Like coalfields the world over, the mines of South Wales produced huge wealth for the owners, however the colliers who worked in them suffered terrible conditions and exploitative levels of pay.
The South Wales Miners’ Federation “The Fed” was founded in 1898, following the defeat of the South Wales miners’ strike of that year.
The miners, who made up the majority of the workforce in the valleys, were radicalised the by their desperate conditions and events as the Cambrian Combine Dispute and Tonypandy Riot of 1910.
Home Secretary Winston Churchill’s decision send troops to put down the Tonypandy Riots caused ill feeling towards him in south Wales even during the second world war, when British propaganda presented him as a great leader.
The Miners’ Next Step
The Fed’s leadership were aligned with the Labour Party or the Communist Party and gave support to the National Unemployed Workers Movement.
Miners in the Rhondda published a celebrated manifesto The Miners’ Next Step in 1912. The pamphlet proposed to reconstruct their union as a radical organisation, directly controlled by the members, which through an uncompromising struggle would become powerful enough to take over the collieries and oust the owners.
In 1925 owners insisted that the miners throughout Britain accepted pay cuts and longer hours. The miners refused and so the Government stepped in by paying the owners a subsidy.
The following year a Royal Commission reported that the miners should accept wage cuts. The owners insisted even larger cuts which many miners again refused. This in turn lead to them being ‘locked out’ and coalfields from Scotland to Kent came to a total stop.
The Trades Union Congress called a General Strike and most of the workforce throughout Wales, England and Scotland came out on strike to support the miners. On the 12th May, after only nine days, the other unions returned to work as the TUC agreed terms with the London Government. The miners carried on their strike until the end of the year when starvation forced them back to work.
The Great Depression
The Fed was organised protests, marches and demonstrations against the lack of response by the London government to the hardships of the great economic depression. The 1930s in south Wales were notable for communal self-help and solidarity with other struggles, such as the miner’s support for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War.
Due to redundancies The Fed’s membership was falling and it also faced a challenge from a company run ‘scab union’ the South Wales Miners’ Industrial Union. But by 1938, the Fed had defeated the company union.
Government Managed Coal Industry
Following the second world war the coal industry the Labour Government in Westminster took over the management of the Coal industry in the and the Fed became part of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
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