The response to the 1984-85 miners' strike in Durham County : women, the Labour Party and community
This thematic account of responses from women in mining families, from the Labour Party and from communities, in Durham County, to the 1984-85 miners' strike, firmly separates mythology about the strike, generated both inside and outside the coalfield, from what actually happened. Reasons for both the generation and the persistence of that mythology are sought. The extent of hardship suffered when miners' families faced punishing regulations and discretionary practices of the statutory bodies to which they turned for help, is indicated. An historical exploration is made of the world of working-class, coalfield women, since 1906. Similarities and differences are remarked among women who, at different times, built organisations and became politically active in an excessively proletarian and male-dominated area. Central to this thesis is an examination of the contradiction at the heart of the Labour Party. Its socialist objective is embodied in the 1918 Constitution but successive, revisionist leaderships have preferred class collaboration. The argument made here is that revisionists progressively depoliticise the Party and the working class. As a result, Party members in Durham, disabled by pragmatism and well-entrenched conservatism, could make only a weak and patchy response to the strike. Widespread working-class conservatism ensured that appeals for help, even in pit villages, were not made on the basis of political solidarity. Support group women appealed successfully to safer, conservative notions of "community". In ex-pit areas, however, that appeal was irrelevant because miners were in a minority and, in any case, coal was seen as a dying industry. The year-long strike was a remarkable occurrence, sustained in Durham mainly by family assistance, County Council donations and, contrary to popular belief, the efforts of very small numbers of activists who took on disproportionate amounts of work for hardship relief.