Popular Politics Project
Interview transcript: Margaret Mound
Date and place of birth: not given
Interviewer: Judith McSwain
Date of interview: 30 March 2012
Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives
Part 1. Women’s Liberation Conference – 1970s
MM I am Margaret Mound and it’s the 30 March 2012
JM How important was the women’s liberation conference in Newcastle for you – that was held in 1970s?
MM Well, I remember I came up here as a student and at the time I was in the Communist Party. There was a whole fervent atmosphere around women’s issues at the time, which in my mind was part of the bigger class struggle. There was a lot of new ideas and there was a lot of new books coming out things like the “Female Eunuch” and “The Second Sex” and all these ideas were being passionately debated both amongst women and also in the unions and in the communist party which, as I say I was a member of. Through the students, I think primarily, I got involved in helping to organise the National Women’s Liberation Movement Conference which we had at the Teacher Training college, as it was then, at Ponteland.
It was a massive event as it turned out. I mean, I don’t know if I’m remembering this right or not, but, I have something in the back of my mind that there was about 1,000 people there. I don’t know if I have exaggerated it in my memory but it was absolutely packed with women.
JM Brilliant. Were they women from all over the country?
MM Yeah, yeah it was national. But (sighs) there were a lot of problems with it – not so much the organisation, which was a mammoth thing, but the ideas and what came out of it. My memory of it was that there were a lot of arguments and splits between the Socialist Feminists – obviously I was more part of that strand – and the Radical Feminists who were the sort of – obviously I’m simplifying it – but were the group that hated men and blamed everything on men and didn’t have a what I saw as a class analysis. They just saw women’s oppression as being because men were oppressing them and they didn’t see that the bigger picture. (Pause) So there was there was quite a … at times there was quite a lot of acrimony around those arguments. A lot of bad feeling that I think that put a lot of women off. But at the same time, there was a sort of upsurge in activity and people were going away also enthused and determined to make things happen and to change things. So it was, despite those problems, it was … it was definitely a really exciting time.
JM Can you remember any of the specifics: workshops or speakers or anyone in particular that stood out that you can remember?
MM Not really, that is an odd thing when I think about it but I suppose it was partly because it wasn’t about big names at the time. Also, I think I felt a bit overwhelmed by the numbers and because I was helping to organise it …. I don’t know whether cos I was involved with things like accommodation and food and all of those things maybe I didn’t have as much time to actually just sit and listen to all of the debates. I know I was involved with some of them but nothing kind of sticks out in my mind about any sort of individual thing – I mean if I sat here with people who were there talking about it that would probably trigger my memories about individuals and debates and things. This division, this split was the biggest memory I have of what happened.
JM And was there one more conference after that? Was that the second last one?
MM Well I can’t remember how many more there were. I don’t remember being involved myself in any of these national follow up conferences. I know I went to a lot of Communist Party Women’s Conferences and I think, perhaps, for me I put my energy more into that rather than into the National Women’s Liberation Conferences. Maybe because of the sort of experience of this big split I thought that wasn’t where I wanted to put all of my energy. So I didn’t go to any of the others.
JM So just going back to the practicalities – you said you were involved in organising the conference and you mentioned accommodation and food. So how did all that work – did people stay with each other, were you finding cheap places for people to stay.
MM I think a lot of people stayed at the college itself. We must have organised it for during the holidays and I think that’s why we must have picked that college because people could stay there. I’m sure we had people staying in houses as well but I think most people actually slept there. I am sure we had somebody who was a sympathetic lecturer there, who’d maybe helped us get hold of the college and helped us to book it, whose name escapes me. I can picture him, gingery hair and if you said his name I would remember. (Laughs)
JM (Laughs) I don’t know him. As you said it was an acrimonious but nevertheless energizing event, an experience. So can you pinpoint anything that you did afterwards, any campaigns or actions that you got involved with either through the Communist Party or other activities?
MM Well, I know it was around the time when there was attacks on the right to abortion and I don’t know if it was before or after that conference that we went on a number of demonstrations against, what was called, the Corrie Bill which was trying to restrict women’s right to abortion. We were actually successful in stopping those attacks and we stopped the legislation from actually going through. So that was quite a victory for us. And, then it was not long after the implementation of the Equal Pay Act and obviously there were a number of struggles nationally around the issue of equal pay after the legislation came in. Then, there were a lot of women who were fighting through their own trade unions, getting Women’s Committees set up and having Women’s Conferences within their own unions. So all of that was happening. It was the early days of all that.
