In September I was asked by my friend Ian Rhys Jones at the research Institute WISERD to give a talk at their awayday about the bookThe Shadow of the Mine that I had written with Ray Hudson. The awayday became a virtual one, as a consequence of the virus, and we decided that rather than me speak for 40 minutes it would be more interesting to have a conversation about the book with my old friend Gareth Rees. This was recorded, and as with the interview for Jacobin it extends some of the issues that we discussed in the book. Some people have found this interesting, the video is below and here’s the link to the event on the WISERD site.
On one afternoon in early October my friend Ray and I were involved in a long conversation about our new book The Shadow of the Mine with a young woman in Boston, Piper Winkler. She was interviewing us for the radical magazine Jacobin and the conversation on Zoom lasted for three hours. We were very taken by her interest in the history of the British coalminers. We learnt that she and her friends had been very influenced by the film Pride and was keen to talk about the organisation of solidarity which the coalminers seemed to have mastered. The interview was wide ranging and went well beyond the details of the book. Some people found it interesting so here’s the link the the Jacobin article.
Film – Miners Strike 1985
When the renowned Swedish film director Kjell-Ake Andersson was a young man, he visited South Wales in 1973 on a photographic expedition. Travelling on a shoe string, with his girlfriend and eight month old daughter Matilda he was taken in to a miner’s home in Bargoed. They stayed together in the village for three months, talking with the people and taking photographs, returning twice in the following year. Widely accepted by the miners and their families, Anderson’s photographs portrayed their lives in intimate detail. His book, Gruvarbetare in Wales, was published in Sweden in 1977 and has become recognised as one of the most perceptive visual accounts of mining life in that period. One of the photographs is included inside The Shadows of the Mine and we are hoping to find a way of exhibiting his work in Wales in 2022.
Today Andersson often looks back to the time at Bargoed and recalls ‘meeting the mining community has made a great impact in my life. The generosity and solidarity and friendship I have never forgotten’.
He did return to the valleys in 1985 to make another important contribution. By this time established in film making, his documentary, Breaking Point, on the 1984-85 strike at Oakdale provided a telling account of the community in the snows of January. He has provided us with a version of this film: the narration is in Swedish, but the sounds of the valley town and the words of its people can be clearly heard, bringing back memories of the weeks before the strike ended. Take a look.
The railway into Kellingley Colliery, ©Alan Murray-Rust (CC BY-SA 2.0)
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Scotland he was asked to name the date when the UK would be free of fossil fuel. He provided no answer, instead he talked of the “good start” provided by Mrs Thatcher’s closure of the coal mines, adding to the view that the dramatic closure of the British coal industry was driven by environmental necessity. Anything but as my friend Ray Hudson and I explore in our article in Tribune. Thatcher’s main concern was the NUM. Our reliance on coal extended well beyond the closure of the mines. Today Britain is far less well prepared for a green future that countries (like Germany) that kept their pits open longer.
When the last coal mine – Kellingley – closed in 2015 its shipments to the Drax power station were replaced with coal from Russian mines then adding to the half a trillion tonnes of imports made by the UK since 2001. Meanwhile on the coalfields the miners were, to all intents and purposes, pensioned off and their future left in the hands of the market and the beneficence of foreign inward investment. There was no strategic national plan for the coalfields or for a green economy! Today, Johnson’s description of Britain as the “Saudi Arabia of wind” ignores the 34% of electricity generation that comes from burning gas in power stations.
All this is fanciful. The future may well lie in off-shore wind power but no British company has the expertise that Vestas and Siemens-Gamesa have accumulated over the last decades. In fact, the number of companies based in the UK involved in off-shore wind declined by a third in the years between 2014 and 2019. If there was indeed an early start it has clearly been wasted. Johnson’s projection of the UK as a “world leader” in climate change has already been called out as a lie and it is clear that any future green revolution it’s unlikely to be driven by technologies ‘built better’ in the UK on its old industrial regions.
