The tragic deaths of four miners at the Gleision Colliery gripped the nation today. With every expectation they would be rescued, the discovery of each new body deepened the gloom of news broadcasts.
Sympathy was heightened by the knowledge the men’s families didn’t know who had died and who might have survived. As it turned out all four are gone.
It is one more reminder of just how dangerous coal mining is as an industry. To the threat of flooding which brought death to the mine cut into a Swansea Valley hillside are added the hazards of explosion and pit collapse.
Miners can suffer the crippling effects of pneumoconiosis and vibration white finger decades after leaving the mines.
I remember back in the mid-1980s when the mineworkers were led to defeat by Arthur Sargill trying to thwart Mrs Thatcher’s pit closure plans, my loyalties were divided over the outcome of the miners’ strike.
My sympathies were with the miners who were bravely battling the combined forces of the Tory government, the police, and the Press in defence of their livelihoods.
My time as an industrial journalist, however, had left me with a conviction mining was one of the worst jobs in the world.
I know former mining areas to this day mourn the closure of the pits saying it ripped the heart out of their communities and destroyed lives of those who were to never work again.
But from the perspective of someone whose most likely occupational accident was paper cuts, it seemed to me then (although I kept my opinion to myself), as it does today, that closing the mines would keep men from harm.
Perhaps a less ideological leadership than Scargill’s might have been able to negotiate better redundancy and re-training terms. I don’t know. Thatcher was a formidable adversary and once the miners failed to initiate power cuts, they were lost.
Despite the return of a Labour government in the intervening years, the union movement never recovered its former influence.