Then, locally, in the years following that we were trying to set up groups locally to fight on women’s issues. So for me I was partly doing it through the Community Party and partly through the Tyneside branch of National Assembly of Women and then we also trying to co-ordinate. There was a group called Women on the Left and there were various women’s sections in the Labour Party. Then, in the early 80s with the peace movement, there was obviously the upsurge in women getting involved through CND and going to Greenham Common. So all of these things fed into each other and then there was the fight (pause) against the closure of the pits and the miners wives support groups being set up. So the one thing fed into the other. And we were trying to make links between things like Greenham and the miners wives because a lot of the miners wives had never been involved in anything political before and a lot of them got really energised through their struggle and then they were open to getting involved in other things as well.
Part 2. Benwell Law Centre
JM So you said you came up here to be a student, so what was your subject and where did that take you in terms of employment.
MM Well, I did a law degree and I had always wanted to work in a Law Centre because I thought that was the avenue to try and link in my ideas about fighting injustice so then, when I qualified, I actually got a job at Newcastle Law Centre – well Benwell Law Centre as it then was. And, so through the Law Centre …… there was quite a lot of women who were doing law for the first time because up to the 70s it was very male dominated and when I was a student the women students were in a definite minority (whereas now it is about 50:50 women who qualify) and there was a lot of women who were coming through who were studying law who were interested in studying women’s rights. So we were involved in linking up with those women and other women’s groups and looking at trying to change the law. We produced various publications like “Laws with Claws” was one of them.
JM I remember that one.
MM Unfortunately I haven’t got a copy of any of those.
JM Who else authored that with you?
MM (pause) Tessa Green, Maureen Foster, “J” who worked with us at the Law Centre, she was one of the solicitors.
JM So they might have a copy. So what did that cover “Laws with Claws”? What were the attacks that you perceived if you can remember that were within that study?
MM I can’t remember what was in it the detail at all.
JM We’ll have to try to get a copy of that somewhere?
MM Yes, yes. I don’t know who would have one.
JM I can remember when that was launched – the event that launched that. I thought housing was something in there but I don’t know what was going on in the housing field that would make it particularly attacking women’s position.
MM I can’t honestly remember. I don’t know that I was centrally involved in that. I think I was more on the periphery of it at the time.
JM So you completed your degree, you did your qualifying exams you got your job at the Law Centre so what type of work were you doing with the residents of Benwell at that time? What were their issues?
MM When I first started there … there was a lot of problems with the housing locally and mainly it was the women who bore the brunt of the bad housing conditions. In the Law Centre we were in the same building as the CDP, which subsequently became West End Resource Centre, and we sort of worked jointly with them on the ground with local tenants groups which were mainly women, but obviously men as well. We had Community Workers who worked with the tenants groups and if, for example, we identified an area where perhaps there was a lot of problems with damp or condensation or disrepair, we would offer to help the tenants and we took up cases for them against either the local authority, or housing association or private landlords whoever it might be.
JM Can you recall any successes with that type of activity?
MM Yes, with some of the estates in South Benwell. I think it was the Guinness Trust, but also the City Council, we got experts, expert surveyors who did reports on what was the cause of the problem. Often it was because they had been built really cheaply and shoddily. Some of these estates weren’t old – they had been built in the 60s and 70s. They weren’t old. And yet, you could go into a bedroom and the whole place was just … the walls were black, with mould up the walls. And the children were have to sleep in those conditions. It was really unhealthy and was causing them depression and physical illnesses – asthma and things like that.
So, on some of those estates where we’d got reports done which showed there were structural problems we then had to, through the tenants groups, try to persuade whoever was the landlord that it wasn’t just individual, one-off cases, that there was a wider problem. Then try to pressure them into actually doing substantial structural works to the properties to try to remedy the problems. A lot of the time they were claiming that it was condensation, that it was just that the tenants weren’t opening the windows. And some of it was condensation but it was because of the design of the dwellings that they were prone to that problem. They just hadn’t thought through the design properly and ways to avoid that happening.
JM And is that housing still standing now or has that been part of the redevelopment?
MM I think in the areas of the West End, I think they have actually demolished those estates even though they were only maybe 30 yrs old. Those people have been moved out.
JM So did you get a lot of support from the local community when you were seen to be doing very practical, helpful things and providing them expertise that would have cost a lot of money, I guess.
MM Oh absolutely, and when we were under threat of funding being withdrawn we got massive, really massive, support from the local community. I think that was part of the reason we survived a number of threats to our funding because politically it would have been difficult for them to close us down.
JM Can you remember any other campaigns? I have a recollection of things to do with immigration or the Bangladeshi community. Issues around there.
