THE ANTHRACITE STRIKE AND
DISTURBANCES OF 1925 (Note 1)
University College, Swansea 1973
The anthracite strike in 1925 can justifiably be seen as a forgotten strike, for outside the western part of the South Wales coalfield little or nothing is now remembered of those events that for a short while, in that long hot summer, gripped the imagination of the British Labour Movement and must have struck fear and horror in the hearts of all those bold shareholders who had sunk their capital in the new coal combines of West Wales, that seemingly remote end hazardous part of the British Empire. The historian can only surmise as to the extent of their bewilderment not only by such a peculiar phenomenon as a "Seniority Rule" ("Y Rheol Blaenoriath") but by such Edward Lear sounding villages as Seven Sisters, Tumble and Cross Hands and collieries bearing the unlikely nicknames "Candy" (International), "Clink" (Cwmllynfell) and "Next Week" (Ystalyfera). Yet, although it was overshadowed and overtaken by the national events involving "Red Friday" in July 1925 and, more significantly, the General Strike and Lockout of 1926, this localised struggle by thirty thousand anthracite miners was a landmark of immeasurable significance in the development of a sophisticated trade union consciousness among the whole of the South Wales miners.
The strike and disturbances can be seen as an inevitable clash between the desire of miners to protect long established customs and the growing coal combines wishing to maximise the profitability of their concerns. This contradiction is thrown into sharp relief by the bald utterances of Dai Dan Evans, a miner at the International Colliery, Abercraf, and Frederick Alexander Szarvasy, the chairman of the United Anthracite Collieries:
"The difference between the lender and the ordinary rank and filer in the anthracite area is much less than in the steam coal ... In the anthracite area, if you wanted to dismiss a man who was a bit of a 'trouble-maker', they would have to take (possibly a hundred men out before him (because of the Seniority Rule). Consequently) you see you had lambs roaring like lions in the anthracite, and they had to be a lion to bloody well roar like a lion in the steam coalfield." (D.D.Evans). (Note 2)
"Regarding this Colliery (Ammanford. No.1) it seemed evident at the time the present Board took control that the working conditions had to be rearranged before satisfactory profits could be earned." (F.A.Szarvasy). (Note 3)
This dichotomy of interest was essentially a phenomenon which became more apparent in the early 1920's with the development of the coal combines. The anthracite coalfield had been dominated by drifts and small levels owned largely by local farmers or 'self improved' miners, supported by a mining engineer, a foreman and occasionally by additional capital from 'leading' members of the village. The mines were sufficiently small for recruitment to be limited to the immediate locality and consequently were very much village enterprises. The owner was known intimately by his employees as he had probably attended the same elementary school, Sunday school and continued to frequent the same chapel. Although there were often grievances, the pit, like the chapel and the public house, was part of a shared community experience of individual anthracite villages, and such grievances could be mere easily resolved within such a context. Discontent with economic hardships and conditions must have been appreciated by the owner to the extent that he respected the miners' customs and did not normally challenge them. Similarly, the owner was content to receive a relatively moderate and leisurely return on his money and was not answerable to a large and alien body of directors and shareholders demanding ever increasing returns. The custom of the "Seniority Rule", which became Rule 26 of the Anthracite District standing orders, grew out of such an enclosed society. When the coal trade temporarily fell away in the summer months, miners were allowed to migrate to the adjoining steam coalfield and return later to claim their old work places. Similarly, a miner could not be laid off at the discretion of the manager: he was protected by his date of employment and those most recently employed would be the first to be made redundant. Such a custom only existed in a universal sense in the Anthracite District of the South Wales Miners' Federation (S.W.M.F.) And has persisted in a modified way to the present day (Note 4).
Ammanford, the focal point of the strike, was still very much a frontier town in the 1920's. It had many of the qualities of the Merthyr of the early nineteenth century. Convictions for drunkeness against young men in the town rose by 100 per cent in 1924 (Note 5). It was above all an industrial island in a rural sea. Anthracite mining in the area had not expanded a great deal until the early part of the twentieth century so that the bulk of the population was relatively young and mobile. Of its early trade union leaders, S.0. Davies and his brother Gibbon were from Aberdare, Evan (Ianto) Evans was a native of Tredegar, while Tom Williams was from Dafen, near Llanelli, and Edgar Lewis was born in the Rhondda. Jim Griffiths, from Bettws, was probably the only locally born leader.
The strike and disturbances can be traced directly to the economic development of capitalist coal combines: a rationalisation and centralisation of ownership and control, By 1920, about three-fifths of the output of' the South Wales coalfield was under the control of four groups of allied, interests. The combines, however, came late to the anthracite, But when the development materialised, it was all the more rapid and controversial, so that the pace must have contributed to the conflict. The Amalgamated Anthracite and the United Anthracite, both formed in 1924, became the two dominant combines (Note 6). Before the combines swallowed the smaller colliery companies (Note 7), anthracite miners enjoyed good conditions, good price lists and allowances and general customs. The control of those concerns was practically in the hands of the lodge committee (Note 8). The combines seemed intent on eliminating the old customs so as to maximise the profitability of their new concerns.
