Tuesday, 2 March 2010
25 Years Ago
On this day 25 years ago the miner's strike officially ended, followed by the swift closure of most of the remaining pits in Wales. As my uncle had worked down Tower, I was with my brothers the first generation on my mother's side not to go down the pit. As a teenager, I had followed the 12 month dispute with great interest although my life was far removed from the mining valleys of the south that my ancestors had grafted in. Growing up in Swansea, the only evidence of the strike were the collections in town or coverage of the blockade in Port Talbot steel works, where my dad had worked.
I remember clearly one day my mam coming back from shopping announcing that she had given a donation to the miners collecting in town, clarifying what she had told them, 'this is for your families and not for Scargill. She despised him as much as she despised Thatcher for what he did to the miners and I shared her opinions. Scargill refused to start the strike when Lewis Merthyr was closed in Wales, as he wanted to start with a Yorkshire pit. Of course, Thatcher and British Coal knew this and closed a Yorkshire mine when there were more than enough coal reserves to win an industrial war of attrition, also ensuring that the strike would be over one and not two winters. From day one of the dispute, the fate of the miners was sealed and as proud as I was that the only major coalfield to stay solid in the strike was South Wales, what was really gained by their loyalty to the union? The South Wales coal mining communities have suffered more than any other in the UK since the pits closed.
Some argue that one of the results of the strike was a realisation that Wales needed its own voice to stand up for itself, leading to a growth in demand for devolution. I would certainly accept that the despair at continual Tory London Governments foisted on an unwilling Wales did much to turn around the result of 1979, but what a price to pay. I went down Taff Merthyr on a working day once, rode a coal conveyor, worked a coal cutter and was spooked at by a couple of pitmen working above me in the pitch black as we walked towards the face. Two of the pitmen were killed 3 days later, when they took their safety lines off to reach for tools, slipped and fell down the half mile shaft. I'm proud of my mining heritage, but glad that I never had to work down a mine.