Women's voices are largely absent from the miners' strike: my PhD seeks to change that

Gemma-Harris, PhD student History The stories of women involved in the miners' strike are unique and important, says Gemma Harris

When my job ended in 2014, I found myself at a crossroads in my life.  At first, I set about becoming a carer for my grandmother but, after she passed away suddenly, I again felt lost.  It was only through a chance encounter with my local college, who were recruiting at my local supermarket, did I realise that I could do something I had wanted to do for a long time.  I had worked as a secretary since I was sixteen years old as it was not seen as appropriate by my careers’ advisor for a “valleys girl” to go to University; that was something the boys did in my school.  So, when the opportunity came to gain a degree in a subject close to my heart, I grasped it with both hands.  After a year in college, I was accepted to USW with an offer to study history.  During the three years of my undergraduate study, I made amazing friends and found that I was more capable than I thought I was.  

My final-year dissertation concentrated on the anti-war protests in Vietnam, thus blending my love of social movements and the sixties.  However, it was during my second and third year that I took the Women in Modern Britain module and found myself increasingly drawn into the area of gender studies, feminism and women’s experiences.  With a BA History Degree and Post-Graduate Diploma under my belt, I applied to research for a PhD.  

When it came to my PhD, I decided to build on the research already undertaken concerning the women’s involvement in the miners’ strike of 1984-1985.  After a few discussions with my supervisors, Dr Rachel Lock-Lewis and Dr Christopher Hill, it was decided that the thesis would concentrate on the South Wales Valleys.  This is one of the largest coalfields in Britain and the thesis will trace the lives of the women involved and how the strike impacted their attitudes and ambitions.  My first task has been to read the research findings and work that has already been published on the women’s involvement, which has provided a context for my own research and findings, together with identifying and locating primary sources for my research.  The circumstances of lockdown however have made it impossible to visit the crucial archives in which these all-important pieces of the past are safely kept.  I have however, soldiered on with collecting new oral testimonies from the women involved.  

The interviews I have conducted so far are with women who are keen to get their stories heard.  Those I have spoken to either entered the workplace or education after the strike such as Sian James, who became an MP, although a small minority were already in paid employment before the strike.  However, despite some of the women wanting to get their stories across, it seems that other simply do not want to relieve their experiences; they prefer to keep the strike in the past or simply believe that they have nothing to contribute as they feel their lives are not that interesting or important.  Others feel that it was their husbands who have the stories to tell as they were the miners who went through the strike and the women just did their duty to support them.  The testimonies I have collected so far show that all the stories from the women who went through the strike are unique as everyone had that experience that no one else had.  I believe that the women’s voices should be heard and that’s what I want to achieve with my thesis.