The basic custom was the 'stint' whereby the miners controlled the maximum output of each workplace and in so doing provided the economic basis of their good conditions. The tactic of the combines was to deliberately overcrowd each pit, especially with miners ignorant of local customs, fleeing from the spectre of unemployment to the harbour of continuous work. In one of the many editorials urging greater militancy, the Llanelli Labour News outlined the essence of the strike:
"If the men will but preserve their customs, they can withstand the Trusts: once they lose their customs, the Trusts will do what they have done in the Rhondda." (Note 9)
With these economic developments in the early 1920's, the human contact between owner and miner was severed. A working anthracite miner of the period, D. J. Williams of Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen (who later became the Labour M.P. for Neath, 1945-1964 wrote lucidly of the situation:
"The growth of these powerful Combines effects a complete revolution in the relations of capital and labour in the coal industry. Time was when the colliery worker knew his employer personally. In those days, it was the custom of the owner himself to come round the faces to consider allowances, prices, special job rates, and to meet in person the workers and their representatives. Such is not the case now. The old relations of persons have given way to the new relation of things. The Combine is a vast machine, and, the worker is merely a cog in it. He does not know his employers; probably he has never seen them. But the struggle between labour and capital still goes on, only it is now fought in a more intensive form. It is now a struggle between workers through their organisation and the vast unit known as the Capitalist Combine." (Note 10)
Immediately the United Anthracite took over the Ammanford No.1 Colliery, where the 1925 strike began, a new manager was appointed and there began a series of intermittent struggles over such questions as the Combine's attempt to eliminate a New Year's Day holiday, good Friday holiday, the short Saturday shift and. House coal for lodgers as well as getting miners rather than fireman to carry powder. Many such customs were lost because there had been no previous written agreement. (Note 11)
On several occasions the lodge committee entered the pay office and refused to leave until the deficiencies were made up (Note 12). The most critical attack came when, as a result of a change in the method of working in eight places in the Boxer District, the men fell back on minimum wage rates because the piece rates were considered inadequate. The colliery agent gave 116 miners notice to terminate their contracts and refused to recognise the matter as a dispute. The lodge offered a list of seniority but the management insisted on the same 116 becoming redundant, many of whom had completed twenty years service (Note 13). The Combine was thus attempting to sidestep the Seniority Rule and. eliminate a traditionally militant district of the colliery.
The seemingly trivial occurrence which triggered off the actual strike came at the end of April with an open attack on the custom of two men in a place. The custom in Ammanford No.1 Colliery was that a father could have his son to work with him so long as his regular partner would agree to work in another place, but such an arrangement would have to be sanctioned by a General Meeting of the workmen. The management, however, failed to go through such a procedure when they attempted to move Will Wilson to another place. For this reason he refused to move and consequently was dismissed. The General Meeting later the same day accepted the change, thus satisfying Wilson's sole objection. He turned up for work the following day but was not reinstated. The Federation Lodge claimed that Wilson was simply being loyal to a long standing practice at the colliery. Yet the dispute apparently had its roots in an old quarrel between Will Wilson and the manager who was paying back "an old, score by depriving him of his livelihood." (Note 14)
This dismissal of Wilson and the bypassing of the General Meeting along with the closure of the militant Boxer District was seen as a deliberate attack on the Seniority Rule, the most important of all customs in the anthracite, as it was clearly a fundamental safeguard against victimisation.
When the five local pits struck in sympathy with the victimised miners, the situation was beginning to spiral, according to Ianto Evans, one of the leaders of the newly formed strike committee (Note 15). By June 30th, the Western Mail, mouthpiece of the coal owners, gloomily reported that the whole of the Anthracite District was about to come out on strike, after the expiration of the fourteen days notices (Note 16). It was widely believed that an attack on the Seniority Rule in Ammanford could quite easily lend to a similar attack in all other parts of the Anthracite Coalfield (Note 17).
By July 14th, the second day of the strike, all miners were out except for some in the Dulais Valley and Vale of Neath (Note 18). The Dulais valley miners continued to work because they were not employed by any of the combines but by Evan Evans Bevan. Their persistence in working was the occasion for two violent demonstrations. The scene is described by Ianto Evans:
"A mass meeting was arranged at the Glanaman Football Ground and. it was a glorious sight, thousands of workers being present, and by this time news had come through that these two collieries were working (Note 19). Eventually a letter (Note 20) from a contact in the Dulais Valley was handed up to the Chairman, Comrade Arthur Thomas, with the information regarding the position ..., a resolution (was moved) that. a demonstration proceeded that night to meet these workmen going to work the following morning .... The resolution was carried unanimously and a rush was made to Ammanford to get a crowd together as no prior arrangements had been made. That night about four hundred strikers, at 10.40 left Ammanford led by the Ammanford Band, and proceeded up the valley where they picked up the Cwmaman section, headed by their band, then to Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen and Brynamman, with another band each. Through the Swansea Valley the crowd gathered like a snowball and by the time the procession reached Ystradgynlais Common it was from 15,000 to 20,000 strong. They continued to march through the night until they got to Crynant in the Dulais Valley, 21 miles from' Ammanford." (Note 21)
The march to Crynant became part of the folk-lore of the Ammanford area. The Llanelli Labour News of the period continually referred to it as "Ar Hyd y Nos (All through the Night) and the Rock disturbances as "One Bugle, One Band, One police Force, One Smashing" while its leading personalities were dubbed "Bugler" (Jack lambert), and "The General" (Oliver James). Both received prison sentences while the latter distinguished himself later of "The News of the Word" Darts champion!
A skirmish occurred when the Ammanford pickets met the workmen's trains from Neath at Crynant station. The trouble apparently began only when knives were drawn by those miners wishing to go to work. This was sufficient to arouse the pickets who hauled the "foreigners" (as the Neath men were considered to be) onto the platform and were given "cwpl o bunts" (a couple of punches) (Note 22). They did not work for the remainder of the strike and were compelled to walk the six miles back to Neath. The police made an appearance at the station but were many times outnumbered and were "a sight for the gods. About twenty had arrived ... quaking in their boots, absolutely cringing and begging the crowd to go away." After some windows were smashed at the house of Daniel Daniels, a director of the United Anthracite Combine, and further scuffles at Brynteg Colliery (Seven Sisters) as well as some momentous open-air meetings, the whole of the Dulais Valley miners joined the strike (Note 23).
But the following day there was still one pit left in the Anthracite District still working the Rock Colliery at Giynneath. The events of that day become something of a local legend as "The Battle of the Rock". The Dulais Valley miners joined the thousands from the Amman and Swansea Valleys in marching over the Hirfynydd mountain to picket the Rock miners. They were led by a brass band and a police sergeant from Seven Sisters (Note 24). Never had the mining communities of the Dulais Valley seen such crowds as this marching mass of miners which overwhelmed the valley; in the excitement, children absconded from school and followed the band (Note 25). But the police had reacted quickly after the Crynant debacle and the miners according to one participant were marching
"into the jaws of the lion .. In the early hours of the morning when the sun was rising, it was a lovely day by then, we could see in the distance the reflection of the sun on the helmets of the police that were up there. The police allowed some of the marchers through their cordon, only to find a hundred-strong reserve force hiding behind a ditch. A police whistle blew and "for ten minutes all you could hear was the clash of batons on the skulls of miners." One rniner, a veteran of the Great War, sounded the charge on his bugle, only to add further confusion to the situation. This musical interlude does not seem to have been part of a carefully laid. conspiracy. On the contrary, the whole affair was characterised by a total lack of "strategic leadership." (Note 26)
There were sixteen casualties, including Police Constable Bryn Phillips of Port Talbot, a boxer and international rugby forward, who was badly mauled. One young miner from Cwmtwrch, the sole supporter of a widowed mother and eight children, was so badly beaten by batonning about the head that he spent a long period in hospital and never worked as a miner again. The policeman responsible was not forgotten. The next occasion he played rugby against one of the Swansea Valley teams he received such leg injuries that he suffered permanent incapacity. Such was the hatred for those who attempted to undermine the strike. The effect of the disturbance was that the Rock miners joined the strike (Note 27).
These two occurrences at Glynneath and Crynant were mere skirmishes compared with what was to follow. With the strike embracing all the anthracite miners, one of the strike leaders could claim that "the rank and. file were thoroughly aroused and were definitely forcing the pace and demanding a tightening up of the struggle, and the withdrawal of the safety men." The safety men were compelled to call a special district meeting and by an overwhelming majority declared in favour of strike action unique and unprecedented decision in the whole history of the South Wales coalfield. But some officials persisted in working. The attempt by the coal owners to save their pits by using "volunteer" pumpsmen and to introduce extra police from other counties to protect their property and their "blacklegs" only accelerated the trend towards violence (Note 28).
July 28th saw the beginning of serious disorder, and violence. From this moment onwards until August 6th, the town of Ammanford and some surrounding villages were under the virtual control of the Combine strike committee. On July 28th, there was trouble simultaneously at five collieries. The South Wales Daily Post reported that Gelliceidrim Colliery was rushed by a crowd of miners, some with hoods to hide their faces: "Mob law prevailed for a time", claimed the reporter. At Saron Colliery, officials were attacked, shots were fired, a man in the colliery yard was hit by a bullet and a quantity of explosives was discharged. Similarly, at Park Colliery, explosives were discharged and telephone wires were out (Note 29). There was also a large demonstration at the Emlyn Colliery, Penygroes, as well as at Cross Hands, where a crowd led by Edgar Lewis, the local checkweigher "terrified" the police by singing Doctor Joseph Parry's hymn "Aberystwyth" (Note 30). At Edgar Lewis's trial the first verse of the hymn was translated from the Welsh for the judge:
"What have I in the world so fair
But oppression grim and care,
Cruel wrong, and tyranny
Night and day to follow me"
Extra police were brought into the area but seemed totally inadequate. Massive reinforcements were needed to try to break the strike. The South Wales Daily Post demanded: "Extra police protection will probably be needed for the men to remain at work." As a consequence, the Anthracite Coalowners appealed to the Chief Constables of Carmarthen, Giamorgan and Brecon for help (Note 31). The Combine strike committee, however, knew of such moves well in advance as there were unusual "friends" inside the Ammanford police station (Note 32).
