[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 March, 2004, 18:26 GMT
Striking tales: A wife's story
Barbara Williams
"Sugar was like gold dust": Barbara Williams recalls organising food parcels
The 1984-5 miners' strike thrust women into roles they had never imagined for themselves.

Miner's wife and support group activist Barbara Williams, from Rhondda, described how their work surprised many of their men folk - and how the struggle ultimately proved to be a springboard for many like her.

She said: "The memory doesn't go away. It's as if it was a few weeks ago."

The 20 years separating the start of the miners' strike in 1984 and a freezing winter's day in 2004 have not lessened Mrs Williams' crystal clear recall of the days which changed her life.

Her husband Gordon was an electrician at Maerdy colliery at the top of the two Rhondda valleys when the strike began.

Within weeks, she found herself secretary of the newly-formed Maerdy Women's Support Group.

It followed a meeting called by the local National Union of Mineworkers lodge specifically for the wives and women relatives of the striking miners - a first, in Mrs William's recollection.

She said: "We had to form a committee. Somebody said, you need a treasurer and secretary and my friend said, put your hand up and get involved.

"At the start, no-one would have envisaged that it would have been a year-long strike.

"We realised there was a fight on, but at the end of the day we were fighting to keep the pit open, for the men to keep their jobs to support their families.

Women were never the main thing in the strike but I think without them a lot of men would have cracked
Barbara Williams

"We thought we'd need to give out food parcels, so a couple of women went out with trolleys, going round to shops and door-to-door.

"I think a couple of the men had a shock."

After successfully organising food collection in the Maerdy area, the women were initially reluctant to co-operate when the NUM regional headquarters in Pontypridd wanted them to hand over their supplies to be distributed centrally.

She said: "We thought, what the hell, there's no way they're going to come up here and take over," she recalled.

"There was quite a lot of food gathered at the miners' hall and we thought we'd hide it. One of the shopkeepers here let us put it in the shop.

"But there was no need because all the union was trying to do was to make sure everybody got something."

Mrs Williams said scrupulous efforts were made to ensure everybody on strike had an equal share of the food.

"We were weighing potatoes, counting tea bags - sugar was like gold dust," she explained.

"Sometimes we'd have a vanload of stuff come from Belgium or France.

Commemorative plate
A commemorative plate given to recognise the women's strike work
"Maerdy was the focal point of the Rhondda."

Ironically, for all the hardship and struggle, the strike provided Mrs Williams with a personal turning point in her life.

In 1980, she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and needed a wheelchair to help her get around.

Her activism meant this fact quickly became unimportant as the greater struggle overtook personal problems.

She said: "Being involved with the strike helped me realise that that wheelchair was just a spare pair of legs."

"Wherever the other women went, they took me with them."

She is convinced that the wheelchair worked in her favour on one occasion, while in Oxford collecting money for the striking families.

"I don't know if people thought I was collecting for the disabled, because they seemed to be putting more money in my tin than others!"

As the strike progressed, Barbara took on the role of spokeswoman.

She had two appearances on the television programme, This Week Next Week, hosted by David Dimbleby, to present the miners' and their wives' side of the story.

She said: "Women were never the main thing in the strike but I think without them a lot of men would have cracked.

I think a lot of women proved there were things they had never, ever done before that we were now capable of doing
Barbara Williams

""I think they were taken aback by how much they needed the women.

"Everyone could see that this fight was going to be their fight, because [Thatcher] was determined to smash all the unions.

"We would have stuck it out longer if we'd had to."

For Christmas that year, with no money in the community, the adults went all out to ensure every child got at least one present.

Older toys were recycled and given a make-over, while donations came in from regions supporting the miners through the strike.

"One man gave a cheque for 1,000 to set up a fund for the families," Barbara added.

"He didn't want to give money to the government in taxes."

Politician

Although the women's group carried on for a couple of months after the end of the strike in March 1985, eventually its members moved on to other things, partly as a result of their activities during the months of action.

She said: "Women went to work - did jobs they hadn't done before.

"I think a lot of women proved there were things they had never, ever done before that we were now capable of doing.

"Every woman seemed to have found the strength to go on to something else. Part of it was paying back the community that was so caring."

Two years after the end of the strike, Barbara stood at the local council elections for Labour, and stayed in public office for nine years.

But her career as a politician was nearly over before it began.

Throughout the strike, her family had taken part in making a programme entitled A Year in the Life.

During this, they found themselves in the unusual position of getting to know a leading Conservative MP of the time, Cecil Parkinson - not the most likely scenario for a militant miner's family on strike.

When it was over, Parkinson and his wife visited Mrs Williams' mother-in-law, who lived with the family in their Maerdy home.

When he found out Mrs Williams was planning to stand for election, offered to help canvass for her.

Her reply was short and to the point: "They'd shoot you - and me."





PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific