The women in Wales who played a crucial role in making sure the miners could continue to strike

  • ITV Wales' Carole Green spoke to Christine Powell, a miner's wife who organised the support.

Carrying a banner and a box of memories, a small group of women make their way into the Welfare Hall in Onllwyn. Long rows of tables and chairs sit empty. The wide stage is set. This building, at the heart of the village, hasn't changed much over the last four decades.

A backdrop to community life. A constant. A place for people to come together.

Four decades ago women in Wales were on the front line of the longest and most bitter industrial disputes Britain has ever seen.

Christine Powell sorts through a box of metal pin badges. She pulls out a few: "Coal not Dole" ,"Support the Miners" and NUM enamel branch badges. In this box, lies not just messages of protest and defiance, but a sense of identity. A way of life.

In March 1984, Christine Powell was a young physics teacher and newly married miner's wife.

As the strike got underway, the pay cheques stopped and the bills piled up, so women like Christine, across the South Wales coalfield began to organise the support their husbands and the community needed.

A collection of Badges that reads 'Support the miners' Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Describing what organising the support was like, Christine said: "So on a Wednesday it was organised chaos because there was food everywhere, in various vehicles ranging from a Mini Metro to a decommissioned ambulance.

"We used to ferry the food then to the various sub stations. There were nine of those, and then it was from those then that the miners picked up their food parcels. It was an alternative welfare state. We are talking about a situation where there was no money coming in. Absolutely zilch.. So you have to say that the food parcels were vital."

The hall in Onllwyn became the hub. There were fundraisers to put food on the table. The hall was a sorting house, a headquarters where women, with military precision, made up food parcels to feed 4,000 families across the Neath and Swansea Valleys every week.

Christine was already involved in local politics and became the treasurer of the Neath and District Miners Support Group.

Donations came in not just from across the UK, but from supporters around the world.

When Margaret Thatcher's government sought powers to seize the funds, Christine withdrew the donations from the bank and then hid the cash under her bed.

She says "the support groups were vital, a lifeline for striking families, fulfilling the role of an alternative Welfare State."

  • Miner David Williams says "without the practical support of the women, the strikers would have been forced back to work within weeks."

David Williams was a miner in the Blaenant Colliery in Crynant. Looking through the box of badges brings back memories.

He said: "I think it is an understatement. I mean, the strike wouldn't have lasted two months without the support groups because the people would had been starved out.

"The women's efforts were brilliant. Without them, we would have been sunk long before we were, long before we were. They can organise, the women can organise. There's no two ways about it."

  • Like hundreds of miners' wives, Ann Jones was not just fighting for her husband's job, but for her community and the future of the industry.

One of those women who organised the support was Ann Jones who worked in a local sewing factory.

She said: "We started picketing. You know, we went all over the country when there was no need for pickets in Wales, but we went to a lot of pickets around the country. Some were alright. Some were very nasty. You know, picket lines weren't fun, but there was a lot of commitment.

"There was a lot of commitment from the women on them. Sometimes, there were a lot more women than men because the men would be taken off the picket lines and the women were replacing them."

It wasn't long before Ann was asked to speak at mass rallies to galvanise support. Her first public speaking event was in Swansea and she surprised herself at being able to do it.

For many women, who hadn't had the opportunity to go to university, or work outside of the home, the strike was a turning point in their lives. They woke up to politics and new possibilities.

"I think it brought in a lot for women who hadn't done anything before. They didn't think they could do anything. I didn't think I could do anything, I think it gave women pride in themselves. I think it brought more respect to women and made a huge difference." Ann explained.

Ann added: "There is still more to do to make sure working class women, all women, have more and equal opportunities. It's clear she is still a fierce campaigner and an activist at heart."

Four decades on and Onllwyn's pit and the coal fields across Wales are long gone.

But the friendships between the women, sparked through the hardships of the strike, still burn bright. That year, that epic struggle, will never be forgotten.

Activist Sian James told ITV Wales: "A crystallising moment for me was when Margaret Thatcher and Ian MacGregor described us as 'the enemy within'. And I remember sitting there in front of the TV and thinking 'Right you think I'm your enemy, I'll be the best enemy you've ever had. You'll be so sorry you even said that."

She added: "Then we had to step up. We looked at each other as a young couple with kids and we said, that's it we've got to do more.

"Every woman who supported her husband during the strike, and didn't force her husband back into work during the strike, is a hero."

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