Again, on Thursday, July 30th, there were riotous disorders simultaneously at Ammanford Square, AmmanIord.No.2 Colliery where there was a baton charge, at Bettws, and also at Wernos, Pantyffynnen and Llandybie Collieries (Note 33). Evan Llewellyn, aged fifty, who was later given a seventeen months prison sentence, was one of many who apparently openly incited riotous behaviour;
"I don't care a ______ if there are twenty police. I will stand in front of all their bullets. We want to stop everyone going to work. They are not going to work while we are starving. What are the police? If they obstruct you, fight them" (Note 34)
But the so-called "Battle of Ammanford" did not occur until Wednesday, August 5th (Note 35). Ianto Evans recalled that:
"crowds of workers lined the streets demanding that a march be made to the Ammanford No. 2 Colliery..., where en electrician had sneaked in on the pillion of a motor cycle...... The police were concealed inside the colliery premises ready and waiting. Nothing daunted the crowd, (they). marched up and demanded that this man be removed. The Deputy Chief Constable led a force of police in the attack and was promptly laid out. Then the fun started." (Note 36)
Some two hundred Glamorgan police had been billeted at a Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen brewery and were rushed to the scene. But the strike committee had already been kept well informed. A motor cyclist had been dispatched to Bridgend to reconnoitre all police movements. The committee was well prepared when the Glamorgan and Cardiff "Irish" police, some allegedly drunk, travelled unsuspectingly in twelve buses along the Neath-Ammanford road. At Pontamman, there was an embankment on each side of the road a perfect position for an ambush. As the buses passed, boulders and stones showered down. Every bus window was smashed (Note 37). The police nevertheless reformed and systematically drove the rioters back into the town, batonning everyone in sight, some of whom were innocent bystanders who were hounded into their homes (Note 38).
The "battle" persisted from 10.30 p.m. until 3.00 a.m. with heavy casualties on both sides. The strike leaders claimed casualties among the police were the heavier (Note 39). The last disturbance of any significance occurred appropriately at the Ammanford No.1 Colliery where "blacklegs" were receiving a police escort on August 7th (Note 40).
By this time events in Ammanford were attracting national interest with questions being asked in the Commons. Colonel Gratton (Conservative, Burton) inquired whether steps were being taken to maintain law and order. Jack Jones (Labour, Silvertown) interjected, "Send 'em Bass's beer, that'll quieten 'em." The Conservative Home Secretary, Joynson-Hicks, viewed the whole affair with greater concern and reported that the local police were being further augmented. (Note 41)
The complete breakdown of law administration and the wholesale attack an police, colliery officials and property that occurred on August 5th must have compelled the anthracite owners to think again. Before the final agreement was reached on August 22nd 23rd,. the Combine management had already offered to re-instate Wilson if he apologised. and to refer the 'Seniority Rule to arbitration. These terms were rejected on August.8th by a four to one majority at the Anthracite District Meeting. The Minority Movement throughout the coalfield began to campaign for a South Wales conference with a view to widen the industrial action (Note 42). This must have had an effect on the owners.
The Agreement that facilitated the return to work on August 24th and which was recommended by the Executive Council of the S.W.M.F. included a most important concession: "The wages and other terms and conditions prevailing at the several collieries before the stoppage (are) to continue." The United Anthracite Company had, however, already decided not to re-open Ammanford No.1 Co1liery but undertook to make every endeavour "to employ the workmen rendered idle ... at the other collieries of the company." (Note 43) The Ammanford miners were prepared to sacrifice their pit and endure short-term unemployment in order to save the Seniority Rule. In that sense, the agreement came to be seen as a momentous victory.
