Archive article from The Socialist Issue 517
Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/2008/517/pp2451.htm
Tower Colliery closes: A brave attempt
Miners will march out of Tower Colliery for the last time on Friday 25 January. This will be an emotional end for the last deep coal mine in South Wales. 200 years of labour movement history, glorious and inspiring at times, will come to a close. Tower, having run into problems, is unable to continue to mine coal.
Dave Reid, Socialist Party Wales
The closure will be especially poignant because Tower had defied all the odds by remaining open as a colliery owned by its workforce. In 1994 the Tower was the last pit in South Wales to succumb to the Tory government's politically motivated pit-closure programme and was forced to close despite an energetic campaign by the workforce and the local community.
Managers and private mining companies prepared to swoop to take over the colliery, but a remarkable effort by the National Union of Mineworkers' lodge succeeded in buying the pit for the workforce.
This was achieved by each mineworker investing £8,000 of their redundancy money and with bank loans, but above all by the huge campaign that Tower NUM had mounted including an occupation of the pit which forced the government to concede.
In January 1995 the miners marched back to work to take control of their own pit. Many on the left criticised Tower, but the forerunner of the Socialist Party, Militant Labour, marched back with Tower NUM understanding that in the circumstances the buyout was the least bad option after the privatisation of the industry.
The miners had saved hundreds of jobs in an area of mass unemployment. Most Tower miners had no illusion that this workers' co-operative was going to be an easy way out of the attacks on the industry and Tower NUM has always retained the demand for the pit to be renationalised.
The Socialist Party however also warned of the dangers in trying to create 'an island of socialism in a sea of capitalism' and we explained that due to the unique circumstances in which it was established, Tower's example could not be copied by other workers.
Tower was potentially a very profitable pit, but which other bosses would allow their workers to take over a profitable factory?
In the early period there was a large measure of workers' control of production (miners had always run mining to a large extent under British Coal anyway). Pay rates were increased; a two-shift, four-day week was introduced; safety was improved; and a whole range of reforms benefited the workforce.
Releasing the initiative and invention of miners allowed the development of new mining techniques including the pioneering innovation of a safety area in the case of accidents.
But from the beginning, the energy market and the private coal industry exerted their pressures on Tower through the demands of banks, customers and suppliers, but especially through the influence of the mining managers and engineers who had been retained from British Coal.
These specialist skills were necessary to make the pit work, but the managers and engineers were opposed to the ideas of workers' control and renationalisation. There was a constant tension between the workforce and these pro-capitalist agents in their ranks who knew a good thing when they saw it.
The specific structure of the co-operative meant that the miners did not control the managers and engineers and the leadership of the NUM lodge was drawn out of the lodge into running the colliery with these managers.
But Tower miners can march out of the pit with their heads held high. They have held onto their pit for 13 years and been a valuable source of inspiration to workers in struggle around the world.
Whenever a workers' delegation visited South Wales they have made Tower Colliery their first stop. The Liverpool dockers, Timex workers, Tameside care workers and many more have received tens of thousands of pounds in solidarity donations from Tower miners.
And international workers' delegations, including from the international socialist organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated, the Committee for a Workers' International, from Kazakhstan, Colombia, Russia and Turkish Kurdistan have been supported at the pit, often financially.
Socialist Party Wales has been proud to have been associated with Tower and to have learnt first hand the lessons of Tower's experience.
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