Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/921/23800

From The Socialist newspaper, 19 October 2016

Aberfan 50th anniversary

A disaster that should never have happened

photo JBR/Creative Commons

photo JBR/Creative Commons   (Click to enlarge)

Sasha O'Neil, Caerphilly/RCT Socialist Party

Aberfan - it's a name as resonant with tragedy for working class people in South Wales as Hillsborough is for Liverpool. For many the horror is all the greater because 116 of the 144 who died were young children. Like Hillsborough, Aberfan was a disaster that need never have happened.

The coal waste tips that towered above Aberfan were a common feature of the Valleys, but the local children playing here noticed that the tip above their school was shifting ten yards a year.

Adults noticed too. On 24 July 1963, over three years before the disaster, the borough engineer, DCW Jones wrote to the local official in charge, "...the National Coal Board (NCB) appear to be taking slurry similar to that which... gave so much trouble in the quarry at Merthyr Vale, up on to the... tip at the rear of the Pantglas Schools... I regard it as extremely serious as the slurry is so fluid and the gradient so steep that it could not possibly stay in position in the winter time or during periods of heavy rain."

DCW Jones wrote urgent warnings to an array of officials as the months passed. Meetings were held - and deferred - as individuals went on holiday. Decisions were put off. The tips still loomed and shifted.

One letter is headed, "Danger from coal slurry being tipped at the rear of Pantglas School, Aberfan".

The colliery manager writes: "A satisfactory and suitable place other than the tip... eludes me at the moment..."

In another letter we read: "We would not like to continue beyond the next six to eight weeks in tipping on the mountain side where it is likely to be a source of danger to Pantglas School."

Tsunami

A culvert was repaired, but the slurry kept coming. Then, at 9.15am on 21 October 1966, a huge portion of the tip broke away and rushed like a tsunami down on Pantglas Primary School, where morning lessons had just begun.

John Sztucki - who grew up to be a miner at Tower Colliery - was in the third form at the secondary school 200 metres away where classes started later: "There was a group of us in the playground - six or seven of us - waiting for the bell to go.

"It was so foggy you couldn't see ten yards. We heard this horrible roaring noise and we thought a jet airplane was about to crash into the mountain. We climbed out over the wall of the school up onto the old railway line. There was all this muck - ooze - flowing below it.

"Between the canal bank and the railway line ran a crevasse, about 50 metres deep at one end, tapering off to almost nothing in front of the primary school. Our school had the crevasse in front of it, so a lot of the muck went in and more or less filled that. Whereas the primary school was covered.

"We couldn't get there because of the muck coming down. We could just make out through the fog where the houses should have been between the two schools, but they weren't there any more. There was just total confusion.

"The miners were called out of all the local collieries - Merthyr Vale, Deep Navigation, Taff Merthyr, Abercynon. My father was one of them. They were all up on the school trying to shift this muck out of the way. People who were known to live in Aberfan were called out of their workplaces to go home immediately.

"One of my best friends was one of the lucky ones who were dug out. He was buried up to his neck in slurry. I was in a little gang of friends and we realised that half of us - six or seven - were gone."

In the valleys all around people left work, grabbed a shovel and rushed to Aberfan to help the emergency services with the rescue effort. Less welcome were the hordes of journalists.

The attention of the world was on South Wales, but Lord Robens, the head of the NCB, went along to his installation that afternoon as Chancellor of Surrey University. He didn't show up in Aberfan until the evening of the following day.

Like other heads of nationalised industries, Robens had a boss's arrogance - and a Daimler, an executive aeroplane and a flat in Belgravia to go with it. When he finally reached the site, he denied that anything could have been done to prevent the disaster. He told the press "natural unknown springs" had brought down the tip. Only at the end of the 76 day enquiry did the Coal Board admit responsibility.

The Davies Tribunal concluded that the NCB's liability was "incontestible and uncontested", but no one was sacked or prosecuted - and Robens refused to allow the NCB to remove the tips above Aberfan.

Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson refused Robens' resignation. Robens was carrying out huge cuts to the coal industry without any major strikes - something the Tories could never have managed. Perhaps Wilson felt he couldn't afford to let him go.

The NCB paid out a total of 160,000 compensation (just over 2 million today), and the Aberfan Disaster Fund raised 1.75 million. Wilson's government raided that fund to help pay the costs of removing the tips - money that was only returned after Labour's win in 1997.

Commemorations

Today the 50th anniversary commemorations shun any mention that Aberfan was not an accident. That is a grave mistake, because the tip would not have fallen had there been legal regulations for siting, constructing and maintaining it.