Retribution, however, was soon to follow. 198 miners were prosecuted and 58 of them received sentences varying from one month to eighteen months. There were wild scenes of excitement and enthusiasm throughout the trials and when prisoners were ultimately released. A shilling a week levy on all Ammanford miners allowed the payment of a minimum wage rate to all the prisoners' dependents (Note 44). There were token strikes involving at least sixteen pits in the anthracite coalfield in February, 1926, as a protest against the sentences (Note 45). On almost every day of the trials, busloads of miners and their families travelled to Carmarthen to cheer the prisoners, and sang hymns and the "Red Flag" outside the courtroom, while several brass bands accompanied them (Note 46). Each of the prisoners on their release was awarded a medal and. a scroll by the International Class War Prisoners' Aid Society. (I.C.W.P.A.) (Note 47)
The sentences were passed in December 1925, at a time of growing national crisis inside and outside the coal industry. The Government was making detailed preparations for a General Strike. Twelve Communist leaders were imprisoned at this time and a nationwide campaign within the Labour Movement organised largely by the I.C.W.P.A. coupled demands for their release with a general amnesty for the 58 miners. (Note 48)
The gravity of the trials and the sentences was not lost on the General Council of the Trades Union Congress which, along with the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and the Labour Party, immediately set up a fund for the dependents which, by March 3rd, 1926, realised over £1,000. A deputation, representing the T.U.C. General Council, the Labour Party National Executive and the Parliamentary Labour Party met the Home Secretary on February 9th, 1926, to ask for clemency for the remaining prisoners. Tom Richards, general secretary of the S.W.M.F. and a member of the General Council, admitted that "irregularities" had occurred but as the "law had been vindicated" clemency should be considered, especially as he believed that those who were imprisoned had not been those who committed the crimes: the "selection" process used by the police had been suspect. Similar appeals were made by Robert Smillie, M.P., who claimed the prisoners were not "members of the criminal classes" but "decent, respectable, upright and pious men." The tenor of the appeals surprised the Home Secretary who congratulated the deputation on its "conciliatory and very courteous" attitude. The T.U.C. was certainly concerned about the anger in the coalfield end wished to defuse the situation. The Home Secretary, however, considered that there was something more than mere "irregularities" at stake and after an inordinately long delay, by which time only five remained in prison, he rejected on March 15th all the requests for clemency:
"Having then, with every desire to lean on the side of mercy ..... I regret that I cannot see that the sentences were excessive or that in any of the cases there is ground for thinking that the verdict was mistaken and that His Majesty should for this reason be advised to remit the sentence."
The T.U.C. was so shocked by the totality of the rejection that it pleaded with the Home Secretary not to publish the contents of the letter, obviously for fear of violence in the coalfields. The Government seemed to take on one more step along a collision course that was of its own making (Note 49).
Although disturbances broke out later in the inter-war period and had many of the characteristics of the anthracite struggle, none had its scale, scope and intensity.
The disturbances were undoubtedly accentuated by the ineffectiveness of the old anthracite District of the S.W.M.F. to represent the miners of the area and to counter the strength of the new coal combines. The strike accelerated the development of' the Combine Committee whose leaders Gibbon Davies and D. B. Lewis were even appointed by the District to explain the development of the strike to the Executive Council of the S.W.M.F. The lack of communication between the miners and their officials is clearly seen in the case of John Thomas, a miners' agent, who was apparently openly critical of the strike, and was compelled to resign (Note 50). The strike revitalised. the S.W.M.F. by giving momentum to the growth of a Combine Committee which was to play a leading part in the affairs of the Federation in the 1930's.
The 1925 struggle threw up its own leaders. Prominent local Communists, Ianto Evans end Arthur Thomas, as well as Labour Party members Dai Dan Davies and Gibbon Davies set up their combine strike Committee which virtually ran the strike and inspired the disturbances. They all also played their parts in supporting the Minority Movement which was established in the area during the strike after a meeting addressed by James Griffiths and Arthur Homer (Note 51).
Yet they were not a younger generation, lacking any respect for law and order. Many were older than the established District leaders and were widely respected leaders of their communities. Tom Dafen Williams, aged forty-four, was a former chairman of the Ammanford No.2 Colliery Lodge and Dai Dan Davies was a County Aldermen. Ianto Evans later become chairman of the Ammanford Rural District Council. In a testimonial sent to the Home Secretary, Elder Owen Hughes of the Cross Hands Gospel Hall, wrote of the imprisoned Edgar Lewis, with whom he was in "close fellowship", as giving "my heart great joy to testify to his grand moral character and Christian spirit always ready to suffer loss himself for the benefit of his fellow men." (Note 52)
The attack on the Seniority Rule and the coalowners' attempt to break the strike with"blacklegs" and police, had, therefore mobilised whole anthracite communities and projected them politically leftwards. The Communist Party, in existence in Ammanford and Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen since 1920, grew in influence, membership and prestige, despite the "warnings" of the local press, and was able to establish a branch nf they Young Communist League during the strike (Note 53).
The dispute, however, only intensified an already apparent socio-political development. The Great War had undoubtedly loosened the traditional deferential ties of the pit, the chapel and even the family, which in the anthracite were perhaps not as strong as is often thought, because of the mobility of miners during the summer months. In this uncertain and receptive atmosphere, the existence of an independent working-class education in the Ammanford area contributed as something of a catalyst in preparing the miners for a major confrontation. The "White House" set up in Ammanford by the wealthy British anarchist George Davidson, which became a centre for socialist education and discussion during the War, produced a unique group of politically conscious miners in the locality. Davidson had been influenced by Jack Griffiths (Cwmtwrch) and D.R.Owen (Garnant) who, by going to the Central Labour College, began a local tradition of a steady stream of anthracite miners attending the College and of establishing the anthracite as the District with a Marxist Lodge leadership of a quality that only the Rhondda can equal. Former Labour College students, particularly D. R. Owen and James Grriffiths, as well as Nun Nicholas who lectured at the College for a short time, returned to take Plebs and N.C.L.C. classes and in this way politicised a hard sore of miners in almost every anthracite mining village before, during and after the events of 1925 (Note 54).
