Lynn Beaton 2014
Keeping Alive the Spirit of the Miners’ Strike
I had been working at the ACTU Working Women’s Centre from 1979 and, deciding it was time to move on I went to the other side of the world.
I had no idea when I left Melbourne that the miners’ strike was on, but as soon as I arrived in the UK it was impossible not to know. I spent a couple of months in London where outside every Tube station, on many street corners, in pubs, outside gigs, and at any festival or outdoor event people collected for the miners.
They were distinctive with their yellow plastic ‘Coal not Dole’ collection tins and they were usually covered with round yellow stickers and assorted badges. They carried pages of these paper stickers and every time anyone put something into one of the collection tins they were offered a sticker which was proudly worn to show the world support of the miners.
There was no fence sitting during the miners’ strike: everybody had an opinion.
I went to TUC Congress and spoke to miners there who invited me to visit their pit village.
I travelled to Blidworth (pronounced Blid’th) in Nottinghamshire where the pits were still working and the strikers were a minority. After two weeks I had witnessed for myself the police violence on the picket lines, the bias of the courts, the hostility of the scabs.
I had also witnessed the organisation and commitment of the striking community and the way that had changed their lives and their view of the world. Suddenly they heard themselves described by their Prime Minister as “the enemy within,” they became aware that the media coverage of their battle was not only biased but full of lies.
Neighbours, friends and family members who were still working turned against them; police occupied their village arresting people willy-nilly and starting fights on the picket lines; their phones were tapped and the courts were clearly and openly biased against them; and special legislation was introduced to prevent them getting any welfare support.
All this made them realise that simply because they were standing up for what they considered was their right to employment and their right to live in a viable community they had been denied many of the benefits of British citizenship.
One day when I was there the news was showing violent demonstrations in Poland and one of the children sang out: ‘'Hey Mum and come and see, we're on the news again'’.
My intention when I went to Blidworth was to write a few articles for Australian trade union journals, but after a few days, I realised that the full extent of the situation, both the hardships and the amazing strengths found by individuals in struggle could not be told in an article. I was overwhelmed with the need to share what I was witnessing and I realised that would need a book.
I discussed the writing of the book with the community who welcomed the suggestion and offered me accommodation in a caravan at the back of Pauline’s house. As I began to gather information I realised that my own understanding was deepened by the fact I was fast becoming friends with many of the community.
I decided then, that the best way to tell the story was up close and personal so that the reader might feel as they too, had become friends with two of the women from the striking community.
I chose women because theirs was the greater transformation from apolitical non-unionised factory workers to politically-aware individuals who travelled the length and breadth of Britain on speaking tours to raise funds and organised the entire village. The latter involved attending to all the collective needs of the strikers and their families.
End of the strike was devastating
When the strike ended it was devastating for those who had given their all in its success.
But they were not and never would be the same people that had entered the strike. The extent to which individuals are transformed in struggle, finding strengths they were unaware of, realising the class nature of the society in which they live, was a legacy of the strike.
On the other hand, the defeat opened the gates for Thatcher to take on other unions one-by-one and then to introduce the neo-liberal policies that bear her name.
Across the Atlantic, Ronald Reagan introduced the same polices and the world therefore has been dominated politically and economically ever since.
The defeat of the British miners sent a shiver through union movements around the world, but it should have shaken them up. Since this defeat, unions in Australia and most other countries have lost members and lost strength.
Now that the result of neo-liberal policies is clear, our need to fight them is paramount.
Here in Australia our way of life is under threat from the Abbott Government. The government was elected largely because of a political apathy among the electorate.
The story of Doreen and Pauline brings hope in a bleak landscape because it shows us that once individuals begin to struggle for their communities and their dignity – they are transformed.