MM Originally, when I went there, I was doing housing and employment work and then we started to do a lot more immigration and nationality work and tried to make links with the local black population. They were mainly of Asian origin and we particularly tried to make links with the women in the community because we felt they had been really hidden and nobody had every really tried to find out what their needs were. We helped to set up the Asian Women’s Centre in Benwell. One of the women from there, I think I am right in saying, got involved in our Management Committee eventually. So we helped them put forward a bid for funding, helped them get premises and helped them set up a centre where they could provide facilities and services to bring in a lot more of the Asian women into the community. Then, there was a two way process really because a lot of the women would go in there and talk about their problems who wouldn’t have come into us. Then they could then bring them into us and say ‘this woman’s got this problem and needs your help’. That was an innovation. That was an innovation. I think, that was the first Asian Women’s Centre in the City.
JM And were there themes to the sort of things that you were dealing with from that that group?
MM Well, some of it was immigration problems. We had one woman in particular, (pause) I don’t think she actually came through that Centre …but there was one woman in particular who was under threat of deportation – her and her child – and we ran a campaign to try to prevent her from being deported. The women who came through the Asian Women’s Centre had the usual range of problems but then they had specific problems on top of that. They had the problems of bad housing and unemployment. And then there was domestic violence, which wasn’t unique to them at all, obviously the white women had the same issues with domestic violence. We didn’t do family work as such, so if there were issues around domestic violence we would need to refer them urgently to a local solicitor or refuge where they could get emergency help. Prior to that (The Asian Women’s Centre) I think they just didn’t really know where to go for help.
JM When you said there about running a campaign – what was that like then running a campaign, what did it involve? We are talking about a time before emails and tweeting and facebook. How did that work, what did you need to do to get a campaign off the ground?
MM Well, (pause) as far as I can remember, it was about making links with the local MP and local groups and publicising it. We had what would now be seen as a very primitive (laughs) duplicator – gestetner was it called
JM Yes gestetner …. was it a hand …
MM Yes, it was hand cranked but later on they become electric, but you had to put ink on the drum then put this … what do they call it …
JM A skin?
MM A skin yes around the drum and you got your hands covered in ink …ugh!
JM And sometimes they’d split at the last …
MM Yes, sometimes they would split while you were printing and …. not, not brilliant. So, yes no emails then. You sent out letters and phoned people.
JM And did you put stuff through doors? Was it that kind of campaign?
MM When we were working with the tenants a lot of it was putting things through doors and knocking on doors to get people maybe to a tenants meeting.
JM And where would those meetings have been held in Benwell where were the venues where you held meetings.
MM Tenants meetings – small meetings would be in someone’s house and some of them would be held in local community centre. Sometimes meetings were held in our premises.
JM Did that ever cause any difficulty when you were having meetings in your premises? Were there any conflicts there?
MM Not (really) no we never had a problem with that because we had … Most of our funding came from the City Council and in some cases we were taking action against the City Council but Jeremy Beecham, who was the leader of the council at the time, was a Benwell Councillor and he had been instrumental in getting the Law Centre set up in the first place so he was very protective of the Law Centre. So if there were Councillors who weren’t happy about what we were doing I don’t think they were listened to, really, because, as I say, Jeremy Beecham was one of the Councilllors who had most power wouldn’t really have taken any notice of them. So that wasn’t generally an issue.
JM You mentioned before about Management Committees for yourselves and the Benwell Community Development Project. What was that like having a Committee set-up for you – the people who were working there?
MM Well, it was a mixture really. We had two Councillors – one Labour, one usually Tory or Liberal. Then we had somebody form the Law Society. Most of the Committee were from local community groups, tenants groups, women’s groups. They were generally very supportive and that’s why they were there. They were people we were working with over a period of time. They didn’t just come from nowhere, in fact we had to encourage people to stand for the Committee because many of them hadn’t done that before and weren’t used to sitting in meetings. That was the theory, that our roots were in the community and that they were there to manage us. That was the theory …. (laughter).
JM … and the practice (laughter)?
MM (pause) Mmm, well, generally I would say … well … I don’t think it is a perfect model but I think at the time it was probably the best that we could do. I think the problem was that a lot of the people who were on the Committee didn’t really have any experience. So, if there were issues that came up about something that might turn into a disciplinary issue they didn’t really have that sort of experience, that kind of management experience and personnel experience. So, it was important to have people who had some sort of background that would enable them to be able to actually deal with those sorts of issues. And it is not always easy to find those sorts of people in the local community.
JM Especially I guess in the kind of area in which you were based?
