In a special documentary, historian and writer, Hywel Williams presents an alternative history of the coal industry and offers a different perspective on the miners’ strike that ended 30 years ago after almost a year of confrontation.
The programme Y Gwir am y Glo gyda Hywel Williams (The Truth about Coal with Hywel Williams) on Wednesday, February 18, is part of S4C’s special season Cofio Streic y Glowyr marking the 30th anniversary of the end of the bitter industrial dispute which lasted from the end of March 1984 to the beginning of March 1985.
The strike ended with the miners returning to work to face massive colliery closures which changed hundreds of Welsh and other British mining communities for ever.
In the programme Hywel Williams argues that three myths existed about the coal industry – the myth that coal was an industry that would last forever; that miners were a community of left wing radicals and the myth of Tory revenge – that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was avenging the election defeat of the Heath Government in 1974. Each of these myths was a rallying cry for the strikers and Hywel debunks each one in turn.
Hywel says the reason why people thought the coal industry would always be around was because of its ability to resist change. “Coalmining was an old fashioned industry,” says Hywel Williams. “It wasn’t possible to devise a technology in order to modernise it.” But as the 20th century progressed there were changes in global coal production making British coal less and less competitive. And according to Hywel, “We should be glad the coalmining industry came to an end. The surprising thing is not that it died out but that it lasted so long.”
The miners’ strike followed a government announcement in March 1984 that 20 uneconomic pits would be closed. The biggest myth about the strike, according to Hywel, was that the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was seeking revenge against the miners for their part in bringing down Edward Heath’s Conservative Government ten years earlier.
“The problem with this particular myth was that it ignored the truth about Britain’s coal industry. In the ’80s three-quarters of all the pits were uneconomic. Hywel argues that the coal industry was on its last legs and that closures were taking place under Labour administrations as well. “The truth is that no one was presenting policies which would give the coal industry in Britain a realistic future. That was the opportunity given to NUM leader, Arthur Scargill, the false prophet,” said Hywel.
“Although he was the NUM president, Arthur Scargill saw his role as one who represented every worker in Britain in the fight against capitalism. The coal industry was a convenient platform for Arthur Scargill.”
The result was Scargill’s militant activism which deliberately set about creating chaos and strife. “Margaret Thatcher and the government of the day weren’t taking revenge on the National Union of Mineworkers,” said Hywel, “but maintaining the law and the running of the country.”
In the programme Hywel interviews A.N.Wilson, the writer and broadcaster brought up in Llansteffan, Ann Clwyd MP, broadcaster Aled Gwyn and former miners from the Ammanford area.
S4C will broadcast a number of other programmes in February to mark the end of the miners’ strike thirty years ago. Next Saturday, February 21, the gritty drama Y Streic a Fi portrays a community torn apart by the dispute.
The series Adam Price a Streic y Glowyr will also be shown again on S4C from Thursday evening, 19 February to Saturday evening, February 21, and the strike will be the focus of a number of other programmes during the following week.
This week, the first programme in a new run of S4C’s current affairs series Y Byd ar Bedwar on Tuesday, February 17, visits two communities who battled hard to try and keep their collieries open. The programme revisits the workers of Betws mine, Ammanford, who picketed all over Wales and England in an attempt to stop other miners from going to work and asks what effect closing the collieries had on the area?
Did the Thatcher administration kill Welsh communities? The programme takes a look at today’s old mining strongholds and reveals the results of a unique piece of research.
The mining theme will also be reflected in the programme Pawb a’i Farn from Holyhead, Anglesey on S4C on Thursday, February 19, when Dewi Llwyd will invite an audience of local people to put their questions to the panel.
Y Gwir am y Glo gyda Hywel Williams.
Wednesday, February 18, at 9.30pm on S4C.