At that time I had no idea just how masochistic it was. How much like a civil war it was to become.
As the months dragged by with no hope of an end, the striking mining communities became more and more desperate. Savings vanished, mortgages and loans went unpaid and with nothing coming in there was no money for even the basics. Luckily, the mortgage lenders were prepared to accept that this was exceptional circumstances and wait it out with the rest of us. After all with 165000 men out on strike, what choice did they have?
The strike caused very real financial hardship, but not everyone believed that it wasn’t just hype to foster sympathy, especially in the South. On a trip to London with work I had a very interesting discussion with a man in a suit who was absolutely convinced that the striking miners were paid from a strike fund and refused to contribute to the bucket rattling miners wives standing on the cities street corners, because ‘they didn’t need it’. I made my way home depressed and angry.
I had no time for political machinations, though there was plenty going on and it was hard not to spend five minutes without being reminded of the strike. It was very difficult not to believe that we had become pawns in a fight that had precious little to do with saving an Industry. Increasingly I found it hard to understand why so many hung so fervently to the coat tails of the NUM and lost what little sympathy I had for the whole affair. I was pretty sure that when it came to the crunch, despite all their efforts to be seen as acting in the interests of its members, the NUM were far more interested in flexing their political muscle. I was sure that they would quite happily see its membership starve. After all, how much political mileage can you get from a martyr, and how much more from 165000.
Largely driven by the women the focus of the communities remained, at its heart, very personal. There was a very real desire that the communities should stand together and the women formed Action Groups, set up soup kitchens and distributed food parcels using the Miners Welfare’s as a base. Generations of women who had watched their menfolk vanish underground twelve hours a day, seven days a week, wondering if they would come up again in the same condition they went down and living in a community where everybody knew, or knew of everybody else, were never going to wilt under the pressure. Mining women were as strife hardened and resolute as their men, probably more so. The lives of whole populations and local businesses depended on coal. Without it there was no food on the table or fuel to cook it and keep warm, much less petrol for the car and holidays. My household was relatively lucky, we had no kids and I never used the soup kitchens or collected a food parcel, but I worried all the same. Months of eating dog bone stew from Monday to Saturday, begging Sunday lunch from your parents, stretching the household budget until it squealed and pleading with utility providers did away with any lingering sense of optimism. As the strike stretched on into winter, I worried all the more. I know I was not alone.
As time passed it was very difficult to see that there would ever be an end. It turned into a war of attrition, the Iron Lady and NCB under McGregor were not going to give in and neither were the NUM. The foot soldiers, the miners and the police, were doing what they had to, but reason was rapidly going out of the window in the face of propaganda fuelled desperation.
I knew that I would probably be viewed as a lily livered Liberal, even a traitor to the cause for my views. Quite frankly I didn’t care. Every man had a right to make his own decisions and stand by them. At no point did I consider my father a ‘scab’ because he was working. For a time my husband joined the pickets, I didn’t stop him, but I made it clear I disapproved. I hated that the NUM had seen fit to override the will of every man who voted not to strike, including my husband. For him to then picket those who had overridden the will of the NUM was at best hypocritical. Scabs (strike breakers) had always been hated, especially in the Coal Industry that had a long history of hard fought disputes. Memories were long and bitter.