Striking Stuff - Jean A. Gittins

A collection of poems that were written by a member of Yorkshire Women Against Pit Closures during the 1984-85 miners' strike and read at fundraising benefits around the coalfield. Taken from the 1 in 12 Publications archive.

Born in 1936, married at the age of eighteen, Jean Gittins spent the past 30 years (until her divorce) looking after her home and family.

Brought up in a Socialist home, it was inevitable that she should be involved in the recent dispute in the mining industry, alongside her two youngest sons, who work at Ledston Luck Colliery.

The poems in this little collection were written as a direct result of her experiences in the strike, and (unlike much of her previous work, which she wrote, then discarded), were read at money raising 'benefits' around the coalfield, and were used in a BBC 2 documentary at the end of 1985.

Still an active member of North Yorkshire Women Against Pit Closures1, Jean is now writing mainly on the problems of a woman of a 'certain' age, coping in a modern world.

Cover design by Wendy Culverwell, Bradford Printshop
Photos courtesy Leeds Other Paper, Cathy Lloyd, and Graham Dodd
Cartoons by Janis Goodman
Original typeset by Bryan Williamson, Swinton, Berwickshire
Original printed by Tony Ward at the Arc & Throstle Press, The Old Fire Station, Rochadale Road, Todmorden
The original book was financed entirely by donation
Thanks to: 1 in 12 Club; SOGAT members at Bradford Printshop; Workers at Bradford Resource Centre; Yorkshire Women Against Pit Closures; Equity members of Leeds Playhouse Theatre in Education; Leeds Postcards; T & GWU (ACTSS) 9/988 Branch; Leeds Women Against Pit Closures; Bradford Women's Centre; and others.

You can choose the words / You will let me use / You can tell me how to live / But, if I’ve a mind I can call my own / You can’t make me forgive
Jean A. Gittins

Why mam, why? (May 1984)

WHY MAM, WHY?

Why don’t the wheels go round mam?
Why don’t the wheels go round?
‘Cause there comes a time when a man must stand
And take his destiny in his own two hands
And with all the courage that he commands
Say "Don’t let the wheels go round".

Why is the table bare, mam?
Why is the table bare?
‘Cause the strike’s been long, and its made us poor
Though they’ve used the coppers, and bent the law
Its the nation’s future we’re fighting for,
That’s why the table’s bare.

Why does me dad hate scabs, mam?
Why does me dad hate scabs?
‘Cause a scab’s a blackleg, a scab’s a swine
Who has no respect for the picket line
And he ain’t no brother of yours, or mine,
That’s why your dad hates scabs.

Doesn’t the coal board care, mam?
Doesn’t the coal board care?
They have no compassion for you and I
Let our children starve, and the pickets die
There’s a sight more chance that you’ll see pigs fly
Than you’ll see the coal board care.

Why don’t the wheels go round, mam?
Why don’t the wheels go round?
Our fathers fought, and their fathers too
For an industry that we’ll leave to you
Just remember lad, its not them, but you
That makes Britain’s wheels go round.

May 1984

This was the first poem I wrote about the strike. It has been put to music, and I was very ‘touched’ when I heard it sung by a group called ‘Coalition’ at the GLC Festival in Battersea Park last Summer.

The battle for the NUM (June 1984)

THE BATTLE FOR THE NUM

I’ll tell you the tale of a battle.
It’s one of the fiercest we’ve had
Between an American butcher
And bold Mrs Scargill’s young lad.

The Yankee came over to England
To rationalise British Steel
He slew British Leyland, and then he moved on
To bring our miners to heel.

But he hadn’t reckoned on Arthur
A worthy opponent, our man,
He said: "Nay to hummah, you can’t do that there,
"Although Maggie says that you can

"You see, we have got these agreements,
"Concerning pit closures, and such
"We feel a bit strong about that sort of thing,
"We don’t like your attitude much.

