north staffordshire

It’s a testament to Margaret Thatcher’s belief that naked self-interest always defeats class solidarity that she imagined that the 1984-5 miners’ strike would end swiftly due to pressure from miners’ wives. Among the tranche of documents in this year’s National Archives release are handwritten notes Thatcher took during a meeting she held with the wives of strike-breaking Welsh miners.

Rose Hunter, from North Staffordshire Miners’ Support Group, recounts her experiences at a commemorative event in Bethnal Green: “Thatcher thought the women would get the men back to work. No. We wouldn’t put up with it. You don’t attack our community, our comrades, our sisters. So we organised.” And so Women Against Pit Closures formed 30 years ago, organised quickly and with remarkable tenacity for those with little direct experience of campaigning – and women’s groups sprung up and flourished in every mining community in Britain.

From the soup kitchens they began with, the women involved became increasingly politicised. Sometimes dismissed as little more than food distributors, the women marched, campaigned, collected money and picketed alongside the men. One of the most infamous photographs of the strike shows Sheffield WAPC’s Lesley Boulton at the “Battle of Orgreave”, raising her hand as a police officer on horseback prepares to strike her with his truncheon.

The women were keen to forge links with others experiencing systemic oppression – visiting Northern Ireland and welcoming the lesbian and gay miners’ support groups which drove to join pickets. Women from the Midlands noted how Asian communities ploughed money into the strikes when they saw the police treatment of miners mirroring their own experiences, and when Asian workers at Kewal Brothers clothing factory in Smethwick went on strike in 1984, 150 women and miners joined them in solidarity on their picket line.

Margaret Thatcher didn’t expect it, but miners’ wives galvanised the ‘84 strike

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“I’m a one eyed hunk of burning love. I was born blind in my right eye and it had to be removed. If you can get past that, then we can be friends. I enjoy being with you and I tend to be a little clingy cuz I fall in love at first sight.“