Marge Short — Agecroft Miner's Wife
When the Miners' Strike started, I awaited the outcome with mixed emotions. I had watched the situation since Arthur Scargill called a ballot 4 years ago, asking for industrial action. He explained that the mining communities were in jeopardy and that there would be a massive closure of Pits. BUT, the men would not listen to him and they voted against the Executive recommendations. The following year another Ballot was called and once more it was rejected. In 1983 a Ballot decided on an overtime ban, with a strike decision if any pit should close. The overtime ban went on all over the winter months and through until Spring. It was then that the Government stepped in and declared a pit in Yorkshire and one in Scotland was to close. From then things started to move. A N.U.M. directive said there were to be Area Ballots. Yorkshire was out, Scotland was and then the picketing began. When I mentioned to my sister that I hoped it would escalate she thought I was mad!
Knowing just how my husband was feeling over the situation my heart cried out to him. He was on the Executive at what was going to be known as a "Scab Pit" (Agecroft). Each day he came home sick at the thought of helping scabs over the picket lines, in his capacity as an Executive Member. The crunch came when he had to make the decision of crossing the picket line, which was against his principles. I hope to think that I had a hand in influencing him — whether he chose to come out on strike, or to be a scab.
The situation in our household was that I did not work, we had a son on the dole and a daughter at college. With all this in mind, I prepared to back my husband whatever came. After all our family had survived the 72-74 strikes, while the children were younger and at school.
With Ernie at home all the time and not knowing what was going on it was a trying time for the family. The truth was not coming over on the media as to how many men were on strike. After a couple of weeks a striker called to say a Strike Centre had been set up, with the courtesy of A. U.E.W. building because the Miner's Welfare was in the hands of the Scabs. I have never seen such a change in Ernie, when he became involved with the Strike Centre.
The Women Organise
As the Strike went on, it became apparent that more and more Support Groups were being set up to help the Miners' in their struggle. Despite the remark that MacGregor passed about, seeing what the wives said about their husbands being on Strike, it was amazing how many Wives Support Groups emerged, especially in the Mining Communities.
Agecroft was at a disadvantage because of it being dispersed and the mining families lived in a wide area. The first time I became involved in the Strike was when I was invited to a Support Group in Oldham. When they announced how much money had been collected, 1 stood up to thank them and burst into tears. 1 think it was the thoughts of these people going out of their way to help us in our struggle. From then on I was taken to other Support Groups and found lots of new friends.
When the miners came over from Durham and Notts., to the Strike Centre, they were able to take money and food back with them, because the problems of collections in those areas was so bad and we were able to help them with what we had. We were also able to get information first hand off them as to what was happening in Notts., because the media were not being truthful.
During this time, it was noticeable who were our friends. Having just £11 and a food parcel to live on, it was quite obvious there was no money for social activities. We were treated on and off, all through the strike, to perhaps a drive out and a drink to having a Turkey given to us for Christmas.
A Family United
The Strike Centre helped out with the buying of the books, for our daughter at College. Both her and our son backed us all through the Strike and did not make any demands on us. The Strike had made them more politically aware of the situation in the country. At 18, our daughter could argue our cause with anyone. Our son was a tower of strength to his dad and they would converse with each other and talk things out.
I recall the first rally I went on. It was in Manchester at The Free Trade Hall where Arthur Scargill and Tony Benn were the main speakers. It was a great march around Manchester and how proud 1 felt to be carrying the Agecroft Wives Banner with my daughter. There were 10,000 people on that march. As well as the Strikers, there were all the Support Groups. To me it was very inspiring. Here were people who believed in our cause and ready to march with us. It was heartwarming. It was after the Rally in Manchester, that I felt I needed to become more involved, so I started to go down to the Strike Centre to see if I could help in any way, even if it was to give the men a cup of tea when they came in from picketing. I got to know all the lads and really enjoyed going down. The friendly people that came in with money and food, was something I would never have missed for the world. It struck me, that the Scabs would never experience this wonderful feeling of friendship.
As time went by there were rallies in London, Oldham, Rochdale and Altrincham. We had good receptions at all of them. It was at the Rochdale Rally that I first learned about the Ridley Report in full by the speaker Jim Callaghan, M.P. for Middleton & Heywood. I asked was there any possibility of a copy of the report. He kindly took my address and sure enough a copy was duly received. It was hard to convince the public that the Government was following that report to the last letter. The injustices that came out in the Strike were unbelievable. The part the Government, N.C.B., Media and the Police played was terrible. The truth was obliterated on all fronts and all the public was left with, was what was put out by the media. It was frustrating; when you tried to tell the truth to some people, it just fell on deaf ears.
Christmas was coming along and we had to think of the children. We finally managed to get six women together to form the Agecroft Wives Group. We started raising money and organising the Christmas parties which was a full time job, but very satisfying! We teamed up with Walkden Yard Workshops because all help possible was needed. The Parties proved a success with invitations going out to all the North West Pits. Terry Lewis our local M.P. played Father Christmas at both parties and was a tremendous success and a great laugh. An appeal went out in the local papers for Toys and Donations to help towards Christmas. I was amazed to see all the things that came into the centre. People were marvellous, I shall remember it forever. A member of the Local Labour Party came into the Centre and wrapped and sorted the presents for all the Families and every child got something they wanted. It was the public that helped to make our Christmas, not forgetting the Germans who sent a Christmas parcel to every Striker at Agecroft and Walkden yard. The Wives Group were responsible for issuing “News of Strike Happenings” in a news sheet which proved to be very popular, it was called “Not the Agecroft Argus!” This news sheet was instrumental in bringing back the “Lancashire Miner”, which has built up a large readership.
During this time, it was coming over the media that there was a drift back to work. I felt like shouting from the rooftops that it was all propaganda and that they were trying to tempt the men back to work with their own money. In my heart I knew if we could hold out that more and more help was coming, not only in this country but all over the world. But the Government were hell bent on making the public believe that the miners were going back in great numbers, when in actual fact the figures were distorted to drive the men back to work. Even when the end of the Strike came the public were led to believe it was a minority that was marching back, when all the time it was the majority.
I was proud of the fact that I was the wife of a Striking Miner, as 1 watched the television (in tears), and it saddened me, that the scabs had worked during the struggle - a fight not for money, but for job security. It was less of anger than pity I felt for the likes who weakened under the pressure of the media, and drifted back to work. I want the world to know that Striking Miners did not go back off their own bat, because thay had lost the strike, they went back through the pressures of the media - created by the Tory Government.
Since the end of the Strike we have still kept in touch with support groups, and they are now helping another of our causes that is “The Amnesty for Sacked Miners”.
We have seen quite a few of our Mining Friends when we visited the Yorkshire and Durham Galas. The Burgomeister of Liinen (West Germany) has been in touch and would like the mining wives in Germany, who were responsible for collections for us, to come and stay for a holiday.
There is another fight going on, and that is to preserve the N.U.M. and convince the men that the Breakaway Union, is yet another ploy of the Governments, to make Trade Unionists conform to their policies. We many have lost one Battle, but the War goes on ... .