"We have this old-fashioned tradition
"That might seem a trifle absurd
"When we make agreements we mean what we say
"A man should be good as his word.

"So sling your hook, Ian MacGregor,
"In Tebbit’s words ‘get on your bike’
"Until you have honoured the Programme for Coal
"I reckon we’ll stay out on strike".

June 1984

This verse was inspired by the Stanley Holloway monologues. I wrote this one night, when I couldn’t sleep.

A sad tale of a striker's bride (June 1984)

A SAD TALE OF A STRIKER’S BRIDE

It wor gunna be a Church weddin’
They said ah could ‘ave owt ah liked
We’d chosen the bridesmaids, the flowers, the wine
Then what ‘appened — they all went on strike.

Ah reckon we could’ve just waited -
To ‘ave Christenin’ first’s no disgrace -
But ah’d set me ‘eart on bein’ married in white
An it wor gerrin’ tight at the waist.

So we went to the Registry Office
With only us dads and us mams
But it does tek the shine off a weddin when t' talk
‘s about price of second-hand prams.

We’d ‘oped we’d be gettin’ a mortgage
We’d practically settled the sum,
But when the’ fund ‘art ‘e weren’t getting a wage
We ‘as ter go live with ‘is mum.

It isn’t that ah’m not really grateful -
She’s really a generous soul -
But when we’re all sittin an’ watchin’ TV
She’ll be soakin’ ‘er feet in a bowl.

‘Is dad lies on t’ sofa, just snorin’
When ‘e gets back ‘ome from th’ pub,
‘e teks out ‘is teeth, an’ leaves ‘em on t’ sink -
Eee, it fair puts yer right off yer grub.

We couldn’t afford gallivantin’
On t' money from t' DHSS,
An’ soon a fun aht ah’d got nowt that’d fit -
God! ‘Ow I ‘ate lookin’ a mess.

Ah wish that ah could’ve afforded
To ‘ave me ‘air properly done,
But when we’ve paid out, well, there’s just nothin’ left -
This strikin’ lark isn’t much fun.

For ‘im, life’s not that much different -
‘E pickets, instead of ‘is job,
‘E goes out ter t’ meetin’ at t’ workin’ men’s club
On Satdi, ‘e draws a few bob.

For me, ah was really quite ‘omesick,
Ah ‘ad mornin’ sickness as well,
An’ as ‘is mam only knew ‘ow to cook chips
Ah kept passin’ out at the smell.

There’s only one thing that keeps me on the rails -
When ah go ter mi mam’s at weekend
If ah couldn’t rummage through my bottom drawer
Ah think ah would go round the bend.

‘Cos ‘onest, ah luv ‘im, an’ if - ah mean ‘when’ -
Them up there find a road to agree
We could work out us problems, before its too late,
We might ‘ave a chance, ‘im an me.

It ain’t much of a start, with a feller that’s scared
That ‘e might finish up on the dole,
And God knows, there must be an easier way
Than goin’ down that mucky ‘ole.

So ah’ll wait for me dream ‘ome till later,
Give ‘im all the support that ah can,
‘Cause when this lot’s ower, ah’m glad ah can say
Well, leastways ah married a man.

June 1984

This poem is one that I nearly always get asked to recite. Better heard, than read.

Destiny - Scrapheap (June 1984)

DESTINY - SCRAPHEAP

They’ve offered me early retirement —
Well ‘offered’s’ not really the word —
They’ve ‘ad a re-think, an’ they’re closin’ us down,
Well, leastways, that’s what we’ve ‘eard.

Last week, there were rumours of takeover bids
But no-one could make ‘ead or tail
Although they’ve got some more YTS kids
So ‘ow can we be up for sale?

Sometime in the summer, we were doin’ grand
Accordin’ to t' ouse magazine
So why are th’ sellin’? ah can’t understand —
Unless there’s a buyer that’s keen.