This political trend had its repercussions on the churches and chapels. The Socialist Labour Party in Gwaun Cae Gurwen had in the years up to 1920 already antagonised deacons by holding their meetings on the Sabbath (Note 55), while some young miners in the Garnant area attended chapel only if it was raining and then only to run a sweepstake on the first hymn (Note 56). Such an anti-clerical situation became more and more pronounced during the strike. One local deacon remarked:
"There is no wonder we have our empty pews. Nothing has been said from the pulpits at Ammanford with regard to the atheism preached among the younger elements" (Note 57).
More than any other disturbances in the whole inter-war period, those in the Ammanford district in 1925 saw the miners take the offensive in meeting organised police "violence" with their own "violence". Colliery managers, coal-owners, newspaper reporters and police were abused and physically attacked. Even the Deputy Chief Constable of Carmarthen was beaten to within an inch of his life. One manager while on the way to his colliery was met with a typical comment:
"The only way he'll get through this picket line is on a stretcher." (Note 58)
The Ammanford miners even formed a "Defence Corps" towards the end of the strike. In this intense atmosphere of conflict and. violence, the leadership of the S.W.M.F. was not exempt from using military vocabulary. S. 0. Davies, who had previously worked in the anthracite, was by 1925 the vice president of the Federation and in the Sunday Worker he called for a "United Army." (Note 59) But even more, there was scant respect for private property, a phenomenon reminiscent more of Tonypandy in 1910 than the attitudes prevailing in the inter-war period. The hundred tons of hay allegedly burnt by strikers on August 5th provided echoes of Rebecca in the County of Rebecca.
Yet the strikers did not rely simply on meeting violence with violence; they bad their own sophisticated strategy involving espionage, sabotage, ambush, vigorous pickets and long marches. The deliberate attempts to escalate the strike immediately and so produce a short dynamic campaign was so uncharacteristic of a period that experienced protracted, unimaginative , almost predictably unsuccessful strikes. So many of the strike organisations of the time were obsessed by the necessity for a static jamboree-like atmosphere of soup kitchens and jazz bands.
The strike, particularly the unique army of miners that formed a mobile picket line, scouring the anthracite for "blacklegs", was a refreshing interlude in the otherwise strategic desert of the 1920's. The monster picket lines, although not quite as rapid as the 1972 flying pickets, were no less effective, and remarkably afford the only practical and organisational lesson for present day miners from a period so dominated by such massive confrontations.
The sentences passed on the 58 miners outraged the sense of natural justice of the miners and their communities. At a Cross Hands protest meeting, James Griffiths characteristically captured the feelings and social attitudes of his receptive audience:
"Let them compare young Joe Rainford. getting twelve months while Hayley Morris only got three years, for ruining young working class girls." (applause.) (Note 60)
The miners saw it as "naked and class justice" against their attempts to maintain their wage levels and long established customs. See, for instance, interview with J.M. Phillips, October 30th, 1972:
" ... dim ond brwydro dros eu iawnderau o'n 'nhw, ag wrth gwrs, mae'r gyfratith wastod ar eu ochr 'nhw, y perchnogion. Pan mae'n dod i gwestiwn o cwrt, 'r un peth a oedd. Justice Matthews ddweud 'slawer dydd, 'The Law Courts of Britain are open to all, like the doors of the Ritz Hotel'."
" ... only fighting for their rights they were, and of course, the law is always on 'their' side, the owners. When it comes to a question of a court it's the same as Justice Matthews said, some time ago, 'The Law Courts of Britain are open to all, like the doors of the Ritz Hotel'." (Note 61)
The police were accused of arresting innocent bystanders, borne out by the higher number released due to lack of evidence (although the Home Office view was that this indicated the fairness of the courts). By contrast, it has been alleged that the police refused to arrest some strike leaders because they would prove to be too eloquent in court in their condemnation of the police and the owners. This argument was put forward by W. J. Davies, a young Pantyffynnon miner who, with three others, gave themselves up at the police station after the "Battle of Ammanford. The police refused to arrest them. Davies claimed he "beat up" a policeman (Note 62).
Yet these miners never expected justice from a grand jury drawn from a landed proprietor class. The foreman was F. Dudey Williams-Drummond, C.B.E., estate agent to Lord Cawdor. Also on the jury were two colonels, two majors, a captain, a knight and a parson (Note 63). The severity of the sentences was considered by many miners as an attempt to split off the militants from their communities at a time when a major conflict in the coal industry was inevitable. But the trials also saw threats to the right of free assembly. In dismissing cases against several miners for lack of evidence, the judge made an incredible statement:
"You men have had a warning. Do not congregate with others in future and be thankful for the fair way in which the prosecution has conducted your case. You may go." (Note 64)
The remaining disturbances from 1926 to 1936, although once again arising out of defensive actions by the miners, were on a smaller scale, were less violent and, above all, there was no kind of movement to the offensive unlike the 1925 affair which was localised, relatively remote and totally unexpected by the authorities. The 1925 and 1926 disturbances involved miners on strike; the disturbances from 1927 to 1936 involved miners who were unemployed, an important and fundamental difference. Yet there was one common denominator to all the disturbances: the age structure of the rioters. The average age of the Ammanford rioters was over thirty one and is approximately the same for all the other disturbances, which discounts any question of mere youthful exuberance. At the Pantyffynnon colliery disturbance, the average age of the arrested rioters was 39 years.
