Tonypandy Riots 🏴
A future Prime Minister and his role in strike action in south Wales
Winston Churchill is revered as a heroic war time leader across many parts of the UK, but one area of south Wales has despised his very name for over a century.
A week into November 1910, a strike had spread across the south Wales coalfield. It began in September of that year, when 950 miners were locked out of Ely pit in Penygraig. A new seam was opened and although the miners said it was difficult to mine, the mine owners saw it as the workers being slow.
Of this number, only 70 of the workers were involved in the dispute. The sense of solitary was strong, as it often was with miners.
In anticipation of tensions, the Glamorgan constabulary made contingency plans for when miners who were part of the Cambrian Colliers, a cartel created to fix coal prices and wages, would send miners to the one remaining open pit.
With tensions rising, then Home Secretary Winston Churchill sent 200 metropolitan police officers to the area in support of the local police force. Soldiers were also stationed in a nearby town in case the issue with the miners escalated further. It would be this decision which would be shrouded in doubt until this very day and has left this part of Wales with a long hatred for Winston Churchill.
It is said that Churchill was reluctant to send the army in, but their presence was resented by both the miners and their families. Rumours spread that the soldiers opened fire on the miners as they rioted in Tonypandy. Although no real evidence was found, the mere presence of the soldiers was a step too far.
Coal mining was always a hard, dangerous job, and this era was no different. The miners of Tonypandy went on strike to fight for a living wage. There may not have been the union backing in 1910, but the miners would come out in solidarity and in numbers.
For almost a year, the miners stood firm, before being forced back to work through hunger and poverty into a wage which was still barely liveable for someone with a family. Many were injured physically from clashes with the police, most would have been scarred psychologically for years to come.
It wasn’t the first time the miners were ground into submission and back to work by the government, and it was far from the last.
The mention of Winston Churchill across much of the south Wales coalfield was and still is looked down upon, the actions and words of the future Prime Minister would give him the same reputation in other parts of the UK throughout later years of the 20th century.
The miners returned to work beaten, but this group of the UK work force would go on to prove themselves vital in the coming years for helping to keep the nation moving.
Like in Tonypandy, however, they would be on the wrong end of the government on multiple occasions. The most destructive of these occasions being the strike of 1984–85.
This strike saw the beginning of the end for the mining industry in the UK. Even though the strikes were 75 years apart, the attitude of the miners and aggression from the state changed very little between 1910 and 1985.