Friday, 16 September 2011

The Cost of Coal

The loss of four miners' lives in the Gleision Drift has really upset me, but why?

Of course it is a dreadful tragedy for the families and friends and a horrible way to go, but I did not know these people nor do I know the families. Nor did it happen in a community where I live or have lived, so I have no direct connection with the deaths. Yet, to anyone with coal mining in their family history, such terrible disasters send shivers down your spine.

I grew up in a comfortable home in Swansea away from the coal mines, but my mother grew up with mines and poverty in the South and hated the valleys for it - not the people of course but the consequences of mining coal. I was brought up to have great respect for miners and the communities they were from, but not to have any romantic notions about mining itself; an occupation that my brothers and I were the first generation to avoid (my Uncle went down Tower). I was very fortunate to spend a day down a working deep mine in the early 90's (Taff Merthyr) and it is an experience that will be with me forever-it scared the hell out of me. Yet this was a large mine, it was dry (although lots of gas) and relatively unfaulted and folded. They used the latest cutting equipment and the coal seam was 6 feet high; a very rare thing indeed in the South. Yet 4 days after I visited, two 'pitmen' died there.

The four miners who were found dead today worked in a tiny mine, where the coal seam was little more than a foot thick and the face not much bigger in places. The drift opened and closed on the vagaries of the world coal price and was undulating and wet. It takes some guts to work in such an environment.

Much of the south exists almost solely because of coal and the Wales I have grown up in would not exist without it's influence. Most of my life experiences have been moulded by a landscape, cityscape and community driven lifestyle that would not exist without coal extraction, so when a disaster like Gleision happens, I should get upset. I really believed that we had seen the last of coal mine disasters in Wales, but as long as we still mine for coal, it will kill. After all, over 2000 coal miners were killed last year in China alone.

There is a wall in the 'Big Pit' mining museum in Blaenafon, where all the names of the Welsh mining disasters and their victims are numbered. We took our boys there last year when visiting the Ebbw Vale Eisteddfod and tried to explain to our eldest the true cost of coal to the people of Wales. I became upset today when I realised that the list was still an open one and that four more names would have to be added. Of course, this list is small in comparison to the thousands who have suffered premature death through lung disease and other coal mining linked killers. 

Wales has paid a massive price for extracting the coal beneath us and today's awful disaster is a timely reminder, that we should never forget the sacrifices made and lives lost-in the pursuit of coal.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Red Ed Tries to Square the Circle

So crunch time has finally come for Red Ed at the UK TUC conference, where he admits that he has no intention of supporting the unions over their pension dispute. As I have stated before, why should this be a surprise to anyone when the Tory policy on slashing pensions is in fact exactly the same as the Labour policy. Well it would be, when a Labour Lord actually wrote it.

What really wound up the TUC delegates though was the excuse that Red Ed gave. He said that he could not support the dispute while negotiations were taking place. What a pile of bullsxxt. Although both sides met, there were never actually any negotiations as the Government had no intention of budging an inch - despite Red Ed's efforts to 'be neutral' to encourage a settlement!

So tonight, it is now clear that the main affiliated Labour unions will be balloting for strike action in the Autumn, so how is Red Ed going to spin his way out of this one? Maybe he will claim that he was on holiday at the time at a place with no mobile signal? Whatever the excuse, it will be humiliating for him and in my opinion, could hasten his demise.

I find the whole affair particularly cynical as if my union does vote to strike, then I will be on a picket line for a union that supports a party that yet again, stabs them in the back when they need them most. This pension dispute is not about making the pensions sustainable as they already are. It is about paying off the bankers debts and at the same time, crashing the whole public sector pension system in the medium term? You think not? Then, ask what many young Council employees on tight finances will do if a 3-5% cut goes on the salary, to contribute more to their pension. They will pull out in their droves, de-stabalise the system and create a failing pension system where previously there was not one.

On this issue as with so many others, you could not put a cigarette paper between the position of the Tories and Labour.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Undeb Fringe: IT's THE ECONOMY - STUPID !

Undeb are holding a fringe jointly with Friends of the Earth Cymru this Saturday at Conference, in Llandudno. The 12.30pm meeting will look at methods of delivering on the 'Greenprint' document produced by Leanne Wood before the recent National election.

The speakers at the fringe will be Leanne Wood AM and Haf Elgar from FOE Cymru and Nerys Evans will be chairing. All conference attendees are very welcome to attend and as always with Undeb, there will be lots of free thought but no free food!