On 7 November 1910 the South Wales Miners’ Federation called a strike of all 12,000 men working in the Cambrian Combine’s pits in the Tonypandy area. They had walked out over mining magnet D.A Thomas's decision to sack the whole workforce at the Ely Pit in Penycraig, Rhondda.It had initially begun when miners had protested at the rate for working in a difficult seam. Which meant a seam 18 inches high with a couple of inches of water under their backs. They demanded better pay and working conditions. The miners found that Leonard Llewellyn, manager of Llwynypia’s Glamorgan Colliery, was using blacklegs to keep the pumps working.After one striker had been killed, a miner called Samuel Rhys and mass pickets had failed to stop police from scab herding,( they had bused in scab workers from Cardiff to keep the colliery running,) few expected what came next, but tensions already high erupted, and an uprising ensured, which is now known as the Tonypandy riots.
Strikers attacked shops in the town which had put families on a credit blacklists not allowing them to buy enough food, thus aiding the bosses. Blackleg trains were stoned and halted. It would continue unabated for almost two days and would involve violent clashes between striking miners and the Glamorgan Constabulary, reinforced by both the Bristol and Metropolitan police forces.
The anti socialist Winston Churchill, then the Home Secretary ordered the troops in to confront the striking Welsh miners at Tonypandy who justifiably saw this as a defense of the coal owners, Churchill getting the army involved with the sole intention of protecting the bosses interests alone, instead of those of the miners and their families. The striking miners ( many accompanied by their women) fought back, even though the troops were wielding rifles with fixed bayonets. People were bludgened, kicked and maltreated, with many suffering serious injuries, such was the brutality inflicted and it resulted in 13 miners being arrested and prosecuted for their part in the unrest.
After almost one year on strike these brave miners who 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.It would however leave bitter scars in the Rhondda, particularly as the miners were forced to return to work after having to agree to a paltry sum for the coal extracted, and because of Churchill's stance against the miners it would also also see thousands of miners blacklisted.
Because of his at the time it would see Churchill being despised by many in the South Wales Valleys, until his dying days, reviled by many as " the man who sent in the troops" and remains deeply unpopular to this day for the actions that he took, becoming a hate figure for generations of Welsh men and women.A major factor in the dislike of Churchill's use of the military, was not in any specific action undertaken by the troops, but the fact that their presence prevented any strike action which might have ended the strike early in the miners' favour. The troops also ensured that trials of rioters, strikers and miner leaders would take place and be successfully prosecuted in Pontypridd in 1911. The defeat of the miners in 1911 was, in the eyes of the local community, a direct consequence of state intervention without any negotiation, and this action was seen as a direct result of Churchill's actions. In 2010, 99 years after the riots, a Welsh local council made objections to a street being named after Churchill in the Vale of Glamorgan because of his sending troops into the Rhondda. Jackie Griffin, clerk of Llanmaes council, stated he was unable to support such an “inappropriate name change” due to the fact that there is “still a strong feeling of animosity” towards Winston Churchill in the community.Sadly along with Margaret Thatcher he has now become an official saint of the right wing of the bourgeoisie.
And now adding further insult to the injury he once caused we have to put up with Winston Churchill’s tawdry image on every £5 banknote, along with his “blood, toil, tears and sweat” quote to a backdrop of parliament . He has replaced Elizabeth Fry, the progressively-minded social reformer and Quaker known as the “angel of prisons”, who has been on the note since 2001.The image of Churchill on the new five pound note is seen as a deeply political act which also obscures and distorts the many other heinous acts that he committed through the course of history, and simply extols a mouthpiece who advocated the crushing of strikes using military force here in Wales and other parts of the UK. His political philosophy alone is not one that I feel should make him worthy to be recognised in this wayeither, after all this was a man who was, inclined at all times to further the expansion of Empire, which resulted in famines, territorial theft and mass suffering, which were based on racist prejudices and a bigoted belief in the superiority of an imagined Anglo-Saxon race.Today the Churchill myth still prevails, and adding his face to the new bank notes will only repress and distort history further. In reality, Churchill was a warrior for the ruling class and a darling of British imperialism; he was racist, sexist, eugenicist and virulently anti-working class, endowed with an immense ego and a capacity for callous destructiveness. No number of five-pound notes can pay for his crimes. Lets not rewrite him out of history though, we should continue to teach generation to come of the true values he represented. Along with many other Welsh people, I do not consider him a man worthy of being used in this way.
The role of Churchill played in the above dispute is outlined in the book 'The Tonypandy Riots 1910-1911 by Gwyn Evans and David Maddox.