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Book Review Setting the record straight

An eloquent and engaging dual autobiography that gives background and depth as well as putting in context lifetimes of militancy and activism, writes SUE TURNER

Anne and Betty: United by the Struggle
by Anne Scargill and Betty Cook with Ian Clayton
Route Publishing £20.00

Anne Scargill and Betty Cook have, in this book, set out their life stories in order to redress the balance of the misrepresentation of their lives in the media, particularly with reference to their roles during the miners’ strike of 1984-85 and their participation in the struggle to defend the mining industry.

History has generally been written from the viewpoint of the victors and the elite, so Anne and Betty wanted to tell their own story, in their own words, to correct the distortions and misinterpretations from academics, newspapers, journals etc that have abounded up to now.

These women have been engaged in a lifetime of struggle. In his preface Ian Clayton, their collaborator, writes of a threefold struggle: firstly to be heard and listened to in a tightly-knit working-class community, secondly to support their men fighting to keep the mining industry alive, and thirdly to address the social problems in their communities in the aftermath of Thatcher.

Anne and Betty are most renowned for their role in the miners’ strike and the Campaign Against Pit Closures which as a memoir could fill a book on its own, but here is a full autobiography which describes their upbringing and young married life, giving background and depth and putting their later activist years in context.

Inevitably the miners’ strike plays a prominent part in this memoir, but Anne and Betty’s eloquent descriptions of their formative years and their lives after the strike make equally interesting reading, if not more so, as these phases of their lives are less well-known.

The book takes the form of a well-illustrated dual narrative which keeps their lives in a parallel chronology. Each episode is around six pages long, with distinctive snapshots of daily life, special events, campaigning and direct action.

When the miners’ strike happens they have a growing realisation of their strong organisational skills and their ability to inspire others to action by their example, plus an increasing confidence in public speaking.

Each mini-chapter is interesting in its own right, but threaded together they build a cohesive recollection of campaigns and actions with memories of personal life, showing boundless energy, commitment and class consciousness.

The effect on the reader is one of being in a room with them, listening to their voices as they pass a microphone back and forth, speaking now passionately, now quietly and seriously, but always finding a good laugh somewhere.

Anne and Betty have long been determined to see their story told in print and the wait has been worthwhile. Their achievements, fresh and undimmed, and their continued rage against injustice, are not only a reminder of struggles past, but an inspiration for activists now and in the future.

These women played a vital role fighting for their communities and industry when the times demanded it. They stepped up to the plate and have remained there ever since.

In her foreword Maxine Peak says “Anne and Betty… are two beacons of hope that show we are all capable of affecting change, tackling life head-on and having a bloody good laugh along the way.”

And they both say that they are still available any time to join a picket line.

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