Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women by Bernadette Hyland

Northern ReSisters: Conversations with Radical Women by Bernadette Hyland
ISBN 987-0-9932247-0-6 £5.95

I decided to write this book because I was fed up with the way that the Left, which I have always been a part of, has  in recent years promoted writers, comedians and actors as leaders of new movements, campaigns or at demonstrations. Ignoring, I feel, a vital part of our movement, the many working class activists who have put themselves, their family and their livelihood on the line. For me it also reflected a fact that many of the new organisations do not have working class people as activists and do not engage with working class communities.

My own experience reflects my lifetime political activity. Growing up in a working class Irish background in the unfashionable east side of Manchester I followed in the footsteps of my family; proud of coming from a radical Irish tradition and being active in my trade union, in my community and my neighbourhood.

Starting work in early 1980s, I learnt from older trade union activists  about the importance of solidarity, collective action and, most importantly,  compassion for those not as lucky as me.

In this book I talk to nine other women who have taken a similar path in life but did not always start from the same background. These include:

Betty Tebbs,  who is now 97, and has spent a lifetime as an activist in her trade union and the peace movement. Her political activity was reflected the exploitative nature of work; “At the age of 14 years I experienced first hand the double exploitation of women in industry and it seemed quite right for me to work to change this situation.”



Alice Nutter, former member of anarcho collective Chumbawamba and now writer,  came from a Tory working class background but  had a mother who encouraged her; “She let me be anything I wanted to be, even when I was a punk.She never thought I should get married, and I haven’t.”

alice nutter 2015In the late 70s there was a culture of radical dissent with people opposing racism, the war in Ireland, cruise missiles at Greenham Common and Tory cuts. This was played out  against a background of high levels of youth unemployment. It defined a whole generation of young people, including myself and Alice.

Pia Feig comes from a London Jewish family and has been an activist for forty years. Like many immigrants her family kept their head down but their children were not going to be the same. As Pia recounts; “Me and my sister would answer back to my father and that was the start of a protest position, right from the family dynamics.”

Pia on save the NHS demo

Pia on save the NHS demo

She became involved in politics when she went to university but it was when she went to a big demonstration about Britain’s role in Ireland that she saw the difference between student and street politics; “My very first demo, which was about Ireland, really frightened me. It was the largest police presence I had ever seen and the atmosphere was the opposite to all the student activity I had been involved in.”

In the second part of the book I have selected a number of articles that reflect the importance to me of being northern, working class and a political activist. These interviews include discussions with Bernadette Devlin McAliskey from 1991 and how women of all ages decide where they put their political energies in 2014. Other articles explore the nature of being northern with writers Sally Wainwright, Alice Nutter, Cathy Crabb and Maxine Peake.

But my book is not a nostalgic walk down memory lane for former activists. All the women in my book are still out there on the demonstrations as well as organising meetings and taking an active part in campaigns. Most importantly working with younger generations of women and men in campaigns as diverse as fracking, anti-cuts and Palestine.

The lives of young people who want to be activists is not so easy. Many of them are being harassed through the benefit system or working on zero hour contracts, with large student debts and living a precarious if an independent lifestyle.

Tameside against the Cuts

Tameside against the CutsI

It is important to remind them that change for the better is possible and my northern sisters have shown that through their lives. Their message is one of hope for the future, but not one dependent on expecting someone else to do the work.

Christine Clark, one of my northern sisters summed it up; We should start from where they are. I have some interesting conversations with my granddaughter who is black. I try to be on her side and listen to what is important to her. As activists we must listen to them and what they are struggling with and give them support.”

For details of how to buy my book please go to

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About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. .If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
This entry was posted in Alice Nutter, Bernadette McAliskey, Betty Tebbs, Cathy Crabb, Christine Clark, Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women, Pia Fieg and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women by Bernadette Hyland

  1. Dee Johnson says:

    Hi Bernadette,

    Your new book sounds great, I’ve just ordered 2, that’s a birthday present and a treat for me, its my birthday tomorrow!

    Is that my friend Dodie Ritman from my Manchester ‘growing old disgracefully’ group on the front?

    Dodie gets everywhere, if I’m ever at a rally she’s always there too. It really does give the lie to the idea that we become less radical as we get older, one of our g.o.d. group won the Guardian and Observer ‘Local Campaigner’ award last year and she’s 80 odd.

    I’m forwarding your post on to my son who’s in the Manchester Uni Socialist Society, I hope you don’t mind. He’s an actual feminist (as opposed to many blokes on the left in my experience) and he’ll probably forward it on to other members if that’s ok.

    And I really agree with your views on the way working class activists are undervalued and under represented by the left. I first thought that at the ‘consciousness raising group’ I went to in the 70s. It really helped me to deal with some pressing issues in my own life and make changes, but meeting in a pub in the evening didn’t exactly attract the women stuck at home with no childcare who would really have benefitted.

    Ironically my son often has to miss student meetings because of his childcare responsibilities.

    Keep up the good work, its appreciated,

    Dee Johnson


  2. Sandy Rose says:

    I too will be buying your book Bernadette and I am also a friend of Dee in Growing old Disgracefully and have been involved in radical politics for many years. So I will be spreading its message to all my friends and contacts. Its particularly heartening to hear that young working class women these days are radical and political as their image in the media leds you to think that women are not political any more.
    Never give up
    Sandy Rose

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