As part of his European tour in 1910, William D. Haywood visited the coal fields of the Rhondda Valley and Merthyr Tydvel in South Wales, speaking at Tonypandy a day before 25,000 miners walked off their jobs. Here is ‘Big’ Bill’s report on the fighting Welsh miners he had a great kinship with for International Socialist Review.
‘The Fighting Welsh Miners’ by William D. Haywood from International Socialist Review. Vol. 11 No. 8. February, 1911.
All the king’s horses,
And all the king’s men
Couldn’t put the agreement
THE miners of Aberdare and Rhonda valleys in South Wales are still on strike. There are over 25,000 men involved in spite of an agreement signed last April to run for a period of five years.
The trouble started with eighty men working in the Ely pit of the Cambrian Coal Company. These men were unable to make living wages under the condition that prevailed; some of them found themselves in debt to the company when pay day rolled around so they went on strike, demanding better conditions and more pay for abnormal places. The company, to retaliate, proceeded to lock out 800 other men employed in the same mine, announcing their intention to keep all out until the eighty strikers went back to work.
The matter was taken up by the Miners’ Federation of South Wales. There was vigorous discussion and demands for a general strike, the officials of the organization throwing all their influence in the balance against the general strike. It was finally agreed to submit two propositions to the membership, namely, a general strike of the South Wales coal fields; second, a strike of all men employed by the Cambrian company. The latter carried and November 1, 1910, 12,000 men laid down their tools. The following ringing resolution was adopted:
“That the tyrannical action of the Cambrian Combine in locking out a body of our fellow workmen to endeavor, through their sufferings, to enforce an unfair price list upon their workmen must be resisted at all costs. We therefore pledge ourselves to be faithful to the decision of the Federation ballot and refuse to work for this combine until a fair price list is settled for the Ely workmen, or our 800 fellow workmen who are not affected are reinstated in their employment.”
So serious was the situation becoming that the Cambrian Co. converted their wagon shed into temporary stables? intending to take all the horses from the mines without delay.
Seven thousand men of the Powell-Duffryn pit struck in defiance of the agreement, one of the chief grievances being the discharge of old men. The company claimed it was necessary to dispense with the aged men in view of the Compensation Act, the reason, of course, being that the old men; not so active and alert, were more liable to accident or death.
The growing sentiment for a general strike gave the conservative miners leaders a cold sweat; they issued the following wail:
“Fellow-workmen,—Having seen it re- ported in the press today that there is a desire by the workmen of the Powell-Duffryn pit, Aberdare, that the whole of the miners of South Wales should join them in stopping work, we feel it incumbent upon us as the chief officials of your Federation to urge upon you not to be parties to an attempt to redress a grievance by this irregular method of bringing about a general stoppage of the collieries, which, under any condition, can only be successful after carefully thought out and proper organization and control. In doing this we are acting in accordance with your instructions recently declared in a ballot vote, when by an overwhelming majority you declared against a general stoppage of the collieries in the South Wales district at the present juncture.
We also ask you to seriously consider the situation. chance of a proposition, as suggested, for a general stoppage of the whole collieries of the United Kingdom having one moment’s consideration at the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain conference. They have had no opportunity of discussing the merits of the grievances complained of by the Powell-Duffryn workmen, and we cannot at present offer any opinion upon their action in stopping work, and in the interests of the whole members of the Federation, including the Powell-Duffryn men and especially the 12,000 Cambrian Combine workmen, the 3,000 Cwmtillery and Roseheyworth workmen, and the Rhosilly and Gelli workmen, who are at present on our funds and whom we are obliged to support, we urge upon the members of this Federation to refuse to consider any proposals for a general stoppage, which if entered upon in such a sudden unconstitutional manner must end disastrously for all concerned. (Signed)
W. ABRAHAM, M. P., President. THOMAS RICHARDS, M. P., Gen. Secy. ALFRED ONIONS, Treasurer.”
This statement coming at a critical period had the desired result of weakening some of the men; it also strengthened the mining companies in their determination to keep up the lock-out and a threat was made to extend it to other mines.
The Cambrian Co. felt secure in their position. The Coal Owners’ Association would indemnify them to the amount of their average output when running full blast. The company’s only concern would be to keep their property in working shape, and await the inevitable day when the miners would be compelled to return to barter their labor-power.
It had always been so. The company knew their men or thought they did. During previous strikes they had been peaceable and law-abiding, starving contentedly. The extent of protest being great mass meetings, the men gathering on the council grounds of the ancient Druids at Pontypridd. There among the stones erected in olden days, in the shadow of the historic rocking stone, their leaders would speak to them, extolling the virtues of the master. “Mabon” would sing in wonderfully sweet Welsh notes “The Land of My Fathers.” Resolutions were passed. Sacred hymns from a thousand singers would reverberate through hills and valleys, the miners would tighten their belts and sad-eyed mothers and hungry babies would wish the terrible strike was over.
This strike had a different beginning. There was a rod in pickle for Manager Llewellyn ‘of the Cambrian that he had not dreamed of. The first morning of the strike a strong detail of pickets were thrown around the pit. It was their duty to see that no one went to work, the “engine winders,” stokers, pumpmen and electricians were turned back, the office force was allowed to go on the property only upon promise that they would not touch the machinery or do other than their own work. Manager Llewellyn hollered “police!” And they came on the first train from Bristol, from London and Cardiff. The hotels of Llynapia and Tonypandy were filled to overflowing; the blue-coats established a temporary bar- racks in the skating rink; they organized in shifts and guarded the Cambrian Company’s property faithfully night and day; but they couldn’t run the pumps.