But if it IS true what they’re sayin’ —
The ones with their ears ter th’ ground
They’re transferrin’ t' assets to — maybe Taiwan —
It’s something to do with the pound.

Ah’ve worked for this compny since ah was a lad
Ah’ve done ivvery job in the shop
An’ just when ah thought ah were due for a rise
It looks like ah’m gerrin’ the chop.

Well, ah don’t really fancy the prospect,
Redundant at my time of life,
I’ve fifteen more years of ‘ard work left in me.
Ah wonder ‘ow ah can tell t' wife?

There’ll be me redundancy payment —
Should add up ter quite a few bob —
But what do ah do fer the rest of me life?
Ah’d rather be keeping me job.

June 1984

Picket's Prayer (July 1984)

PICKET’S PRAYER

Dear Lord, who watches over me
When I am down the mine,
Watch over me this morning
When I’m on the picket line.

Let me not act in anger,
And although I may know fear
I will be calm and in control
If you will just be near.

I will not hate policemen,
Though I hate the things they do
I’ll not be aggravated
By those men in navy blue.

And when I see the convoy
Driven speeding through the gate
Help me hide my feelings
Of revulsion and of hate.

Preserve my sense of humour
When derided and abused
Let me not be degraded when
Like animals we’re used.

Give me the strength to act
As my convictions bid me do
And let my every action
So be influenced by you.

I’m only asking for the right
To work, for me and mine
So, Lord, be close beside me
When I’m on the picket line.

July 1984

This was written during a period when I was thinking "GOD help us, does nobody understand why we are doing this?"

The Yorkshire Picket Song (Aug 1984)

THE YORKSHIRE PICKET SONG

Ah’m a picket
A Yorkshire picket
‘Appen some of you ‘ave seen me on TV
Ah’m a picket
A Yorkshire picket
Do you all believe exactly what you see?
Do you see a Load of hooligans?
A ruthless, mindless mob?
A band of villains, out to break the law?
Or do you see a union, just out to save the jobs
Of the men they think its worth the sufferin’ for?

Ah’m a picket
A Yorkshire picket,
And ah do mi job for just a quid a day
Ah’m a picket
A Yorkshire picket
So you see, its not exactly for the pay.
But when we’re chased by cavalry
And t' coppers use th’ sticks
And we are driven, bleedin’, from the fray
We realise what grandad knew in 1926
And it makes us more determined we will stay.

Ah’m a picket
A Yorkshire picket
We confront our friendly bobbies every day
Ah’m a picket
A Yorkshire picket
What we do for love, they’re doing for th’ pay
But when we’re standin’ side by side
And singin’ "Here we go"
Or "Arthur, we’ll support you evermore"
That feeling of true brotherhood is one they’ll never know
Those overpaid, blue BASTions of the law.

Ah’m a picket
A Yorkshire picket
And ah tell me main about the things we do.
Ah’m a picket
A Yorkshire picket
Well, perhaps ah might forget a thing or two
‘Cause, God bless her heart, she still believes
That we are living in
A State that still observes the rule of law
She doesn’t realise the world she knew is caving in
They’ve made new rules for 1984.

August 1984

When the media were showing us as sub-human morons, I wanted to say something for my ‘youngest’ who was a regular ‘flying picket’.

To a former friend (Sept 1984)

TO A FORMER FRIEND

Aye lad — a thowt a knew yer — an a nivver thow’d ‘ad see
The day when tha’d go thro’ them gates — and turn thi back on me.

The lines an’ lines o’ bobbies — tried ter keep us all i’ place
But as the bus rushed by us all — a recognised yer face.

Ave worked wi’ you for all these years — a thowt you were mi mate
Ave watched yer back while workin’ — now a watch it thro’ the gate.

Wi’ve shared us jobs, wi’ve shared us snap, wi’ve shared us soap i’t bath
But there’ll bi no more sharin — in the bitter aftermath.

