Sunday, 1 November 2015

Remembering the 1910 Cambrian Combine Strike, the great Unrest and the Tonypandy riots.


On 1st November 1910, coal miners working for the Cambrian Combine began a ten month strike, because of having to exist on starvation wages, which which would lead to the Tonypandy riots. Also at issue was the  price to be paid for a new seam of coal. During this period in the early 1910's which is often  called " the Great Unrest.' the South Wales valleys were  experiencing its fair share of industrial tension and unrest.
30,000  miners in the Rhondda, Aberdare and Maesteg went on strike  or were locked out.
The strike would mark one of the few occasions in British troops were deployed against striking workers, ( I remember how Margaret Thatcher would later deploy the British police as her  own unofficial private army against the miners in the 1984/85 strike.)
On 7 November 1910, thousands of striking miners marched across the Rhondda valley,  they had walked  out over mining magnet D.A Thomas's decision to sack the whole workforce at  the Ely Pit in Penycraig, Rhondda. They demanded better pay and working conditions. After  one striker had been killed, a miner called Samuel Rhys and mass pickets had failed to stop  police from scab herding,( they had bussed  in scab workers from Cardiff to keep the colliery running,) tensions already high erupted, and an uprising ensured, which is  now known as the Tonypandy riots. (Incidentally my own grandads sister ended up living there) strikers attacked shops in the town who had  put families on a credit blacklists not allowing  them to buy enough food,  thus aiding the bosses. Blackleg trains were stoned and halted.
Winston Churchill. then Home Secretary sent in the troops. The striking miners ( many accompanied by their women ) fought back although  the troops were wielding rifles with fixed bayonets.
People were bludgened, kicked and maltreated , with many suffering serious injuries, such was the brutality inflicted. 13 miners  were arrested and prosecuted for their part in the unrest.
After almost one year on strike these brave miners who had had to endure so much hardship returned to work. Though their demands  were not met, the strike helped change the face of British Trade Unionism, still inspiring workers fighting for better conditions today, giving rise in South Wales to increased militancy, the growth of revolutionary syndicalism in the workers struggle against their bosses.
Winston Churchill would be despised by many in South Wales, for the rest of his life, for  the actions that he took .

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