No, Thatcher’s War on the Miners Wasn’t Good for Green Politics – Tribune 24/08/2021
Well our new book The Shadow of the Mine: Coal and the End of Industrial Britain is now published and also reviewed here and there:
“A hymn to working-class community and to men and women’s souls” Will Hutton, author of The State We’re In
“Refreshing and necessary … [The Shadow of the Mine] explains in loving, careful detail why working people’s relationship with Labour in former industrial communities … had become complex and ultimately soured.” Laura Pidcock, Red Pepper
“Their brilliant analysis of the decline of British coal mining, and its social and political effects, is required reading for those who would speak for this working class. It is in many ways a study in the lost world of British labourism.” David Edgerton, The Times Literary Supplement
“The Shadow of the Mine reminds us why this spirit [of solidarity and collectivism] has lived on in the coalfields, in spite of people feeling a sense of political betrayal going back decades … enlightening.” The Guardian
“Their new book is essential reading for anyone who wants to dig deeper beyond vague generalizations about the “red wall” that have proliferated since December 2019…Beynon and Hudson encourage us to explore the long-term trends that have shaped the bewildering political situation we find ourselves in now” Charlotte Austin, Jacobin
“The Shadow of the Mine, is a moving account of 150 years of coalfield history, focusing on South Wales and Durham. It is not, however, a detached study of the past. By tracing the “deep story” of the marginalisation of Britain’s coalfields, it aims to understand the continuing exclusion of working-class people in deindustrialised areas from political and social life…if the current Labour leader wants to understand the challenges facing him, he would be far better reading The Shadow of the Mine than listening to PR companies telling him to wrap the party in a union jack.” Diarmaid Kelliher, Antipode Online
About the book
The Shadow of the Mine: Coal and the End of Industrial Britain, London, Verso, 2021, 402pp. ISBN -13:978-1-83976-156-0
This historical study of the coal industry tells of King Coal in its heyday and how communities of mining families created a unique and powerful social and political presence in areas like South Wales and Durham. In 1984 miners here were involved in a yearlong strike to save jobs and to save coal mining. After the defeat the industry went into precipitous decline and this book outlines the social and political consequences that followed: often told in the words of the people themselves.
There is an insert of glossy black photographs in the middle of our new book, The Shadow of the Mine. They illustrate thew story of the book: the overwhelming presence of mining, the strike to save to industry and the community response, the closures, the changing landscapes of decline sitting alongside the promises of new industry and a better way of life. The selection ends with the response from within – collective ownership of the mine at Tower and the continuation of the annual Big Meeting in Durham. We have brought them together here along with a couple of additions of our own:
Thanks to Kjell-Åke Andersson, Paul Reas and Keith Pattison
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to talk with Laurie Taylor on his programme “Thinking Allowed” about our new book: “The Shadow of the Mine: Coal and the End of Industrial Britain”. Subsequently I had lots of messages from old friends pleased to know that I was still alive and kicking! The interview concentrated on a time in this country when there were miners, and focused on the long story of the mining districts of south Wales and Durham. It was this time that my old friends were pleased to be reminded of. If you are interested too it is available on the BBC website.
Today – 25 September 2020 – Ford will close the engine plant that it opened in Bridgend in 1980. At that time, it was seen as a major development for the local economy and the prospect of South Wales emerging as a major producer of automobile parts. Standing alongside Ford’s axle plant at Jersey Marine and its spark plug operation in Treforest it suggested the prospect of a growing concentration of employment in that sector, The presence of Borg Warner’s transmission plant at Kenfig Hill and Girling’s brake production facility at Cwmbran all added to thus optimism. It seemed that a happy accommodation had been reached between the investment decisions of large transnational corporations and the aspiration of the (not yet devolved) Welsh economic development strategists. The opening of the engine plant was also hailed as a major success for the “speed and effectiveness” of the old Welsh Development Agency with the £180 million investment flying at its masthead. It was, said the newspaper headlines “A Triumph for Wales” So where did it all go wrong? Or how did it happen at all?
The decision to locate the engine plant at Bridgend had been taken three years earlier in 1977 and then after a lot of planning by Ford and a lot of manoeuvring on the European chess board. Ford had decided to bring out a Mark III version of the Escort which would be a complete rebuild and different in many ways from the classic Mark I which I had seen first roll off the assembly line in the Halewood plant in 1966. That was at the time when the company was creating Ford Europe. Ten years later much had changed with the company then talking of global production and of making a “world car”. The mark III was to be this car with the same model being built in identical plants around the world where it would also be sold and driven. In Europe Ford needed a secure location for a plant that would produce almost 700,000 engines a year for this new car. Just how it ended up at Bridgend was an interesting and revealing story which I wrote about in the second edition of my book Working for Ford.
