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'Bread and roses'.

Within the Communist Party (CP) at that time we had very strong ideas about trying to create a broad democratic alliance, and trying to see the things that people have in common across different forms of struggle. So one thing that I found really interesting was the way the strike developed in very different ways from the miners' strikes in the 1970s, partly because of the involvement of women from the pit communities. Because there was more of a focus on community organisation, it widened the strike out from being a workplace-only trade union strike to being a much wider and broader campaign. And that helped the campaign to win support for the miners in the wider society.

There were obviously a lot of arguments at the time about strategy, but some of us felt very strongly that to broaden the campaign out and get as wide as possible support would be the way to win it. Others had more of a straightforward 'solidarity with the workers' approach, which some of us felt narrowed down the potential for winning support. Mass pickets and closing down supply lines were the more traditional approach. Linking communities and different groups together--as with the now famous Lesbians and Gay Men Support the Miners--was a different kind of strategy.

But probably there was no strategy that could have won against the That cherites at that time. They were determined to win and had all the resources of the state at their disposal. I feel a great regret for that because there was a new kind of politics emerging at that time, but it was lost with the onset of Thatcherism. (The GLC was a great example of this new politics, but was also destroyed by Thatcher.)

Within the CP we were looking for as many different ways as possible for supporting the strike, for finding new ways of doing it. In this spirit, Jean Miller, a party member who was a leading figure in Women Against Pit Closures in Barnsley, asked us to organise a camp so that miners' kids would get a holiday in the August of 1984. So, South Essex Communist Party took that on, and Denis Walshe, who was the district secretary at the time, was the main organiser. Denis knew I'd been a teacher for a couple of years so he asked me to run the actual camp. There was a much more relaxed attitude to these things in those days there was no idea of a CRB check or anything like that--it was just, 'okay, we'll organise a camp', and off we went and organised it. My couple of years' teaching experience was considered enough!

The Young Communist League owned a woodland campsite called Coppice Camp in Essex near Brentwood. I think Progressive Tours, which was a CP-connected travel company, sometimes used it when people came over here--they put people up there because it's not that far from London. Anyway, we got given the use of Coppice Camp for four weeks in August. First of all we had to go and get the campsite into better shape. Denis was an electrician, as it happens, and he sorted out all the electrics, and we all helped to get the huts into shape. The campsite consisted of wooden huts in a few acres of woodland. We then had to raise money, obviously, to pay for the food and get travel organised and all that sort of thing.

So, the South Essex Communist party raised all the money and I think that's interesting in at least two ways.

Firstly, it might have seemed like quite a frivolous thing to do, in the sense that it wasn't a case of giving food to people who were starving because they didn't have any money. But, looked at in another way, it was based on the idea of bread and roses too. You don't just support people by giving them the basics. You try to do a bit more than that.

Secondly, the fund-raising involved one community coming together to do something in solidarity with another community Raising money for a specific project, a holiday, meant that people could be involved in something concrete. At the camp we had parties every week on the last day for supporters, and these were heart-warming occasions.

So there was me and then there was Jane Taylor, who had worked for the NUS, so someone knew her. And someone who lived locally came and worked as the cook. Then there was a guy called Joe who came down from the miners. We did these four weeks of holidays and each week a different load of children came down. I'm guessing that Jean must have picked people that she thought really needed the holiday. The first three weeks it was all kids and the last week there were quite a few women too. There were about twelve women with their children.

It was quite a big logistical operation. We didn't have huge amounts of money so we tried to get people around from South Essex to contribute in kind. Essex University Students Union let us have a minibus. I think they let us have one permanently and one that we had to keep going and getting and taking back again when it was available. Harlow Council gave us free use of their swimming pool and their park by the river with a boating pool and other stuff like that, so we used to go there every week. And then there was this guy who had a fish and chip shop in Southend, and once a week with these kids we used to go to Southend and they all got free fish and chips. I think I remember that there was free ice cream each week as well, from another stall.

The last week, when we had the women down, we had between ten and fifteen taxi drivers who all drove out in a convoy in their cabs up to Brentford, and then we all got in the cabs and they drove us to London and gave us a night-time tour. It's hard to take your mind back to that long ago, but a lot of the women hadn't been to London before, so it seemed really exciting. We had this really fantastic night time tour of London in these taxi cabs, with the kids and mothers all going round together. And it was really good fun for all of us.

I think that one of the ideas of Jean Miller and other women involved in Women Against Pit Closures was that they were operating like an alternative welfare state. It was partly about pre-figuration, doing things now as you would want them to be done, in solidarity, not waiting for the system to change but getting on with it and doing it now.

We also raised money again and went down to Barnsley at Christmas 1984 with toys and money for a kids' party We were certain by then that we had lost, but you just had to keep doing what you could.

I first became active in the 1970s and that was a really optimistic time. But '79 was a big blow to that, when Thatcher was elected. I would say that in the early 1980s there was a gradual--to me anyway--feeling of being defeated, of being set back.

So, one of the things I think I learned in the miners' strike is how to keep yourself going, and how to feel solidarity, and how to feel that we are going to keep on fighting together--we're going to do these things together. And not just in a grim struggle, but we would enjoy ourselves and build our solidarity with each other in good spirits, in spite of what was going on.

Terry Conway is Islington North CLP's LGBT officer and chair of Islington Unite Community Sally Davison and David Featherstone are members of the Soundings editorial collective. David Donovan, a former miner, is now a BECTU official. Diarmaid Kelliher is a Research Associate in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow.
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Title Annotation:Communist Party of Great Britain
Author:Davison, Sally
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2018
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