The anthracite strike end riots were part of a unique thread running through the trade union activities of the South Wales miners in the 1920's and 1930's. It was part syndicalist and part a belief in the righteousness and effectiveness of direct action. The riots, disturbances, strikes, street demonstrations, hunger marches, social ostracism of "scabs", stay-down strikes, along with the willingness to suffer prison sentences as well as the volunteering to fight Fascism in Spain, was all part of this tradition (Note 65).
The turmoil and trouble apart, the steadfastness of the mass of the anthracite miners secured the Seniority Rule. This achievement alone was sufficient to insulate the whole of the Anthracite District against the whittling away of the Miners' Federation which occurred so dramatically elsewhere in the South Wales coalfield and. in all the other British coalfields. Victimisation of militants by the coalowners with the return to work at the end of 1926 was made virtually immpossible in the Anthracite, which became the haven for a few victimised Rhondda miners, notably Arthur Horner and Jack Jones. Several of the leading anthracite propagandists, many of whom had won their spurs in the battles of 1925, were also recruited into the eastern part of the South Wales coalfield in the mid-1930's to crush the "scab" union at Taff Merthyr and Bedwas (Note 66).
The anthracite miners undoubtedly became the backbone of the S.W.M.F. and this was very much to do with the securing of the Seniority Rule in 1925 (Note 67).
FOOTNOTES for The Anthracite Strike and Disturbances of 1925.
These notes are reproduced in full for the benefit of anyone undertaking further research into this topic.
1 This article forms part of a paper delivered at a conference on Twentieth Century Welsh History at Gregynog, Mid-Wales, on November 14th, 1972. My interest in the anthracite strike began while examining the background of Welsh- men who served in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Ammanford provided five volunteers, all of whom participated in the 1925 disturbances. 2 Interview with Dai Dan Evans, December 5th, 1972, an Anthracite miner in the inter-war period, who later became general secretary of the South Wales Area of the National Union of Mineworkers, 1958-63. This paper relies substantially on the oral testimony of such anthracite miners to highlight a standpoint that is otherwise badly documented: very few lodge records and no district minutes survive for the period. 3 Address of the chairman, F.A. Szarvasy, to the first Ordinary General Meeting of the shareholders of the United Anthracite Collieries Limited; quoted in a letter from gibbon Davies to the Labour News (official organ of the Llanelli Divisional Labour Party), November 7th, 1925. 4 For a vivid description of Life in the anthracite coalfield see Glo Garreg: Memories of the anthracite coalfield by the Rt. Hon. James Griffiths in The Carmarthenshire Historian, 1968. 5 Labour News, February 7th, 1925. 6 For an excellent study of these economic developments, see D.J. Williams, Capitalist Combination in the Coal Industry (1924.), pp. 98-118. 7 The swallowing up of smaller companies was accelerated by the offer of £4. for £1 shares. The only major coalowner not to succumb was Evan Evans Bevan in the Dulais Valley. 8 Ianto Evans wrote about his strike recollections in the Daily Worker (D.W.) June 17th, 1932. 9 Labour News, June 20th, 1925. 10 D.J. Williams, Combines and the Workers, Colliery Workers' Magazine, 1926. 11 Labour News, November 7th, 1925. 12 Op. cit. D.W. June 17th, 1932 13 The procedure of needing sanction from the General Meeting was seen as a safeguard against the movement by the management of "undesirables" to more difficult work places. 14 Labour News, June 27th, 1925. 15 Op. cit. D.W., June 17th, 1932 16 Western Mail, June 30th, 1925. 17 Interview with Dick Beamish, an Abercraf miner, September 26th, 1969. 18 South Wales Daily Post (S.W.D.P.), July 15th, 1925. The Dulais Valley miners continued to work because they were not employed by any of the combines but by Evan Evans Bevan. 19 Op. cit. D.W., June 17th, 1932. 20 The letter was delivered by Tommy Nicholas, a Crynant miner living in Neath, who knew of the train movements up the Dulais Valley (interview with Tommy Nicholas, March 26th, 1975.) 21 Op. cit. D.W., June 17th, 1952. The march to Crynant became part of the folklore of the Ammanford area. The Llanelli Labour News of the period continually referred to it as "Ar Hyd y Nos" and the Rock disturbance as "One Bugle, One Band, One Police Force, One Smashing" while its leading personalities were dubbed the "Bugler" (Jack Lambert), and the "General" (Oliver James). Both received prison sentences while the latter also distinguished himself later as the News of the World Darts Champion. 22 Interview With Josiah Jones ("Joe Brickman", Cwmllynfell), September 1 7th, 1972. 23 Op. cit. D.W., June 17th, 1952. For an account of the activities in one village, see Chris Evans, History of Seven Sisters (1964). 24 Op. cit. Dick Beamish, September 26th, 1969. 25 Interview with David Francis, the son of an Onllwyn miner, April 1st, 1975. 26 Op. cit. Dick Beamish, September 16th, 1969 27 Ibid. 28 Op, cit. D.W., June 17th, 1952. 29 S.W.D.P., July 29th, 1925. 30 Sunday Worker, December 20th, 1925. At Edgar Lewis' trial the first verse of the hymn was translated from the Welsh for the judge
What have I in the world so fair
But oppression grim and care
Cruel wrong and tyranny
Night and day to follow me.
