Wales

Legacy of the miners' strike in Wales

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Media captionThree decades on, as Carwyn Jones discovered, the strike still resonates with former miners, their families and children,

It is 30 years since the year-long miners' strike, and as Neil Prior discovers in his second piece looking at the dispute - it was life-changing for those affected, and the impact is still being felt today.

More than 25,000 Welsh mineworkers lost their jobs in the decade-long programme of pit closures which followed the strike.

While many found it difficult to find work, Prof Keith Gildart did manage to reinvent his career.

After seven years as a labourer at Point of Ayr colliery in Flintshire, he left mining in 1992, and now lectures in Working Class History and Industrial Relations at Wolverhampton University.

Yet he is adamant that his story should not be seen as representative of the opportunities which were open to others.

"It would be completely unfair and inaccurate for me to portray what I've done as something which everyone could have achieved," he said.

"Rather than the decline of mining being the impetus I needed to go on and achieve something different, it was only possible for me to do it because of my time at Point of Ayr.

Image copyright Roger Tiley
Image caption Rally in Cardiff during the miners' strike in 1984

"The colliery was an alternative source of education for me. I left school at 16 completely disillusioned, but once underground I was schooled in history, economics, politics and industrial relations by older miners and those that had been active in the strike.

"Many others I worked with used their skills to become electricians and ambulance drivers etc, it's the generation behind who've really borne the brunt of the pit closures.

'Odds stacked'

"The breakdown of communities and traditional families has led to what's been termed the crisis of masculinity, with no role models to encourage young men into a career, and no collective aspiration or expectation to succeed.

"Young men aren't stupid, they can tell when the odds are stacked against them, and when there seems very little point in even trying."

But if young men have been the victims of the end of mining in Wales, for many women the strike presented new opportunities.

Janis Jones supported her husband Kevin throughout the year on the Cwm Colliery picket line, and says it was a time during which she discovered a lot about herself.

"You can't blame the men, it was the way it'd always been in the valleys up until then, but the way everyone - men and women - thought was that the blokes earned the money, while the women looked after the children.

"But once the strike hit we had a job to do: raising money, finding enough food, getting some good publicity for once.

Finding strength

"It wasn't that we were being held back before, but it took that to make us realise ourselves what we could achieve when we put our mind to it.

"With that experience, when Cwm shut a year after the strike and the men were crushed, it was a lot of the women who found the strength to go and set up new businesses.

Image copyright Roger Tiley
Image caption Women in a soup kitchen during the strike

"Was it worth it? Not really; I think it'd have happened sooner or later anyhow, and just look at the price we've paid for a bit of independence."

But whilst positions are as entrenched and bitter now as they were 30 years ago, Prof Gildart argues that this anniversary should be the time to finally put feuds to one side and build for the future.

"The political arguments are all well-rehearsed and largely pointless. In many ways the decline of deep mining was inevitable and has been mirrored all over the world.

"What was utterly mismanaged - by successive governments of all colours - was the transition to other industries, and that's what we have to get right now if we're to avoid having the same debate in another 30 years' time."

"Transport, inward investment, education and most importantly belief in the future are key investments which will require a government having vision beyond a five-year parliament."

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