Monday 7 November 2016

The Tonypandy riots and why Winston Churchill's name is not revered in the hearts and minds of the Welsh people.

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 question of whether troops fired on striking miners remains controversial to this day, as there appears to be no documentation, but they were certainly there and played a support role to the police and as a result there was deep anger at the troops being present at all.
Although no authentic record exists of casualties, as many of the miners would have refused treatment in fear of being prosecuted for their part in the riots, nearly 80 policemen and over 500 other people were injured,Thirteen striking miners from Gilfach Goch were arrested and prosecuted for their part in the unrest.The troops would remain in the Rhondda until October 1911.
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 this at the time  it would see Churchill being despised by many in the South Wales Valleys, and 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 way either, 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.


  1. Not much to disagree with there. In fact absolutely nothing at all!

    1. ... and he condoned gassing the Kurds years before Saddam Hussein was condemned for doing the same thing.

      An odious individual whose image is stained onto our fivers.

  2. A great read. Thanks for this. He was a toad. Responsible for so much suffering and death over a long career. Aristocratic entitlement.

  3. cheers, and that's putting it politely.

  4. Without the Second World War he would have faded into oblivion, drinking his time away with other backbenchers. His dismal showing as Home Sec, following his disastrous Military Management of the Gallipoli campaign had long since worn away the silver plate on his reputation after his relative heroism in South Africa during the Boer Campaign.

    He's by no means the first Politician whose reputation has been redeemed and/or whose place in History has been assured because they were simply in the right place at the right time, and he certainly isn't going to be the last.

    He just HAPPENED to be someone acceptable to all parties, although he was far from the most able person contending for the position. At the end, his performance in WWII surprised not only his detractors, but was an equal surprise to his supporters, many of whom considered him quite mediocre as a Politician>

    I see unfortunate similarities with the career of Boris Johnson, which concerns me MORE than a little, seeing as it hasn't QUITE finished.....yet.

  5. thank you so much for your comment, much appreciated, regards.

  6. The suppression of the Welsh miners, the clock ups during ww1 and 2, the bengal famine and he was also the innovator of sending the black and tans over to Ireland. He was wrote in one of his many memoirs, the lines "when i get to heaven.....", man was he an optimist or what.