford a fucking video recorder” but it’s hard to experience such a drop in your standard of living). Even so, from what I saw, they can’t afford to eat enough, and some of the single men (who get no State money at all) have not been able to manage and have gone back to work with the other 2/3 of Notts miners.
A lot has been written about the role of women in the strike; people have begun to realise that everyone’s help and co-operation is needed to win the strike. Women can picket etc. as well as cook and wash-up. On the other hand, the striking men could help with things like cooking, but on the whole they didn’t seem to. I was told by one woman that “the men are useless at cooking”. There seemed to be a passive acceptance on the part of the women that this was their role and not the men’s. Also, on the one picket I went on the women were shouting things like “Maggie Thatcher’s got one, Ian Macgregor is one”, which I found a bit objectionable.
A pleasant exception was the couple I stayed with who seemed far more aware of things like sexism. The bloke was a bit of an anarchist. He didn’t have a blind faith in Scargill, as he thought many did, and he was slagging off groups like the S.W.P. who turn up on picket lines with the sole aim of recruiting and selling ‘the paper’, and generally trying to take over. They’ve been told to fuck off by pickets in Derbyshire and elsewhere who got fed up with this authoritarianism.
We have just been shown a document produced by Doncaster N.U.M. Strike Committee titled ‘Bores Under the Floors’ (as opposed to ‘reds under the beds’), which is a criticism of the various lefty groups “currently invading the pit villages”. It says that
“almost without exception they see themselves as ‘Marxist’ prophets, dispensing their tablets of gold, to the untutored masses, who, to their minds anyway will flounder without their ‘expert’ advice and guidance.
”They see the masses in general (and the miners as no exception) as a gullible, inexperienced morass, organised in trade unions destined to sap their energies, led by fat self-interested bureaucrats and totally unable to see the road ahead without their clear-sighted vision and light. They are political self-appointed messiahs.”
It goes on to personally deal with the various groups in the same unflattering way. The S.W.P. have been trying to take over the strike, whereas the Workers Revolutionary Party wants to “urge us into a defeat, get us smashed, and then pick up the pieces to build their own outfit by blaming it all on the leaders of ours. Nice”. Of the Left groups only the New Communist Party (Stalinists), Militant and Socialist Action have been helping the miners in the way the miners want. With the aim of gaining credibility and building ‘the Party’ of course.
But the activities of these lefty groups is the least of the miners’ worries. Police harassment is an everyday occurrence. Striking Notts miners have to carry around
with them a brass disc with their clock number on it, which they have to show everytime they’re stopped by the filth, perhaps to prove that they’re genuine miners and not “outside agitators”, or maybe the police just want to humiliate and inconvenience them. After the dawn picket, I was in a car with three strikers on their way to get a free breakfast at another village. We were stopped at a road-block: the police took the drivers licence, asked where they were going and why, and wouldn’t believe the real reason (“I-am-here-to-keep-the-Queen’s-Peace-I-believe-you-intend-to-picket-which-is-likely-to-cause-a-breach-of-the-peace-blah-blah-blah…”). So we had to turn back without the miners getting any breakfast. Before returning the licence having examined it thoroughly this copper wanted to know the names and dates of birth of everyone else in the car. The reason he gave was that if any of us were going to complain about him later he would need those details at that moment!! We had other theories as to his reasons and we all refused.
Also, on the picket line we were not allowed to shout ‘scab’ or swear, unless we wanted to get arrested. The scabs were instead called ‘little monkeys’ and ‘bounders’ (!).
We should not be surprised at this policy of harassment since the police are just doing the job they were created for: to control the working class and protect their rulers. The army has already been used in a subtle way (squaddies on picket lines dressed as policemen) but if it comes to it the ruling class will send in the army on a greater scale, putting into practice on the British working class what they’ve been perfecting on the Catholic working class in N. Ireland for the last 15 years. The legal system has its role to play as well ,of course. For, as General Frank Kitson, the former chief of the British Army in Northern Ireland, wrote in his book ‘Low-Intensity Operations’, “the law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal. The law should be used for the disposal of unwanted members of the public“.
Because of this inevitable repression the miners need all the support they can get. This means being active, by picketing (with no strings attached), trashing cop-shops (as has happened in Yorkshire), going on strike in sympathy, and generally extending the struggle, as well as the more mundane, but very important, shaking buckets, leafleting, organising meetings/ benefits and good old-fashioned talking to people.
The miners are very grateful for true solidarity. Back to that N.U.M. report:
”It will come as a surprise to many but the Anarchists have in fact been far more helpful than many of the self-proclaimed saviours of the working class…. they have spent what time and energy they have to actually helping us, in the ways we asked to be helped…. when WE have asked they have showed up on picket lines, without the newspapers the others on the left usually carry …. In addition you will find that when push comes to shove in dangerous situations on the picket lines, the ‘left’ are way back with an armful of papers, whilst the Anarchist is stood to the end with you“.
From: Alive & Kicking : Cambridge anarchist news no. 1 (1984).