Page last updated at 17:23 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

'Little Moscow' remembers strike

Miners march back to work at Mardy Colliery following the strike
Miners from Mardy Colliery marched back to work on 5 March, 1985

By Kevin Leonard
BBC News

If one place typified the attitude of the south Wales miners to the strike of 1984-85, it was Maerdy.

Only "token" pickets were ever needed at the colliery at the top of the Rhondda Fach because of the rock-solid support for the year-long dispute.

In fact, not one miner broke the strike.

The 1926 General Strike led to the village being called "Little Moscow" due to the militant actions of the workers, but that spirit survived almost 60 years later.

The pit was at the forefront of the dispute, providing speakers at fundraising events and sending men to all parts of the country as "flying pickets".

Even today, you don't have to look too far around the village before finding reminders of the coal industry or the strike.

Flying pickets
Flying pickets from Mardy Colliery travelled around the country

Memories of the dispute are evoked at a new exhibition at Maerdy Library, featuring photographs and newspaper reports from the time.

In the park, just over the road from the library, there is a coal dram - a memorial to the closure of the pit.

A plaque bears the inscription "a tribute to the mighty courage, heroism and pride of the Rhondda miner and his family".

Walk another 20 yards and you will see rubble from the derelict Maerdy Workingmen's Hall - built with funds raised by miners - which is in the process of being demolished.

It may be 25 years since the strike started, initially in Yorkshire, but it can still evoke the most passionate of opinions in this small community of around 4,000 people.

A 63-year-old former miner, who did not want to be named, was waiting for a bus just yards from where the demolition of the hall was taking place.

He said the building's demise was a "very sad moment" and "the end of an era".

He also had vivid memories of the strike, a time of real hardship for the miners and their families, with scenes sometimes more reminiscent of the 1930s than the 1980s.

BBC Wales archive material from 9 March 1984, as the coalfield headed for the strike

"It was really hard for us. I had two kids who were small then but we had to cope," he said.

"We were having our food parcels every week and going for picket duty."

The women of Maerdy also played their part, organising food collections, speaking at public meetings and joining their husbands on picket lines.

Opposite the site of the workingmen's hall, Susan Jones, 50, whose husband Gareth was on strike at the time, remembered food parcels being delivered to miners.

"It was hard. I was pregnant at the time, I had a strike baby," she said.

"We had potatoes, tins of corned beef, a pie, tins of tomatoes - it was tough but everybody pulled together. We had the food parcels delivered from different places at the [workingmen's] hall.

"A lot of the women would get together and make parcels to deliver to the miners' homes."

And although Mrs Jones said she was "glad" when the strike finally finished, she still feels real pride at the way the community pulled together.

Rubble from the workingmen's hall
The workingmen's hall is in the process of being demolished

"We were very proud that we stuck it out for so long. It didn't work but there was community spirit and I would do it all over again," she said.

The village's miners eventually marched back to work behind their union banners and the colliery band on 5 March, 1985.

In 1986, the pit was linked underground to Tower Colliery in the Cynon Valley and the coal cut there was raised at Tower.

This continued until 1990, when the colliery, the last deep mine in the Rhondda, closed for good.

At the library's exhibition about the strike, local councillor Gerwyn Evans was looking at some of the photographs.

Mr Evans, who is from Maerdy, was working away in Essex at the time but has no doubts that the effects of the dispute and the closure of the pit are still being felt today.

Memorial to miners in Maerdy
This memorial to the miners praises their 'courage' and 'heroism'

"We have never recovered from it. The houses were built around the mines and once you took that, you had to look elsewhere for work and nothing ever replaced it," he said.

"We couldn't see what the future was going to be - it was an awful time."

Teaching assistant Cara Moulding, 20, was not even born when the strike took place, but she had accompanied a group of six and seven-year-olds from Maerdy Infants' School to the exhibition.

She feels strongly that the children should learn about the strike and how the mining industry shaped their community.

"It was quite a big thing really in Maerdy and it affected a lot of families. Younger people should know what happened," she said.

"It's a big change from what's here now to what it used to be like. There's not any miners around here any more and the children don't know what they looked like or what they used to wear."

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