‘Cos Coal Board bowt yer heart an’ soul — wi’t promised bonus pay
It’s all a ‘Con’ — ‘Cos’t brass is what thi’ owed us anyway.

I ‘ope yer think it’s worth it — ‘cos this strike ‘as got to end
An’ tha mun look ther them th’as joined
When next tha needs a friend.

September 1984

When former workmates started passing picket lines, the overwhelming emotion was not anger, but hurt, and disappointment. The words are mine, but, the sentiments are those of my son Thomas, on the day a ‘former friend’ went in at Ledston Luck.

Thi say (Dec 1984) / Libelled / In conclusion (Feb 1985)

THI SAY

Mam says that when we’ve won
She’ll go an’ buy a joint o’ meat
We’ll all ‘ave pocket money
An’ new shoes upon us feet

An’ then she’ll ‘ave ‘er ‘air done
An’ she’ll buy mi dad a ‘jar’
An’ we’ll ‘ave trips ter’t seaside
When we’ve paid t’road tax on t’car

Mi dad won’t go an’ picket
‘Cos theer won’t be no more strike
An’ when we’ve got all straightened up
They’re buying me a bike

This year we’ll ‘ave an ‘oliday
We’ll ‘appen go to Spain
An’ they’ll bring our telly back
When dad’s in work again

But I can’t talk to our Uncle Charlie any more
It seems ‘is legs ‘ave gone all black
An’ ‘ee ‘as got a sore
Mi Gran sez Uncle Charlie ‘as betrayed ‘is kith an’ kin
‘Ee’s not a son of ‘ers no more
Since ‘ees been goin’ in

Mi Grandad wishes ‘ee could go an’ picket with the rest
But ‘ee dun’t gerrabout much
‘Cos ‘ees got dust on ‘is chest
‘Is ‘ead looks like blue marble
An’ ‘is face is ashen grey
But Gran sez ‘ee were quite a Labour Fighter in ‘is day

She sez that it were men like ‘im
As fought for’t NUM
An’ we’d be daft to let ‘em
Get us on us knees agen.

December 1984

LIBELLED

I tried to walk the middle road
"Sweet reason" was my cry
I said I was a Moderate
Extremist? No, not I

I’ll grant my roots are working class
But, segregation’s sin
How did I earn the label of
"The Enemy Within"?

IN CONCLUSION

You ask me, "Will we lose"?
Well I can’t answer friend
The State has turned against us all it’s might
But when the Cause is Just
No matter what the end
We have no choice....
We have to Stand and Fight

February 1985

This is just a summary of my feelings on the situation.

March Back (Mar 1985)

MARCH BACK

To... Thomas and Bryan, 3rd March 1985

So, you’re back at work mi darlin’s
And the Unions in shreds
But you’ll be marchin’ through the gates
Wi’ proud uplifted heads

It’s bin a year
The likes o’ which the country’s never known
When in the face of all the odds
The miners stood alone

And now, they’re ‘crowing’ at your pain
And think that they are winning
But brothers, this is not the End
Just End of the Beginning

5th March return (Mar 1985)

5th MARCH RETURN

Gently smiled the weak Spring sunshine
In the breeze the banners stirred
Early morning, met the Comrades
Waiting for the starters word.

Moving forward, like a river
Brothers marching, side by side
Men and women, both together
Mothers watching sons, with pride

There, inside the distant heapstead
Motionless, for just a year
Waits the cage, to take them downward
And the silent winding-gear

Warriors, without an army
All their meagre savings spent
Fighting for their childrens future
Heads are bloody, but unbent

Now, returning as a Union
To their place of work again
Not dishonoured, nor defeated
March the loyal Mining Men

Follow in your Fathers footsteps
Endless though the conflict seems
They may murder your ambitions
Never let them touch your Dreams

Nobody who saw the men go back on that day, could fail to be proud of the ones who remained 100% loyal to the NUM.

