CORAOPOLIS, Pa. — British women fought years ago to clear England's cramped coal mines of women and children, but now a push is on to again open that nation's mining jobs to women.
Fifteen years after the first American woman broke tradition and went to work underground, a bill is pending before Parliament that would set aside a law prohibiting Britain's coal companies from hiring women miners, says Anne Scargill, whose husband, Arthur Scargill, is president of the British National Union of Mineworkers.
"There's still some division about this, even among the women," Anne Scargill said Sunday at the 10th National Conference of Women Miners. "Years ago, we fought to get women and children out of the mines.
"Where I live, in Silkstone in Yorkshire, we just had a memorial service as we put up a monument for some kids who were killed underground about 100 years ago--about 80 kids, 3, 4, and 5 years of age."
She said much of the division over the issue of women in Britain's mines is generational.
"It's the kids who want the right to choose," she said.
The NUM, to which all British miners belong, is still feeling the effects of a yearlong strike that idled the country's mines in 1984-85.
The strike began when the National Coal Board, which controls Britain's nationalized mining industry, proposed cutting coal output to the lowest level of the 20th Century. The plan called for the elimination of an estimated 20,000 of Britain's 180,000 mining jobs.
The residue of the bitter strike, Scargill said, is that "we still have two lads in prison doing eight years, and we still have 220 miners sacked."
Scargill, accompanied by a group of other British mining wives, traveled to the United States to explore the common ground they share with American women miners.
Much of that common ground was found in the ways they dealt with the economic hardship of their long strike. In this country, the problem is the unemployment that has ravaged the coal industry in the last eight years, but the hardships have been much the same.
"The women here, they're the same as us," Scargill said. "They've got the same kind of things going that we did during the strike, the support groups, the food pantries and soup kitchens we needed to feed our families."