In the aftermath of Aberfan, the National Union of Mineworkers and other trade unionists redoubled their efforts to win a culture of "safety first" in industry and the wider community. Those safeguards are now under threat from Tory cuts - egged on by a press that ridicules "health and safety gone mad". Our memory of Aberfan must keep us vigilant.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 19 October 2016:


Socialist Party news and analysis

NHS at breaking Point

Teachers working 60 hours need strikes, not studies

Elderly care at crisis point

Health campaigns demonstrate together in 'one fight'

NHS cancer and dementia drugs 'unaffordable'

Them & Us


What we think

No backtracks, no compromises: we must fight for real democracy in the Labour Party

TUSC discusses new tasks after Corbyn victory


Workplace news and analysis

Sheffield bin striker slams privatised refuse bosses

Newsquest strike: Bosses realise 'contraints' of scab labour

London Underground cleaners protest pay cut

Support the 'Kinsley 3' cleaners in pay fight


International socialist news and analysis

Syria: horror deepens in Aleppo


Socialist history

Aberfan: a disaster that should never have happened

Suez 1956: the decline of British imperialism and rise of the colonial revolution


Black History Month

The radical life of Paul Robeson


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Butterfields housing victory: "We showed that if you stick together and fight you can win"

Come to Socialism 2016

Can you donate to the Socialism 2016 appeal?

Cheshire and Merseyside: Huge NHS cuts and privatisation planned

Devon: Campaigning against community hospitals closures

Bristol: Millions of pounds of "horrifically unpalatable" cuts


Socialist readers' comments and reviews

Moving, funny and inspiring tribute to working class heroism

Film review: Deepwater Horizon

Review: BBC2's Poetry Night

The Socialist inbox


 

Home   |   The Socialist 19 October 2016   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Wales:

triangleHundreds turn out for rally aimed at removing west Wales Tory MP

triangleCardiff Socialist Students confront 'Parasite' Jacob Rees-Mogg

triangleWarts-and-all account of class war and the struggle for LGBT+ rights

triangleFord workers vote for action

triangleCrunchy guitar and poignant dialogue in alt-rock homage to south Wales miners

School:

triangleNasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

triangleYoung Socialists launched in Greater Manchester

triangleSchools and teaching: A perfect storm of cuts, underfunding, excessive workloads and low pay

triangleSchool spend is behind eastern Europe

US:

triangleObesity epidemic: end food market anarchy

triangleSwansea Socialist Party: Mother Jones - A US labour pioneer

triangleJoin the Orgreave Halloween rally

Merthyr:

trianglePowerful picture of the Port Talbot steel workers' struggle

triangleWales: Corbyn's left surge refutes right-wing Labour doomsayers

South Wales:

triangleSocialist Students 'welcome' Hillary Clinton to Swansea

Health and safety:

triangleFood processing workers vote for action against miserly bosses

Historic events

Historic events

18/10/17

Russian revolution

Russia, October 1917: When workers took power

4/10/17

Che Guevara

Che Guevara 50 years on - revolutionary socialist and fighter

23/8/17

Review

Mutinies and strikes: when Bolshevism threatened British bosses

23/8/17

Anti-fascist

Lewisham 1977: When socialists and workers defeated the far-right National Front

9/8/17

Marx

Marx's Capital at 150: an unequalled analysis and critique of capitalism

26/7/17

Russian revolution

Russia 1917: how art helped make the revolution

12/7/17

Russian revolution

July Days 1917: battles with counterrevolution

6/7/17

LGBT

Lessons from the Russian revolution for LGBT+ struggle today

28/6/17

Liverpool

Liverpool's 1983-87 socialist council

21/6/17

Revolution

The Pentrich uprising: revolution and counter-revolution in 19th century Britain

31/5/17

Russian revolution

June 1917: when workers in Britain first tried to form soviets

26/4/17

May Day

The real origins of May Day

26/4/17

Labour Party

How Blairism sank its claws into the Labour Party

29/3/17

Russian revolution

April 1917: how the Bolsheviks reorientated

8/3/17

Ferries

1987 Zeebrugge disaster

triangleMore Historic events articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle13 Oct The end of the Tories?

triangle11 Oct Nasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

triangle11 Oct CWU fights court attempt to stop national strike

triangle11 Oct The fight against racial discrimination is tied to fighting against...

triangle11 Oct Catalonia: Workers can finish what Puigdemont won't

triangle6 Oct Boeing bust-up threatens thousands of skilled jobs

triangle4 Oct The nasty party turns on itself... but the Tories must be driven out

More ...

triangle18 Oct Warrington & St Helens Socialist Party: 1917-2017; the October Russian Revolution

triangle18 Oct Hackney Socialist Party: 100 years ago - the Bolshevik-led revolution

triangle18 Oct Tower Hamlets Socialist Party: Capitalism in Crisis - is Corbyn the answer?

triangle19 Oct Waltham Forest Young Socialists: Deaths in police custody

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2