Printer Friendly

LEGACY OF THE BITTEREST FIGHT; The 25th anniversary of the start of the miners' strike, one of the longest and most bitter disputes since the 1926 General Strike, will pass off quietly today - in stark contrast to the angry scenes which marked the conflict. ANDREW DAGNELL looks back on the year-long walkout, the effects of which are still felt in the South Wales Valleys today.


LONG after the last underground worker punched his card, the signs of the devastated coal industry are still very visible in the South Wales Valleys.

Whether it is in the scarred and eerily silent mountain landscapes or the boarded-up working men's and social clubs dotted around the snaking Valleys of the region, the legacyof coal lives on.

The strike also created a disdain for miners who refused to down tools which remains even today. These men, labelled scabs by their former colleagues, are still shunned by some.

The miners' strike may have beguna quarter of a century ago, but it is still able to evoke the most passionate of opinions from those who took part in the bitter struggle.

Tyrone O'Sullivan for one is stillangry the way the strike was portrayed as being unconstitutional.

He says he is still bitter that the then Labour party leader Neil Kinnock insisted on a national ballot.

Mr O'Sullivan is perhaps most famous for spearheading the re-opening of Tower Colliery in the Cynon Valley after it was closed by the government in 1994.

This was achieved when 239 workers contributed pounds 8,000 apiece of their redundancy money and made the mine profitable right up to its closure last year.

In 1984, Mr O'Sullivan played a key role in mobilising support for the strike up and down the country.

"The strike itself was a good strike," said Mr O'Sullivan. "We fought well and took the government on at its most powerful.

"At the end of the day, it cost the government pounds 11bn to beat the miners.

"We should also remember it was a legal strike. The constitution of the NUM was that each area can take its own individual decision to go on strike.

"It was never, ever in our constitution that we should have a national ballot and what makes me very bitter is that people like Kinnock said we needed a national ballot.

"I would say the coal miners overwhelmingly supported the coal strike because they were fighting for their jobs."

Thhe subsequent defeat, Mr O'Sullivan said, had a brutal effect on the local economy.

"The people who paid the price were the local communities - the Valleys communities," he said.

"You saw this after the strike with streets full of houses with 'For Sale' signs outside.

"The point is that they couldn't sell them anyway as people couldn't afford to buy them.

"The devastation that went on in the Valleys, people won't realise. What happened after the miners' strike only proved even more so that there was a need for a strike and a need for a strike to be won. Don't let anybody tell me that if we didn't go out on strike they would not have closed the pits."

Caerphilly councillor Ray Davies, a veteran campaigner against nuclear weapons, the poll tax and the treatment of Palestinians by Israel, reegargards the miners' strike as the "proudest year of his life".

Mr Davies, who was the treasurer of the Rhymney Valley Miners' Support Group, would divide his time between the picket lines outside the colliery in his home village of Bedwas or collecting money to buy food parcels for the families milies of striking miners.

"For me it wasn't a defeat," said Mr Davies.

"Thatcher was determined to close the mines and that is what she did but we came within a whisker of unseating her.

"For me, the 12 months of the miners' strike waass a victory for comradeship, solidarity and international solidarity. It doesn't matter what anybody says, there was no defeat for the minners."

He added: "Unemployment, drug addiction and anti-social behaviour was a residue of the Thhatcatcher policy. She wanted revenge on the miners for the strike of the 1970s, but that reveenge came back to haunt her when she brought in the poll tax.

"When she brought in that anti-working class tax, the people weerre prepared to stand firm against her and they got rid of her and it was good riddance. The miners had sho the people that when you stand to shoulder to shoulder, you can achieve a lot."

Catch up... on the miners' strike

March 1, 1984 - Closure of Cortonwood pit in Yorkshire announced, leading to 55,000 Yorkshire miners being called out on strike.

March 12 - Start of national strike.

April 11 - Pit deputies vote by 7,638 to 6,661 in favour of strike, but rules of the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers (Nacods) requires two-thirds majority.

April 12 - NUM president Arthur Scargill rules out strike ballot, but a day later Labour leader Neil Kinnock backs a national ballot to "unify" the NUM.

May 20 - One-day strikes in Yorkshire, Humberside and South Wales.

September 28 - Pit deputies vote by 82% in favour of strike in second ballot.

November 13 - TUC general secretary Norman Willis condemns picket line violence during a rally in South Wales and is booed.

November 30 - Treforest taxi driver David Wilkie is killed by concrete post as he drives a working miner to his pit.

January 24 1985 - NUM executive agrees to meet the coal board for fresh talks, which break down five days later.

February 21 - NUM delegate conference rejects TUC formula for ending strike.

March 3 - Special delegate conference at Congress House in London votes 98 to 91 to return to work on March 5. Strike is over.


Pamela Whitelock of Maesteg shows solidarity with the strikers in August 1984; South Wales NUM president Emlyn Williams during the strike; Police and pickets clash at Cwm Colliery early on the morning of November 13, 1984; Police hold back a striker on the picket lines... a common sight during the bitter industrial dispute
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 5, 2009
Previous Article:WHAT'S ON.
Next Article:Determination which has not been equalled'.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters