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Commemorating the Gleision miners

In the wake of the recent flood deaths, Kelvin Mason ponders the future of coal mining - and coal miners - in Wales.

Along with, I’m sure, everyone in Wales and many people beyond our borders, I would like to pay tribute to the four miners who died in a flood at Gleision colliery near Pontardawe: Charles Breslin, Phillip Hill, Garry Jenkins and David Powell. My heart goes out to their families, friends and community.

Bethan Jenkins, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales West, said: “The very real and cruel way in which the families were robbed of these men is something that I think it will take the local community some time to get over. Were it not for the nature of these deaths and that they have happened, there would have been some comfort in the way this close community has rallied around those affected.”

Coal mining has a very special place in the culture of Wales; miners are folk heroes. When I was nine years old, an avalanche of slurry from a tip where mining waste had been dumped killed 144 people in Aberfan, 116 of them children.

It was perhaps the first time I realised what it might mean to be Welsh and to be vulnerable to disasters not of our own making: the National Coal Board had ignored local concerns about the tip that ultimately engulfed Aberfan.

Bethan Jenkins again: “Coal is the most important factor in the way that the Wales we live in has been shaped. From time to time, we lament its passing, and with it the wealth that it brought – although, of course, Welsh mining communities saw just a fraction of that wealth. This accident at Gleision colliery reminds us again of the very real dangers of working underground – coal mining remains an extremely hazardous industry.”

In the future, I hope that the folk heroes will be emancipated not exploited like the miners of the past; I hope our energy industry will be clean and safe, based on renewable sources, and that it will bring green jobs and prosperity to the people of Wales and not to multi-national corporations and the owner class, indigenous or otherwise.

We must not allow conglomerates like Miller Argent to plunder our already-scarred earth at Ffos y Frân and Nant Llesg, polluting our communities and fuelling climate change to blight future generations, our grandchildren. Wales is blessed with wind power in particular and we have to negotiate ways to accommodate wind-farms in our treasured landscapes.

The last word, though, must go to Bethan: “It is important now that we keep the families of the dead miners very much in mind. To that end, I would ask everyone to please consider donating to the appeal fund that has already been set up.”

Swansea Valley Miners Appeal, 39 Windsor Road, Neath SA11 1NB. www.minersappealfund.org 

Kelvin Mason works at Centre for Alternative Technology and is editor of the Peace News Wales Page

Topics: Labour movement