What Next? (Mar 1985)

WHAT NEXT

Well you’ve really done the dirt on me
Have you lot
Betrayed me, an’ gone back
And what is worse
You’ve got your jobs
I ask you, what have I got?
I can’t do nothing else
But write in verse

This year has really made me quite ecstatic
I’m only happy when I am depressed
I’ve had the opportunity to moan to some effect
And moanings what I really do the best

I moaned a bit about mi operation
About the things I did, an’ didn’t like
I moaned about mi love life
But what really set me off
Was all the sordid things about the Strike

I know, to all appearances I’m jolly
You’d think I was a girl who doesn’t mind
But I’m the sort who eats to compensate for other things
And sad to say,
It settles all behind

So lads, I understand
That there was nothing pers’nal meant
You really didn’t mean to cramp my style
But, did you have to let me down
Just as Id found mi feet?
I nearly was quite happy for a while

I ask you,
Where do I go now it’s over?
You’ve robbed me of my only chance for fame
I’ll have to go and find another purpose in my life
But nothing will quite ever be the same

There won’t be no more Benefits and such like
Mi social life is grinding to a halt
If I end up a hermit
Writing poems no-one reads
I’m blaming you, you WORKERS
It’s your fault.

March 1985

I was joking, of course, but, you know, there were many good things to come out of the strike.

To whom it may concern (Apr 1985)

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

An innocent young working-lad
Sat brooding in his cell
The reason for his sorry state
He really couldn’t tell

He knew he was condemned to die
He had but one small hope
And that was in the short supply
Of suitable new rope

The days and weeks turned into months
Of his incarceration
When loneliness and boredom
Spawned this crazy inspiration

If rope was what they needed
And he’d nothing else to do
Perhaps he ought to help them out
And earn a bob or two

For after all it seemed to him
It really was a shame
He had the time, they had the need
Their interests were the same

And so, he spent the next few weeks
In lucrative employ
Co-operating happily
A rich, short-sighted boy

Then came the day, the rope complete
They told him, to his sorrow
He wouldn’t live to spend the cash
THEY’RE HANGING HIM TOMORROW

April 1985

This bit of sarcasm was inspired by the lifting of the overtime ban.

Lest we forget (Aug 1985)

LEST WE FORGET

When you’ve finished your shift, and you go to the pub,
where you’re planning to ‘sink’ a few jars

Just remember the pickets, who stood at your side, but,
who then finished up behind bars.

When you’re ‘telling the tale’, and you get to the part
where you’re giving the copper a clout

Just remember the lads, who did just what you did, who now
start off their day ‘slopping out’

You stood shoulder to shoulder, and sang "here we go",
you were brother to men you’d just met

And, some paid with their livelihoods, some with their
lives, in a struggle that’s not over yet.

When you’re checking your wage slip, and moaning about
all the stoppages you’ve got again

Think of how you’d be feeling, if you were to join all
the sacked and the victimized men

It was such a long battle, that those who survived, want
to get ‘back to normal’ once more

But, never forget, there are those, just like you
who are prisoners, of the class war.

August 1985

As in all conflicts, some suffered more than others, it's a poor army that forgets its wounded.

Five short poems without titles (Oct 1985)

Five short poems without titles. Written for a BBC2 documentary December 1985

Here we go, the women of the Coalfields
History has never seen the like
Women of the working class arising
Phoenix from the ashes of the strike

They are daughters of the working classes
Loyal miners mothers, miners wives
Wakened by the strike to new awareness
Now go on, to reconstruct their lives

Some have got an appetite for learning
Some, have reached the giddy heights of fame
Some, are happy caring or the people that they love
But, their lives can never be the same

Tho’ the changes may come very slowly
In the liberation they have earned
They have gained a confidence they didn’t have before
Last year’s lessons, cannot be ‘unlearned’.