In 1977 Prime Minister James Callaghan was recovering from the shock of the previous year’s financial crisis and the draconian intervention of the IMF. In this weakened state he met with Henry Ford in Downing Street and told him: “Henry we are turning this country around. And you, if you choose, can help us do it”. This must have been music to Henry’s ears given that UK wages were significantly lower than German ones, while car prices were significantly higher with Ford’s outselling all other makes at a time when British Leyland was in terminal crisis.
By that time too Ford had scoured Europe and put together a number of possible sites for its new plant. Each one had been analyzed in what the company (with a glance at history and the macabre) called its “Doomsday Books”. In these books, issues like geographic location, the state of the labour market and trade unionism would be weighed along with the inducements on offer, though a series of 92 questions. In the end it would be the finance that would settle it, and Ford was renowned for its capacity to play hard ball in such negotiations. Having been given the green light in Downing Street it decided to press its advantage.
In South Wales at that time there were Special Development Areas that provided inward investors with a 22.5% grant – Miskin was one and was thought of by the WDA as a suitable site for the new plant. Ford however had chosen Bridgend because of its proximity to the interchange on the new M4; but Bridgend was not a Special Development Area. So in the October, Ford issued an ultimatum to the government in London given it 24 hours to change the designation of Bridgend. This produced one of the more farcical moment of the Callaghan government. Alan Varley the Secretary of State for Industry was not available to sign the relevant papers so they had to be taken across London to Tower Bridge where the junior minister Alan Williams was on a visit to the Port of London Authority in order for Ford to get its extra two and a half percent.
When the sums were all added up, and finally made public, the £180 million investment looked rather different. In addition to the £40 million under the regional grants scheme Ford also receive £75 million for assisting job creation. A total of £115 million is state support to which Ford added £65 million. It was a good deal for Ford.
Now as the global strategy tilts it’s off somewhere else; it has another engine plant in Mexico with spare capacity. However it leaves behind more workers without jobs, and a shattered industrial strategy that raises serious questions about the future.
Dogs and Humans
Some years ago I was helping with a study of older people and the ways in which they kept in touch with friends and family. As part of the survey we showed them a circle and asked them to place themselves in the centre and locate their friendships around them – the closest nearer to the centre (and them) and others further away. We were often asked whether pets could be included and they were invariably placed near the centre of the circle revealing an important truth about human-animal friendship. Many people find their closest emotional bonds to lie with animals as well as humans; animals as several people asserted, have become “part of the family”.
In sociology human-animal interaction has previously been of little interest and has rarely been studied. When it has been given attention this has most often involved considering animals as entirely separate species and “objects” in relation to human beings. However findings like these, studies by biologists of living animals in their natural settings, and documentary programmes such as those by David Attenborough have revealed many of the similarities between humans and animals. Animals are now viewed as sentient and imaginative beings in their own right. All this has become clear in my personal life. At home we have five cats, two horses and two rescue ponies. We also have a dog: a springer spaniel called Jack. They are all very much “part of the family”, but this is a story about Jack and me.
Jack the Dog
Jack is a springer spaniel and we took him on when he was three months old. He had been living with a family with four young children in a semi-detached house in Cardiff. Without exercise he was proving difficult to handle! At that time our previous dog (a spaniel) had died and as we were planning to move from our house in a village to a smallholding we thought that it would be an ideal time to have a new puppy.
We knew about spaniels and that springers were especially energetic but nothing could have prepared us for Jack. He was ‘perpetual motion’: forever running flat out, jumping over walls, always with something in his mouth, often a plant pot covering his eyes.
