The past in the present: Reflections on coal mining and the miners’ strike 1984-85

On 2nd March 2024, the 40th anniversary of the coal miners’ strike was marked with a WISERD conference at Cardiff University’s Bute Building, attended by campaigners, trade unionists, researchers and filmmakers.

The conference began with a showing of the film, Breaking Point, made and introduced by the acclaimed Swedish director, Kjell-Åke Andersson. The film was made in Oakdale in February 1985 as the strike was beginning to break. It focuses on the ways in which solidarity is maintained, the views of the Lodge officials and the activities of the women’s support group.

Following the screening, the conference continued with two plenary sessions and a series of eight panel meetings. The plenaries focused on ‘Women, place and community in the strike and today’, chaired by Beth Winter MP, and ‘The End of Coal – Contours of a Decarbonised Economy’ by David Edgerton from King’s College London.

The panel discussions examined the strike in a historical context and considered issues of public ownership, trade union organisation and strike strategy, building solidarity, the role of the state and the media in industrial relations, memories of the strike, the changing class structure and the distinctiveness of the coalfields.

The Bute Building’s exhibition space was hung with banners from NUM lodges around the South Wales coalfield (loaned by the South Wales Miners’ Library), all distinctive and evocative for those who lived through the strike. Photographic representation of coal mining and the strike was also featured, including that of Kjell-Åke Andersson. The Red Shoes Poster Archive also exhibited a selection of trade union posters.

Media coverage of the event, including interviews with some of the speakers, was featured in a special ITV Wales programme and also the channel’s Sharp End programme. Cardiff University Honorary Research Fellow, and one of the lead organisers of the event, Steve Davies, was also part of a panel, on Sharp End, alongside Dr Elin Royles, based at Aberystwyth University.

We are grateful to the excellent line-up of speakers at the event, many of whom were involved in the unions in 1984 and still are today, and to everyone who attended the conference. Overwhelmingly, the key message to echo from the day’s discussions was the need to look to the past and learn important lessons from it, if we are to create a society that is truly better for everyone.

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Image credit: Natasha Hirst