To commemorate the 30th anniversay of the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, and to celebrate International Women’s Day – the 8th March – we publish here an interview by Socialist Appeal’s Richard Vivian and John Dunn, who spoke to Anne Scargill and Betty Cook of Women Against Pit Closures about the lessons of the Great Miners Strike and their ongoing campaigning and commitment 30 years later.
Socialist Appeal’s Richard Vivian and John Dunn spoke to Anne Scargill and Betty Cook of Women Against Pit Closures about the lessons of the Great Miners Strike and their ongoing campaigning and commitment 30 years later.
Socialist Appeal: What does the 30th Anniversary of the Great Strike mean to you?
Betty: We’re still here, she didn’t destroy us. We’re still fighting and not defeated
Anne: We’ve not progressed much at all, we’re setting up food banks. Homelessness is getting worse. I volunteer at a soup kitchen, we used to feed 37 five years ago, now we’re feeding 111. 30 years on, we’re going backwards and that’s all Thatcher’s legacy. The coal mines were closed with millions of tons of coal abandoned beneath our feet and now the country’s bankrupt.
Betty: Like Anne says we’re going backwards, they’re privatising the health service. We visited women miners in America and one of them was in hospital. When we went to see her all she was worried about was how long would her medical insurance last, and when it ran out could she afford to pay for her treatment. That’s what they’re taking us to. I can see us following that American ideology. It’s always the poorest that have to pay. They want to stop us picketing and demonstrating. They’re cutting back on all benefits, soon winter fuel payments and bus passes will go, everything we’ve got will soon be taken away.
Anne: The young are being attacked, being given false hope for jobs and then throwing them on the scrap heap. They don’t give a damn.
Socialist Appeal: What were your reactions to the release of the Thatcher cabinet papers?
Betty: We always knew that Thatcher had lied, those papers simply justified what we did and said during the strike and after, but what haven’t they released? You’ve got Hillsborough, Orgreave and everything about the strike.
Anne: I don’t think they dare release everything, we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg. They had a hidden agenda, she didn’t care who she hurt or who she trampled on. They called us “The Enemy Within”; we’ve proved who really was “The Enemy Within” – Thatcher and her government.
Betty: The present goverment is “The Enemy Without” – without any empathy, without any sympathy caring or understanding.
Socialist Appeal: What do you think of the Labour Party’s Justice for the Coalfields Campaign?
Betty: I thought that when we got the last Labour government we would see all sacked miners reinstated. That was my biggest disappointment, they never reinstated the victimised strikers, they did nothing to assist us.
Anne: When the Labour Party was in power they did nothing of what they said they would do. They were more interested in looking after the middle classes and were only concerned about their own careers. Most Labour MPs, like the TU leaders, forget their roots. We had tremendous support from the rank and file, but the leaders betrayed us, many are now in the House of Lords. Kevin Barron (MP for Rother Valley, recently knighted) should hang his head in shame. They’re sucked into a club, they don’t see kids in Barnsley with no shoes. That’s the environment they’re in.
Socialist Appeal: How did the strike change the role of women ?
Anne: We were pushed into action. Because Thatcher was a woman, and a lot of women had voted for her, we had to stand up to her – we had to feed our families. When I walk around my village and see how things are today, it’s devastated and a shambles. That’s Thatcher’s legacy, that’s what we were fighting to prevent. We became politicised, I didn’t go to university or anything; I learned more in one year than I could ever have learned in university. And I met Betty and we’re still struggling. Now if we see a picket line we join it!
Betty: We amazed ourselves, we gained in confidence. We were speaking at meetings. We realised our strengths; women who had never been involved were in the streets, shouting, screaming at the police, demonstrating. It was a wonderful political education that has carried on 30 years later. I never realised what strength I had before the strike. Women we met during the strike are still contacting us and coming to join in the commemorations.
Anne: It’s really moving meeting up with those we met 30 years ago, it’s as if it was yesterday.
Betty: It taught us to appreciate different strands of life, like the gay people who assisted us. When we go on picket lines, like the recent FBU ones, we can do things that they can’t for fear of being sacked.
Anne: No they can’t sack us!
Betty: Each year we go to Orgreave and hang balloons and stuff on the bridge. Last year a police car drove up. I stood there thinking ‘Come on, bring it on!’ I was so disappointed when he drove straight past!
Socialist Appeal: How do you stay so active?
Betty: It’s simple – we’ve got to do it, we’ve no choice.
Anne: We see injustices, we see things in a different light. Wherever we can, we’ll be there. As long as we can, we’ll be on the picket line
Socialist Appeal: What does the future hold?
Betty: There’s no future for the working class under capitalism.
Anne: We are being driven back to the olden days my mother used to talk about. People are working for peanuts, they’re smashing the trade unions. I hope that while we’re here we can stop what’s happening and get a socialist government into power. We’re still here and we’re still at it – we’re still knocking on the door!
Betty: Thirty years on!