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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December 2004, 12:28 GMT
Miners' pit celebrates 10 years
Miners at Tower Colliery
Workers clubbed together to take over the mine
They said it would not work but, 10 years on, the miners who bought their own pit are still celebrating.

A decade ago, Tower Colliery at Hirwaun in south Wales was bought by 240 workers, whose members each put in 8,000 in redundancy money.

It was - and still is - the only miners' buy-out in Britain.

On Wednesday, a celebration is being held to mark Tower's 10 years in private ownership and look forward to another five years of production.

But the outlook for the mine, which survived the downturn of the industry after the miners' 1980s strike, was not always so good.

Pit closure followed pit closure across the south Wales coalfield, which once employed 35,000.

What stands out is the unbelievable commitment of the workforce
Brian Morgan

When the death knell was sounded for Tower, local MP Ann Clwyd took a stand and protested for 27 hours underground.

"A few weeks before, we'd been told that the pit was productive, and a lot of money had been spent on it," said the Cynon Valley MP.

"Then they were trying to tell us there was a geological fault.

"The men knew that was not true."

The mine did close, but the workers refused to give in and 240 of them paid in thousands to reopen it. The men marched proudly back to work under the pit's banner and Tower was back in profit within 10 months.

It has turned in a profit every year since, despite setbacks including an earthquake which caused a leak of methane gas.

Ann Clwyd after emerging from an underground protest at Tower
Ann Clwyd MP went underground to back the miners' cause

The pit has secured major contracts for its coal at home and abroad, and extra workers have been employed alongside the men who bought their own pit.

At the helm throughout has been the miners' ebullient leader Tyrone O'Sullivan.

"We were the ideal people to take on Tower Colliery," said Mr O'Sullivan.

"We've been out there and we've competed with the world. It's not that we've been lucky.

"It's about a company that went out there and took on the world and have done a good job"

The last three months have been among the most difficult.

Problems at the face mean many shifts have been unable to produce coal.

Tyrone O'Sullivan
Tyrone O'Sullivan: 'It's not that we've been lucky'

Some men will even work over the Christmas period to help out.

But Tower is still on target to produce 600,000 tonnes of coal this year, with a turnover of 25m.

Cardiff Business School's Brian Morgan, a non executive director at Tower, said the pit had done well despite there being no obvious market for its production.

"You could have perhaps the best production in the world, but if you couldn't sell it, these men were going to have lost their redundancy payments," he said.

"What stands out is the unbelievable commitment of the workforce.

"You can't believe they would have put in the effort if they had been owned by somebody else."


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