One crew had worked thirty-six hours; the water in the mine was getting the best of them; a little while longer and the pumps would be “drowned.” There were more than 300 head of horses in the mine.
Llewellyn and the office force, under police protection, took a turn at firing the boilers. Next morning, in a drizzling rain, an army of bread-winners poured out of the rows of stone houses. Several thousand strong they marched on the Cambrian Colliery. The police were called ‘into action; all, reserves were added to the forces. The miners never hesitated; they charged the ramparts of the blue- coats; they tore down fences and brick walls for weapons; they stormed the colliery again and again. When beaten back they tried the strategic move of marching back to town, thinking the police would follow. But the police did not follow the crowd, nor was there a preserver of the peace on hand when some of the more reckless ‘broke windows of the shops along the main street of Tonypandy.
One shop keeper who had made himself particularly odious to the miners by saying that “bloaters were good enough for miners,” found his place of business completely demolished and ransacked. This rowdyism was no part of the general program of the organization. The chief desire being to close down the mines and close them tight as a means of bringing the company’s officials to their senses and speedily ending the strike, which, if allowed to drag on, would cause unnecessary suffering among the miners’ families, it is always the helpless ones who first feel the agony of industrial warfare.
Realizing the stern purpose. of the miners, the mine officials yelled for their soldiers. The cry went up, “Save the horses.” King George sent a telegram to Llewellyn asking, “Are the horses safe?” The book-keepers and stenographers went down to feed the horses; the ponies. were hungry and whinnied, which badly scared the white-handed bunch. When the fact was made public that the horses had been fed, the Society for the Protection of Animals sent Llewellyn and staff each a gold medal more or less suitably inscribed.
The English press was filled with news stories and editorials condemning the violence of the Welsh strikers. Most of them were painfully exaggerated. Here is a story, more like the truth, told by one who was there:
“I had been with two friends to the Market Hall to hear Haywood of America, and on the way home we met the police on their way to Aberdare. Reaching the Plough Inn, Aberaman, we noticed two policemen on foot, one Glamorgan and one Metropolitan, chatting with a number of young men, which shows how dangerous the crowd were, and a number of young men and women staring and chaffing four mounted policemen who had been left behind the main body gone to Aberdare. In about two minutes the main body returned, the people standing around watching them coming (we are not accustomed to see mounted police in our streets).
“To everybody’s dismay, without provocation or warning whatever, the order was given, ‘Left wheel, Charge,’ and the police charged the inoffensive crowd: of about 80 and drove them into the doorways, the heads of the horses were even inside the doorways. The people could not get away quick enough for the person in command. He kept on urging and shouting to his men: ‘Go on, Go on, Get at them,’ etc. I picked up one lad that had stumbled and fallen, and told him to stand on his feet, for the either drunken or fiendish brutes would have no scruples in trampling upon people, judging by their actions.
“After they had had their fill of this wantonness, they went down towards the Institute, where I had again to ‘take refuge in a doorway. The police here charged the crowd twice, crowding the people into doorways and corners. The screams of the women and children were awful, and it was maddening to the men that they were unable to stop it (for they were not out for a row). I went home for fear of getting into mischief, and I am thankful the foot police did not say things to me they said to some men as they were crossing the road to go home.
“The police must have thought they were out ‘pig-sticking.’ The police say now that there was a demonstration of about 400 people coming down the street singing and shouting.
“It is a lie.”
The scene described occurred at Aberaman, a short distance from the Powell-Duffryn colliery. This company had erected a barb wire stockade, electrified the wires with a heavy current, and had entrenched a strong force of police in the works. Food and plenty of liquor was furnished them.
A crowd of strikers marching toward the pit were attacked by the blood-thirsty, whisky-frenzied officers who backed the crowd of workers, men, women and children, into a canal, striking and beating them as they fell into the water, breaking the heads of some who were struggling to keep from drowning. Others who escaped ran into the live wires and were nearly electrocuted. Still the miners would have outmatched the police but for the arrival of soldiers with shoot-to-kill orders.
But no telegrams for the suffering workers were ever received from His Majesty. And the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals never once lifted its voice.
In this class war the men on strike in violation of agreement, receive but meagre support. The regular strikers get but $2.50 a week, with 25 cents added for wife and each child. This is the uneven battle of empty stomachs against the power of plenty.
On the workers’ side there are no leaders worthy of the name. With the probable exception of C.B. Stanton, none that they would not be a thousand times better off without. Advisers, yes; there are some comrades who have burned the daylight to exist, and burned the midnight oil to learn how to live; thoughtful, courageous, untiring workers, sowing the seed of class consciousness. Evidence of their work is the present spirit of solidarity in Wales, which is spreading to other parts of Great Britain.
The need of industrial unionism appeals to workers of all kinds. Having been in the heart of the strike region of South Wales, in touch with these militant elements of the miners’ federation, living under the same roof, eating at the same table, having met and spoken to thousands of the rank and file, keeping a sympathetic finger on the Celtic pulse of these people, knowing something of their aims and aspirations, I have been able to get at the sap-root of the discontent. It is the agreement, which is now looked upon as a bond of penal servitude.
There are no terms vigorous enough to condemn the policy of agreements between employers and factions of the working class.
None but traitors to their class would foster or advise such relationship. It is abnormal, rendering the agreement-bound men useless as factors in the class struggle and often making them active participants AGAINST their own class and more effective tools of capitalism than police or military force.
The fight of the Welsh miners is against ignorant, incompetent officials and to abolish the agreement.
The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v11n08-feb-1911-ISR-gog-Corn-OCR.pdf