Witness for the prosecution, P.C. Hugh Thomas, must have seen an insurrectionary meaning to the words to explain his "terror".
31 Op. cit. S.W.D.P., July 29th, 1925. 32 32. Interview with W.J.Davies, a Pantyffynnon miner, April 30th, 1970. 33 Op. cit, D. W., June 17th, 1932. 34 S.W.D.P., December 5th, 1925. 35 S.W.D.P., August 6th, 1925 36 Op. cit. D.W., June 17th, 1952. 37 Op. cit. W.J. Davies, April 30th, 1970. 38 Interview with Jim Mortimer Phillips, an Ammanford. miner, October 30th, 1972. 39 Op. cit. D.W., June 17th 1925. 40 Op. cit. W.J. Davies, April 30th, 1970 41 S.W.D.P., August 7th, 1925. (The Home Secretary's ministerial colleague, Sir Samuel Hoare, was one of the directors of the United Anthracite Combine on its formation in 1924.) 42 The Worker, organ of the National Minority Movement, Auqust 15th, 1925. 43 S.W.M.F. Executive Council Minutes, August 22nd, 1925. 44 Op, cit. D.W., June 17th, 1932 45 South Wales and. Monmouthshire Coalowners' Association Collection, Ammanford Collieries Papers. 46 See, for instance, S W.D.P., December 15th, 1925. 47 For an account of its work locally and nationally, see George Lansbury, The I.C.W.P.A. at Work (November, 1926) 48 Ibid. p.9 and The Prisoner, organ of the I.C.W.P.A., February 1926. 49 For details of the T.U.C.'s role in the campaign for clemency and dependants' aid, see Trades Union Congress Box T.159, File 865.11; and the T.U.C. Report 1926. I am grateful to Mr. T. Murphy of the T.U.C. Filing Department for allowing me access to these papers. 50 S.W.D.P., September 28th, 1925. 51 S.W.D.P., August 10th, 1925. 52 Op. cit. T.U.C. T.159/865.11. 53 Amman Valley Chronicle, August 15th, 1925. 54 Interview with Rt. Hon. James Griffiths, November 20th, 1972. 55 Interview with the late D..J.Williams, March 19th, 1970. 56 Interview with Glyn Evans, a Garnant miner, March 5th, 1973. 57 S.W.D.P., August 22n, 1925. 58 S.W.D.P., December 3rd, 1925. 59 Sunday Worker, August 16th, 1925. 60 Labour News, December 26th, 1925. 61 See, for instance, interview with J.M. Phillips, October 30th, 1972.:
"... dim ond brwydro dros eu iawnderau o 'n 'nhw, ag wrth gwrs, mae' r gyfraith wastod ar eu ochr 'nhw y perchnogion. Pan mae'n dod I gwestiwn o cwrt, 'r un peth a oedd Justice Matthews yn ddweud 'slawer dydd, 'The Law Courts of Britain are open to all, like the doors of the Ritz Hotel'."
( only fighting for their rights they were, and of course, the law is always on 'their' side the owners. When it comes to a question of a court, it's the same as Justice Matthews said some time ago .)
62 Op. cit., W..J. Davies, April 30th, 1970. 63 Sunday Worker, December 6th, 1925. 64 S.W.D.P., December 9th, 1925. 65 See Hywel Francis, Miners and the Spanish Civil War, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 5, No.3, 1970; David Smith, The Struggle against Company Unionism in the South Wales Coafield, Welsh History Review, vol. 6, No.3, June, 1973. 66 Trade union orgranisation in the Anthracite coalfield was of course, helped by a lower level of unemployment than elsewhere; the phenomenon of widespread long-term mass unemployment was absent from the area. 67 The emergence of the anthracite in the affairs of the S.W.M.F. in the 1930's (Anthracite agents James Griffiths and Arthur Homer became presidents between 1934 and 1946) completed an unique cycle with Monmouthshire dominating the foundation years and the Rhondda the tumultuous period, 1910-30.
Source: Hywel Francis (1973): "The Anthracite Strike and Disturbances of 1925", Llafur 1.2 (Journal for the Society for the study of Welsh Labour history). Reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.
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