Port Talbot Steel Works – my thoughts

Well the car is at the menders hopefully getting better (Monday they will be calling to let us know the state of the vehicle). So to get to work I have opted to travel on the train from Haverfordwest in deepest, darkest West Wales to the City Bristol in the heart of the South West of England– Cider country.

I have worked in Bristol now for coming up to 4 and a half years doing the weekly commute with regular monotony, up and down the M4 in all weathers, suffering some serious delays and seeing some amazing sites on the way.  The journey has now become tedious, especially Friday driving home as that is when delays and more delays are likely to happen – usually at the very end of the M4 as the difference in speed of vehicles coming off the motorway compared with vehicles on the A40 – a recipe for disaster, which is what often happens, but I am pleased that I have a good job with prospects for the future.

Incidentally the motorway service station at the end of the motorway is probably the most expensive service station I have ever been to.  I expect the fuel costs to be exorbitant but even a coffee and a cake (not that I eat cake very often as I am trying to get fit) are typically over expensive and taste better if you leave the wrapping on.  Yet drive 5 miles up the road and you are at the town of Crosshands and normal town prices.  How does that service station stays in business? I can only guess that the tourists who travel down the motorway to the picturesque and beautiful coasts of West Wales keep it in business as they stop off at the end of the motorway for comfort breaks and a quick snack.  I only stop there now if I need to use the bathroom, and only then grudgingly.

Anyway back to the thread of this story, I am traveling on the train from Haverfordwest to Bristol and have just gone by the TATA steelworks in Port Talbot which has caused me to write this blog.

With the owners trying to sell the place because they are losing so much money every day, I am wondering what will become of this place and all the steel workers?  Will they end up like the miners and the mining communities in the 1980s?  I was brought up in a mining community in the Rhondda, the miners’ strike of 1984 / 1985 proved to be the death knell for the mining industry and many of the communities that supported them.

Most of the miners cannot forgive Margaret Thatcher for killing the industry, me, I cannot forgive her nor Arthur Scargill for killing the industry.  She was to blame as she would not support an industry of national importance, he was to blame as he played straight into her hands, dragging the miners along with him.  Look at his house and his income compared to the rest of the miners who supported him.

The disruption to our youth from the strike was terrible.  It impacted upon our lives at school and at home plus the pain and struggle rolled on for years after the strike had finished.

Two of my best friends were indirectly involved, one a miners’ son, the other a police officers’ son.  They found that their fathers were staring at one another across the picket line. That in itself must have been surreal for both fathers, as they had previously been good mates and used to go drinking together in the local Conservative Club and Labour Club.  There was nothing unusual for a Rhondda miner to be a member of the Conservative Club back then, most people were members of both Labour and Conservative clubs – the Labour club for the weekend entertainment and the May bank holiday trip to Porthcawl, the Conservative Club as they had the best snooker tables in the valleys and went to Porthcawl August bank Holiday for a day trip; everyone was a winner!

Luckily both my friends decided that they would not let the politics interfere with our friendship, but that winter things were very strained as the strike went on and on.  I remember taking food into school that would go to the miners’ families so that they would have food.  I felt very superior when I walked to the front of the class with the tins of food my mother had given me to put into the collection basket for them, I then felt like a total heel walking back as I saw my mates face, ashen, at what he felt was his father begging for food as he was on strike.  I only very recently spoke to him about this and he admitted that the pain he felt that day was why he hated Margaret Thatcher so much.

I hear some of the words being spoken by the political classes about the Port Talbot Steelworks and they do not fill me with hope, it just appears to be political posturing with empty promises by a Labour Government who have run out of ideas, but I do sincerely hope that a real fulfilling long term plan and deal can be found for the steel workers and their families, the uncertainty must be so stressful and painful for them all.

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