Assembly Voice: 24 January 2018

The days when thousands of local people worked in the collieries of Cynon Valley rightly seem a lifetime, or even several lifetimes, in the past. But we carry the legacy of that history with us today, and the story of king coal has created and shaped the area we live in.

I spoke in the Welsh Assembly about one remarkable chapter in that story that lasted until very recently – Tower Colliery. As Cynon Valley residents will know, in 1994 Tower was the last deep mine in Wales. The Tory Government in Westminster turned their sights on it, aiming to finally finish off the proud mining heritage of the South Wales Valleys.

The Tower workforce, NUM and local community fought back, and when events seemed to be at their bleakest, 239 Tower miners each sacrificed £8,000 of their redundancy to reopen Tower as a workers cooperative. Tower was the first mine in the world to be owned by its workers, and January 2018 marks the 23rd anniversary of this heroic and historic act of bravery.

To adapt the words from Tower’s story:- They were ordinary men. They wanted jobs. They bought a pit.

Tower’s story will live on.

But we must also remember those other men who worked in in the collieries of Cynon Valley and beyond, in many cases our fathers, grandfathers or close family relatives.

I am strongly supporting the campaign by the UK Miners Pension Scheme Association to get justice for former miners.

It is wrong that the UK Government has pocketed over £7 million from the scheme, at the expense of those miners who worked so hard to pay into it. The average former miner receives just half of what they should be able to expect. At the most extreme, some miners’ widows are left to survive on just £10 a week.

The Association is seeking a review of the existing system – I am glad the First Minister has written to what is now the Department for Business in support of this call, but the UK Government really does need to offer fair play to former miners.