The Tower Colliery closes today – the last deep mine in Wales and possibly the longest operating mine of this kind in the world - a poignant footnote to the death of the British mining industry.
It’s now easy to see that when Thatcher embarked on her programme of pit closures her motivation came from a sense of revenge for the NUM bringing down the Tories in 1974, and a strategy to take on the strongest section of the labour movement as the first stage in a general campaign to break the power of the unions. But at the time the Great Lie was perpetuated that mining was no longer economically viable, and that those who questioned this were dinosaurs refusing to acknowledge the march of progress.
So when the Tower Colliery was up for closure in 1994 and the miners pooled their redundancy money to buy the pit from British Coal, and then managed the mine profitably for the next thirteen years, the Great Lie was exposed. And the workers-run mine became something of a symbol of pride and an inspiration. Now the mine is finally worked-out and truly uneconomical. Happily it appears that those miners who wish to continue in the industry are going to be working on two nearby open cast collieries.
Only those of us who never had to endure the danger and hardship of working underground can afford the luxury of sentimentality about the end of an era. But having lived through the miners’ strike and had the privilege at that time to meet striking miners from Wales, the closure brought a lump to my throat; The same sense of sadness and pride as when the miners marched back to work in 1985, defeated but defiant behind their banners and bands.