MM Yes. I mean we were lucky for example that we had Peter (Latham) you know, someone who had got years of experience in the trade union, who was used to dealing with management issues from a trade unionist point of view but also knew how to deal with it as a manager. So, we needed more people like that to strengthen the Committee and sometimes we had difficulty in finding people who were willing to come forward and devote their time unpaid. Sometimes to deal with things that weren’t that easy to deal with.
Part 3 – Greenham Common Peace Camp
JM You were involved with things a lot of things around women and CND and you got arrested at Greenham. Can you go through what took you there and what happened?
MM There was a big upsurge in the peace movement in the early 80s primarily because of the sighting, by the United States, of Cruise Missiles at Greenham Common and other bases. The Greenham Common Peace Camp was established in 1981. We, primarily through CND, were trying to build support for them on Tyneside. There was a Greenham Common Support Group – in fact, there were a whole number of Greenham Common Support Groups around Tyneside. Women were organising to go down to Greenham Common. One of the things that was happening is that people were organising to cut the fence and get into the base as part of the protest against Cruise missiles. So, a number of us had been on a national demonstration in London against Cruise missiles and it was one of those situations where we had marched around the streets of London and then come home again. I was feeling particularly frustrated, I think, on that occasion and was talking to other people on the train. I decided to go along to one of the planning meetings, where they were actually planning to go down and cut the fence. … I would go down and support it (I was actually a driver of the van) and that I would be an informal legal observer as well so, if people were arrested I would take their details and do whatever was needed to support them.
I remember the day we drove down I had a streaming cold, in fact if I hadn’t committed myself to driving everybody down I wouldn’t have gone but I was the only driver and if I hadn’t done it then the whole group couldn’t have done it. Nobody else could drive. (laughs) So, we drove down there and then the people who had actually agreed to do the physical cutting of the fence started and I was standing someway back and watching. Then, suddenly a group of police appeared and one of them, who we later called “pigley”, because he was PC Wrigley and he lied through his teeth in court –he was massive this copper and he was charging towards one of the women -and I’m trying to remember who it was and I can’t remember it might have been (pause) – oh, I think it might have been
JM Was it J…?
MM No, it wasn’t J… but it was ….. because she wasn’t cutting the fence for the same reasons as me because she was a teacher and it would have caused problems with her job. So she was there but not physically cutting the fence. It might have been the woman with the red hair. Anyway, whoever it was, this copper was charging towards whoever was cutting the fence and I thought he was just going to knock her flying because he was enormous and she was tiny. So I moved forward and I was trying to stand between him and her, and also I have to say though I didn’t admit this at the time, that she had thrown the bolt-cutters down in the grass and I picked them up and threw them a bit further into the long grass in the hope that they would be hidden (laughs) and that we could recover them later. Anyway, this “Pigley” just kept on charging forward and he just got to me
(we got interrupted here)
…. And so PC Pigley, as we later called him was then charging towards me and he arrested me. I remember thinking ‘oh I’m just going to go floppy’ (laughs) because I’d seen people do that and I thought if I’m going to be arrested I’ll just make it as difficult as I can so I just sort of went floppy. Then he had to drag me over to the van. (laughs) J was very near to me and she saw me being dragged along the ground (laughs). The police had these outer jackets on which covered up their number, on their shoulder, so, because she wanted to know who he was and what his number was, she came over and was pointing and saying ‘what’s your number? you’ve covered it up, what’s your number’. He refused to say anything and then she was arrested – supposedly for obstructing the police and she hadn’t at all, she hadn’t. She wasn’t standing in the way she was just pointing at his shoulder saying ‘what’s your number’, ‘give me your number’ which he wouldn’t do. So, she then got taken in the van. She was really, really worried because, for her with being a teacher, she just didn’t want to have anything on her record cos she could lose her job. I didn’t know what would happen to me, either. In fact I think, initially, they were suggesting a charge of assault – I could be wrong there. But I think there was some suggestion about that but then by the time we got to the police station it was going to be obstructing the police in the course of their duties.
What happened was – the van was full of all the women who had been arrested and when we got to the police station we were all – cos there were so many of us – we were all put in to the cells and then were kept there all night. There were so many of us in the cells (laughter) that we couldn’t all lie down. We were just in like sardines!
Oh and, I remember, before we went in the cell we were searched and our pockets were emptied. My pockets were absolutely full to brim with tissues because I had this streaming cold. In the bottom of one of my pockets I had either one or two marbles – which I didn’t even know were there. They [the police] made this huge issues about these marbles and what I was going to do with these marbles. I think they thought I was planning to throw them under the horses hooves – which I had never planned at all – like I say, I didn’t even know they were stuck in the corner of the bottom of my pocket. In the end they didn’t do anything about that and the charge was obstruction.
