Why a striking British miner's family relies on soup-line suppers.
Barnsley, England — The food line for striking miners and their families seemed endless. It started at the foot of the stairs at the Barnsley Civic Hall and climbed three stories to the kitchen at the top.
Without this community assistance, the Graham family could not survive. So every day, this young family of four comes back for two square meals a day.
It is about the only time Sandra Graham gets out. Most of the time she stays home to look after her two small children, Lisa, aged 4, and Gary, aged 3.
''There's no social life or anything. I'm stuck in the house seven days a week. There's no money to go out. I can't take the kids anywhere. It's like a prison,'' she says, her face pale and her expression devoid of any animation, as though she had endured privation too long.
Sandra is no newcomer to suffering. She knows the history of the struggles in threatened mining communities. Her father was a miner. So was her grandfather.
Her husband's association with coal mining does not go back all that far. A Scot with an accent as thick as porridge and an engaging smile, Andrew left Fife 10 years ago when the food factory he worked in closed down. He set out for Yorkshire and had been working at Arthur Scargill's old colliery, Woolley Colliery, just north of here, until the strike.
He is determined he will stand his ground like some 100,000 other striking miners.
Neither Andrew nor Sandra thought the strike would last more than six or seven weeks at the most. But after a month they knew they were in for a long haul.
''I've been out nine months. I might as well stick it out,'' he says.
Both he and Sandra say the going has been tough. Because Andrew is on strike, the Grahams have lost their National Coal Board allowance of free coal. They have had no coal for eight months now.
They don't have enough money for necessities such as food and clothing, and they owe (STR)1,000 (about $1,200) on their mortgaged home. The (STR)100 monthly payments have been frozen during the strike. The color television had to go back. ''We borrowed my grandma's black and white set but we still had to get a license ((STR)16 fee),'' she says.
What they survive on is their (STR)19.20 ($23) a week supplementary benefit check. Andrew should be receiving an additional (STR)15 a week social security benefit that comes in the form of strike pay. But since the National Union of Mineworkers is not paying strike pay, he loses that amount.
The Department of Health and Social Services says that even allowing for deduction of strike pay the Grahams should be receiving at least (STR)25.65 a week in supplementary benefits.
If Andrew had not been involved in an industrial dispute, he would during his first year of unemployment be entitled to (STR)28.45 unemployment benefit for himself, (STR)17.55 for his wife, and (STR)6.85 each for his two children, for a total of (STR)59.70 a week.
Although he won't hear any criticism of Arthur Scargill, Andrew feels the union should pay him strike pay or at least give something back.
Of the (STR)19.20 they get every week, the Grahams pay out (STR)3 for gas, (STR)1.50 for electricity, and (STR)1 for water rates. There are no telephone bills because they don't have a telephone. The remaining (STR)13 or (STR)14 all goes for food.
The Grahams say they haven't bought clothes since last December. ''We just can't afford to buy them,'' Andrew says.
''I feel bitter,'' Sandra says, ''when I think of the kids with Christmas coming.''
The only thing they can look forward to is a gift from a strapping miner, George Stephenson, who is sitting next to them at the soup kitchen. ''He's making them a boat for Christmas because we can't afford to buy them anything else,'' she says.
No matter how depressing the strike situation is, both Andrew and Sandra are convinced that Arthur Scargill is fighting for miners'communities and their jobs.
''He warned us in 1981 that pits would close and it's happening now. If the miners get beaten now, then it will bring all the unions down,'' Andrew says, echoing the union leader's theme that the government is out to crush the union movement.
''If the pits shut down, there's nothing else, is there? Apart from that there are no jobs at all,'' says Sandra. Barnsley is essentially a mining town.
''They (the National Coal Board) said they would employ them, but they can't find jobs for everyone. There's not enough jobs.''
Andrew doesn't believe Scargill was trying to raise money from Libya or the Soviet Union, nor does Sandra feel the British news media have been reporting the coalfield violence fairly.
''I know men have got cuts on their heads, but all you hear is pickets causing trouble. I don't believe that. I don't agree with violence, but I think there's two sides,'' she says.
The Grahams don't want to contemplate defeat in the miners' strike.
Andrew says wearily: ''I wouldn't like to think it's all for nothing.''