We’ve just been and put our house up for sale
It’s not that we’re wanting to flit
But, what with the increased repayments, and such
We’re getting behind, just a bit

We struggled along, for the length of the strike
We practically lived on fresh air
The bills mounted up, but then what could we do
You can’t pay with what isn’t there

But, now we’re all back to a normal routine
And, creditors want to be paid
I just hope, the future is one that is worth
The sacrifice, we all have made

You can legislate
You can bend the law
You can tell me what to do
You can change the rules as you go along
So the ‘deck is stacked’ for you
You can choose the words
You will let me use
You can tell me how to live
But, if I’ve a mind I can call my own
You can’t make me forgive

I can’t understand what has happened to Kim
There’s been such a terrible change
When I think of how that girl acted before
I can’t understand such a change

A beautiful hand with the pastry she had
Her sponge cakes were lovely and light
But, now it’s all muesli, and yoghurt, and nuts
While she’s out at meetings each night

We could have gone on, for the rest of our lives
Never knowing, just what she was like
And, she’d have been trapped in our image of her
If it hadn’t have been for the strike.

Black on the face of my Father
When he came home, ‘in his muck’
Black, is the water, that runs thigh deep
Through the mine, at Ledston Luck
Black, is the coal
That is torn from seams
That are soaked in sweat and blood
And, Black is the future of those I love
When they close the mines for good.

October 1985

Pity the Dodo (Oct 1985)

October 24th 1985
The day they closed Corton Wood -
GOD BLESS THE ALAMO

PITY THE DODO

Is it over then, the Struggle
Have they won, and have we lost
Is the final outcome what we should expect
Shall we ‘wake up’ in a year or so
And realise the cost
When it’s much too late to save our self respect

Should we ‘give the ghost up gracefully’
And slowly fade away
Should we disappear
Like out of date machines?
Well, I tell you
If you feel like I do
‘That’ll be the day’
You can’t make Dodos
Out of Human Beings

October 1985

The day I learned to hate (Nov 1985)

THE DAY I LEARNED TO HATE

One Wednesday, in 84.
Though I forget the date
I always will remember as
The day I learned to hate

The picture was typically British
The scene was a hot summers day
The sound was of ‘leather on willow’
The laughter of young men at play

But, there was a subtle digression
An atmosphere, not really cricket
The uniformed players were all wearing blue
An armoured blue van was the wicket

Who were they, these strangers
Calmly scoring runs
Why were they at our pit
Hurting our sons?

Did they ever stop to think
Why they all were there
Doing Maggies dirty work
Did they even care?

A Wednesday in 84,
Though I forget the date
I always will remember as,
The day I learned to Hate

November 1985

I’d been thinking about this for a long time. The Wednesday was my signing on day. On my way home, I passed Allerton Bywater pit yard, where the day before there had been a mounted police charge on the picket line.

Ledston Luck run out (Nov 1985)

LEDSTON LUCK RUN OUT

They’re closing our pit
And why should I worry?
I hated that wet, mucky hole
So, why has it started?
This ‘aching’ inside me
I’m mourning, already, for Coal

A coal-miner’s daughter
I learned from my father
That, sweat and blood earned ev’ry wage
But, something within me
Will die, when the bell rings
And, men ride that very last cage.

November 1985

Funny thing about this industry. There’s a love-hate relationship, something like the feeling that fishermen have for the sea. But, like the dust that makes scars go blue, the pit that your men work at, "gets under your skin".

God Knows (Dec 1985)

GOD KNOWS

Don’t talk to me about us losing
Don’t tell me what we should have done
Don’t give us points because it wasn’t like a game
We didn’t go through all that Hell for fun

Don’t write about us in statistics
We are more than numbers on a roll
We are individuals with our own hopes and dreams
Not machines that hew the Nation’s coal

In this world where money is the yardstick
People seem expendable today
Makes you wonder where this so called progress is to lead
Who’s the planet meant for anyway

If we have been beaten by the system
If the wheels of progress crush our pride
We can hold our heads up as the closures seal our fate
They may win, but God Knows, we have tried

December 1985