We were in these cells all night and the women outside kept up this singing all night long. It was amazing cos it was freezing cold, absolutely freezing cold outside and they were there all night long.
We were released the following morning and somehow managed to drive home – I don’t know how because I never slept a wink. (laughs)
We had to go back down again to put in a plea – guilty or not guilty. Obviously, we pleaded not guilty. We had to go back down again for the actual trial. At the trail this PC “Pigley” completely lied through his teeth cos he said that I had, when he was running up to the fence to arrest people for cutting the fence, he said that I had gone up to him and pulled him down to the ground!!! Which was just unbelievable, unbelievable. I can’t remember what they said about J. Anyway were both ended up being convicted and we were fined £10 each.
I had to report that to the Management Committee and they were all very supportive. The only one I was really concerned about was the Law Society rep. He didn’t say anything. I was quite concerned that would be on my record but he didn’t say anything. So, although I had to declare it on various occasions after that it ‘s not been a problem. It was actually much more of a problem for J having it on her record.
JM What happened for J then?
MM (pause) I can’t remember the details. I know she had to report it to whoever is the professional body for teachers. And, I think, she thought that subsequently when she applied for something, whether it was a job or a grant, that she thought that it had affected her application. But I can’t remember the details, she’d have to tell you that.
JM You mentioned there about getting to Greenham and to the demonstration in London. How did that work – you mentioned a train and a van. How were these things working there?
MM With the van – we had to continually fund-raise. We just hired a van and we all had to contribute towards the cost of it and find anybody who could drive. We generally had to share the driving between us.
JM I can remember doing the test-drive in the mini van – do you remember?
MM Oh yes, that’s right you had to do a test drive. Yes a test drive.
JM Actually I don’t know if this would ring with you but there were quite a lot of men on the fringes of this – CND members, male members, and they wanted to drive vans for us and I recall that it was quite something that – no it would be women and we had to go and so these little test drives to be enabled to drive to these demonstrations. Does that ring with you?
MM Yes it does, it does actually now you say that. Yes, for a lot of us it was the first time we’d driven anything bigger than an ordinary car and such a long distance. And I remember one of the journeys to Greenham – the weather was just absolutely terrible. There was thick fog a lot of the way and it was very difficult. And in fact the occasions when we had to go down for court, it was in the middle of winter and there was snow, a lot of snow around. So it was a very difficult and long drive down there from Newcastle.
JM And what about the train to the big demonstrations. Were you on a normal train.
MM No the train was actually chartered. It was the first time I can remember that we’d actually got the money and the numbers to fill a whole train. I think I’m right in saying it was about 600 to fill a train. It was absolutely chocker. There wasn’t an empty seat and there were people who couldn’t get down there cos the train was actually full. Whereas previously on demonstrations you would be lucky to fill maybe a couple of coaches. But this time it was …..
JM And was the atmosphere like on this big train to this big London demo?
MM Oh it was like a party (laughs). It was fantastic atmosphere. Everyone was really fired up. And that was why I think, when we came back from that demonstration in London against Cruise and nuclear weapons, why so many people were fired up to do more. They weren’t prepared just to go and do a march they actually wanted to get involved and do a direct action. And all the direct action was very well organised. You didn’t just turn up and start cutting the fence you had to go to a number of planning groups and it was all very consciously peaceful although it was direct action. The emphasis was definitely on it being peaceful and that we weren’t using any violent methods.
JM And so was this where the becoming floppy when you were arrested. Is that where that came from?
MM I don’t know that we actually discussed that. I think it was just something that I did just because I’d seen other people doing it and I thought oh well, if I’m going to get arrested I’m not going to make life easy for them just by walking along to the van. I’ll just go floppy and just make it as difficult as I can.
JM There were things around, weren’t there, about non-violent direct action and you could go to workshops and training on stuff like that.
MM Yes, and it definitely worked and people were quite disciplined about how we did it. I don’t think there was every any bad publicity as a result of that – there was never any suggestion that we were violent in our methods. The publicity that we had was always, as far as I can remember, was very positive in that way.
JM How do you feel about that being something that came out of it being a women’s demonstration, women’s action?
MM Well, I think it made us much more self-confident because we organised it ourselves from start to finish and we were very proud and I felt very proud that we’d done that. I think all of us did. It definitely gave us a confidence that we hadn’t had before.