I got used to finding my slippers in the compost heap. The builders who visited found their gloves and caps disappearing, as well as their paint brushes and hammers. When anything was lost the shout would go up for “Jack!” Soon this little dog had come to dominate all our conversations, usually accompanied by laughter. People became convinced that he had a sense of humour. He would take a glove, run away with it and drop it when asked, only to run back to take the other one of the pair where you had left it! One of our friends was asked by his work mates why he kept smiling and he replied: “I’m just thinking about that bloody dog”. For us, he had become the centre of the house, with an excited greeting every morning, looking forward to the day, following us wherever we went; brilliant and happy with the cats and the sheep and with people. Oddly enough the dog had made it easier for us to interact with people who visited us here on the farm.
However we began to notice a change. When he was about three he was coming into the house in the afternoon and sleeping in his bed. He wasn’t quite as eager in the mornings and we thought that this was the sign of him “slowing down” as he matured. People had predicted that this would happen and that he couldn’t carry on at the pace he was setting. While he was still running around, it was not with such manic intent, and on one occasion he had taken a rest in the field on the way home. I suppose that this should have alerted us to a problem. However it soon become very clear that something was badly wrong. One morning we woke to find that Jack had been sick in the night and couldn’t get out of his bed!
Our vet, Bernice Fitzmaurice, was worried. She looked in Jack’s mouth, and his cold white gums indicated that he was in shock. He was put on a drip and kept in over the weekend for tests. She thought that he might have Addison’s Disease, a rare condition in dogs but not impossible given his symptoms.
We thought this was most unlikely, even impossible, because I had been diagnosed with Addison’s Disease ten years earlier. The disease is even more rare in human beings than dogs and the chances that both of us would have it were exceptionally limited. However, and in spite of all our doubts, the tests confirmed that Jack did indeed have Addison’s – our dog had the same illness as me!
The current estimates of the national incidence in dogs vary from 0.036% to 0.5%. It was common to calculate its prevalence in humans at 35–60 per million and although recent studies suggest a figure nearer 117 per million ( 0.0117%) it is still very rare. So for both of us to have ended up with this unusual and uncommon illness was quite a surprise. Although Riverside Vets in Abergavenny have 7 other dogs (of different breeds) with Addison’s , none of them have owners with the same condition, nor have they ever come across a similar case.
Addison’s Disease is an idiopathic adrenal insufficiency, most commonly brought about by the progressive destruction of the adrenal gland by the immune system. As such the symptoms become more acute over time, explaining Jack’s progressive deterioration. It is the same disease in humans and dogs but there are some differences that relate to our differing metabolisms. The human adrenal gland has three zones producing glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and a male hormone. Dogs have just the first two zones but not the third, and they produce much less glucocorticoid than humans. As such the treatment – which is to provide replacement medication (‘steroids’) – is slightly different.
I remembered how it came about that I was diagnosed. I had been very weary for many months. Sometimes in the evening after work I would find even talking to be too much effort. My wife, Helen, thought that I exhibited many of the symptoms of depression yet paradoxically without seeming miserable. I became more and more tired, occasionally exhausted and then unsteady on my feet. After a fall, a registrar at Neville Hall noticed pigmentation of my skin which is a tell-tale sign of Addison’s (which is notoriously difficult to diagnose) in humans. His suspicions were further aroused by a blood test showing high levels of potassium and low levels of sodium. One of the other features of the condition in people is a “postural drop” in blood pressure that occurs when standing up and produces unsteadiness. This of course can be checked but I wondered how vets were able to come to a diagnosis, given that the symptoms are so unspecific and, of course, dogs can’t talk.
Bernice explained that they see Addison’s as “the great pretender”. It mimics many other conditions and in their training vets are alerted to “things that don’t respond as they should to treatment”. They look out for any unsteadiness or hind limb weaknesses and are especially alerted by intestinal problems, or vomiting and dehydration and, as with humans, they would initially check on the electrolytes and see any warning signs of low sodium and high potassium. This is what they did with Jack and, as with humans, followed it with the Synacthen test which confirmed that his adrenal gland wasn’t working.
Tablet Routines and Recovery
Given our differences, our medication is slightly different: I need to take a lot of hydrocortisone while Jack has to take much more fludrocortisone in a tablet called Florinef to replace his mineralocorticoids. We have to do this daily and this does mean that we have similar routines. We are the great tablet takers!
