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Section 2: Conflict & solidarity
TOPIC SECTION:
Conflict and solidarity
The solidarity of miners in the face of adversity reflected the teamwork that was fundamental to their work underground.
Picture: 02_1983-5236_C1188.jpg
Canvassing miners during the Rhondda by-election.
Credit: NMPFT
 This solidarity leant strength to the mining unions and became a defining characteristic of coal culture. Inevitably, the mining unions led the way in the struggle for fair pay and better conditions for all workers, and it was only natural that some of the first Labour members of parliament were sponsored by mining communities. This celebrated link between miners and the Labour Party is only now beginning to die.

Historically, the twin weapons of lock-out by the mine owners and strike action by the mine workers have been repeatedly employed in the industry. Such battles were fought by the whole of the mining community, with influence extending beyond the pit into the streets and homes of mining families. Mine owners’ attitudes to their workforce could be pat
Picture: 02_10318623.jpg
A mother and baby on the picket line during a Welsh strike in the 1930s. Families also played a big part in the 1984/5 strike.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
ernalistic or authoritarian, but confrontation was common. Communities might support an issue, with whole families evicted and living on the streets, only to see blackleg (non-union) labour brought in from other coal mining districts. These conflicts, fought as much over people’s home lives as work lives, created an embattled ‘them and us’ culture which co-existed uneasily with the old-established working hierarchy at the pit itself.

During the 1926 strike, fought primarily over miners’ pay cuts and working hours, an alliance made with other unions broke down. The expected national support became a solitary action which stretched for many months. This strike, and its bitter aftermath, brought feelings of isolation and humiliation which persisted into the 1950s.

Communities might support an issue, with whole families evicted and living on the streets, only to see blackleg (non-union) labour brought in from other coal mining districts

The nationalisation of the industry in 1947 should have transformed the relationship between miner and employer, but deep-rooted antagonism often continued. Miners believed little had changed, especially as the same officials and managers were still in positions of power. Strike action in the 1970s brought gains for the miners, but at great political cost. Many blamed this success for the 1984-85 conflict and the industry’s subsequent decline. Attitudes in this conflict to working miners and their families showed, most harshly, the consequences of going against the community consensus. The 1984-85 strike was a bitter battle that divided the nation, split the National Union of Mineworkers, and tore apart many mining communities.

Modern communities feel equally embattled by the decline in coal mining, but today the industry is so small and fragmented that their voices are barely heard. Present emphasis is on helping ex-miners to gain compensation for mining-related injuries and illnesses.
 
 
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Inherent dangers of underground working
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The pressures and traditions of working life underground produced a coal culture. However health and safety legislation transformed the industry forever and now threatens the future of deep mining altogether.  > more

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Pit villages – the mining community
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Coalmining villages were built around the pit and were often geographically isolated. The culture of the coalfield villages has changed over time. However it is unlikely that coal culture can long survive the absence of a pit, despite its strong roots.  > more
 
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