To ease this vital process, Jack’s tablets are wrapped in a piece of chicken. This has meant that he never forgets. When the dose is due he has been known to stand looking at the fridge door to remind me. This also reminds me to take mine!
The tablet regime brought things back into balance for Jack. He was soon back to normal: he hadn’t really slowed up at all!
However things can go off the rails for him and for me. Jack had broken his leg when he was still a young dog and he had endured the surgery and the recovery period with great fortitude. However when he needed a further operation to remove the metal work in his leg, the fact that he had Addison’s Disease was a cause of concern requiring the surgeon to provide steroids during the operation and us to (temporarily) add hydrocortisone to his tablet regime when we got him home.
Infections and stress can also make things go out of balance which, if not corrected can turn into a crisis. Both Jack and I have had crises and they aren’t very pleasant. I can end up in A&E. The last time I was there the Senior House Officer was amazed to hear about Jack and he insisted that I should write about the fact that ‘my dog’s got what I’ve got’. That’s just one of the many ways in which Jack has entered the fabric of our lives and been good for us.
We have also been good for him. If you don’t have Addison’s Disease it’s hard to understand what it is and how it operates. We’ve learned that it’s important to spot the signs in me and this helps us with Jack. It means that we have been able (so far) to intervene when things are out of kilter for him and to prevent an acute crisis.
So we help each other. Given how rare the disease is in humans the chances of Jack finding us was a bit like a needle in a haystack; perhaps two and a half million to one. For his sake and ours, we’re glad that he did.
Many thanks to Helen Sampson for her help with the writing of this piece and to our vet Bernice Fitzmaurice for her advice and encouragement.
Last week across the country but particularly in Wales we have been thinking of Aberfan and the terrible events that unfolded there fifty years ago. The main emphasis has been on the tragedy of it all and the terribly sad loss of all those children and the implications for their families and friends. In all this, in a way that mirrored the event itself, the National Coal Board has got off rather lightly. Occasionally though criticism has emerged. Midway through Karl Jenkins’ brilliant religious Cantata Memoria – for the children – Bryn Terfel sang: “Buried Alive by the National Coal Board”. Here he was echoing the words of the grieving father driven beyond limits by the coroner’s talk of “asphyxia and multiple injuries” This was not what he wanted on the death certificate of his child, he wanted the NCB to be held responsible. Others agreed and there were cries of “murderers”.
On the day of the catastrophe, it should be remembered, the ex Labour Minister Lord Robens, Chairman of the NCB, was being installed as the Chancellor of the University of Surrey. This event took precedence and he didn’t arrive in South Wales until the following evening. His subsequent behaviour revealed the same lack of care and concern. It was he who first stretched credibility with his claim that the existence of springs underneath the tip was unknown and unknowable. At the Inquiry in Mountain Ash he asserted that he was not a technician and could not be held responsible. After the NCB had been blamed by the Inquiry, he insisted that the organisation would not pay for the removal of the tip. Neither would the Labour Government, this was made clear by the Secretary of State for Wales George Thomas – Lord Tonypandy. The cost would have to be borne by the Disaster Fund set up by the local council, and in an act of dubious legality the fund was raided for £150,000.
Thirty years later another Secretary of State – Ron Davies – fulfilled a pledge to return the money. This was paid without interest, a further slight which was later made good by a donation from the newly devolved Welsh government. In all this time the people of the village were left to deal with things as best they could – with the support of each other, with looks and tears, sometimes in silence, by not talking about it at all. Bereft.
It’s hard to see beyond the tears but in Aberfan we can also find a touchstone to people’s loss of faith in the established institutions of Labour. The Report of the Aberfan Disaster Tribunal spoke of “bungling ineptitude by many men” but no direct blame, no disciplinary action, no prosecutions. Today a charge of corporate manslaughter would certainly have been considered given the chronic disregard for safety that preceded the calamity of 21st October. The events that followed, by adding insult to injury, eroded any meaning from the claim that the NCB was an organisation being run “on behalf of the people”. For many who worked in the industry it was the last straw. The Labour Party too: in 1966 it had polled 60.7% of the vote in Wales but four years later it fell to 51.6% continuing downward to the current low of 36.9%.