An article from Do or Die Issue 5. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 27-31.
he South Wales Valleys are one of the most deprived areas in Western Europe. Living standards are officially the lowest in Britain. These communities were created by 19th century capitalism's dash for growth. Industry needed coal and South Wales was the place to get it. A massive population boom occurred as labour was brought in from surrounding rural areas and from further afield. These new communities were treated like shit and a fine tradition of resistance to their industrial masters began. The last major attempts at insurrection in mainland 'Britain' happened in the Valleys - the Merthyr and Newport risings being the most famous rebellions. As late as the 1920s and '30s troops and tanks had to be sent in to quieten the population. The Great Strike in the '80s saw troops on the streets of South Wales again, albeit in cops' uniforms.
Now, however, the mines are gone. The people and communities created have been dumped and left to rot in barren concrete estates and collapsing terraces surrounded by the devastation of the Industrial Revolution. Pollution from the disused pits has poisoned the rivers that carved the valleys and the mountains.
Although deep mining has past its sell by date a far as British capitalism is concerned, some bold entrepreneurs have realised that there is a 'cheap' way of wringing the last few pennies of profit from the coalfield. If you can't mine down to the coal why not just tear off the earth's surface leaving the coal exposed? Opencast. Opencast for coal, and while you're at it why not opencast for clay or roadstone too?
The disastrous effects are not subtle. 100s of acres are ripped away for every quarry. The life that once lived there is ripped away with it. Villages are now being surrounded by these giant holes that look like a moonscape on bad acid. Dust from the quarrying is sent into the air and into peoples' lungs. Roads and heavy traffic have increased for ease of access. Centuries old habitats that somehow made it through the 19th century are finally killed off. Mountainsides are literally disappearing. The locals aren't even offered the bribe of employment, just a new community centre or two, the knowledge that their former bosses still control the land and are 'keeping the tradition of coal alive' i.e. still making a nice fat profit out of it. Of course, promises are made to put the land back as it was, when the quarrying is finished. Grotesque patchworks of dead and dying grass are now a common sight.
However whilst the ex-managers of British Coal et al and their lackeys on the councils and planning boards keep up the tradition of trashing South Wales, the tradition of resistance is being kept up by the communities. Stories of sabotage and broken machinery are not uncommon. The people living in the shadow of the quarries need no lessons from Ecodefense on monkeywrenching. Unfortunately all too often the main focus of resistance has been the 'usual channels' - petitions, lobbying, public enquires, the occasional rally or demonstration. Sometimes these tactics have worked, if only temporarily (e.g. Caerffili) but they are usually ignored by those in power. These ultimately futile tactics are used not because of any lack of desire to fight (remember the miners' strike was only ten years ago) but because of generations of being shat on by their 'representatives' and a general feeling of cynicism and lack of hope.
The resistance at Selar and Cwmtwrch has been welcomed with open arms by the villagers searching for ways to fight back. Whilst not everyone is willing to live in a tree, the communities are adopting the protests as their own and are pissed off by repeated media attempts to divide the protests into two camps, between extremist "eco-warriors" and moderate villagers.
When activists first moved onto the site at Selar and started to build treehouses, benders etc. the local population immediately got involved, or offered help and support where they do anything else. For several weeks the main activity consisted of 'fortifying' the site, extending walkways etc., as well as holding an open day where a special kids treehouse/walkway area was set up for local children to play in. Celtic Energy (formerly British Coal Opencast) were helpless as Alaska (the company brought in to rip up the water meadow) were prevented from working.
Eventually Celtic Energy, who had been paying Alaska £400 a day to sit idle, could take no more. The turf removing machines came back accompanied by nearly a dozen vans full of police. After all why pay Group 4 if the cops will do the job? The sight of convoys of riot vans revived unpleasant memories for the community of the virtual police state that the Valleys had been during the miners' strike. All the feelings of solidarity and rage could be seen returning to the community. The last remaining pit in the coalfield, Tower Colliery - now under a form of workers' control, sent help and coal for the protesters. Angry protesters, whose ranks were swelled by those locals who could get there, blocked the road repeatedly, jumped on diggers, harangued the 'outside agitators' from Swansea and Cardiff in the blue uniforms (i.e. the police - they did not dare use local police), and did all they could to prevent work from restarting. People leapt out of trees onto moving vehicles (that kept moving), sat in the way of the vans etc. The police got very frustrated with the strength of the resistance they faced. People, including local children, were punched, thrown against barbed wire etc. Over 20 arrests were made, including some for Aggravated Trespass. The use of the CJA proved to be a major blow to the protesters as any move towards the machines resulted in arrest. Eventually work restarted surrounded by a solid ring of police. As the makeshift barricades thrown across the road had failed to stop the diggers, more careful work was put in overnight in preparation for the next day's assault.
Alaska arrived early the next morning, accompanied by their inseparable bodyguards from the constabulary to be confronted by a vast and complex wooden structure with built in people blocking the way. They also found that the only access road now had a small ravine and stream where a bridge had been the day before. Someone had stayed up all night and pickaxed the bridge! The barricades were torn down and to avoid the 'non-bridge' a JCB tore a new way of access through some oaks forming a hedge. More arrests followed during the day as work got under way again. Protesters tried all sort of methods to stop the destruction. A legal squat was set up in the entrance to the meadows in an attempt to block the diggers - it was torn down. Celtic Energy's HQ in Aberdare was occupied and the company flag was burnt on the roof. Work struggled on. Eventually after a week Alaska left. They left behind them a half-trashed meadow - they never bothered 'relocating' the whole meadow, and about 40 arrests. Those bailed off site at Selar moved to the next valley and set up another camp in way of another of Celtic Energy's opencast sites at Brynhenllys.
During the week the struggle at Selar had been headline news in Wales. Coverage had been OK but the media seized every opportunity to try and divide the protesters into two factions. The constant references to "eco-warriors" proving highly annoying. Claims that local people felt that some protesters had gone too far were met with angry phonecalls from both the villagers and people from other valleys who saw the struggle in the Neath Valley as their struggle too. One incident that the TV tried to use was the ambushing of a Group 4 car. It seems that Group 4 were paying the site a visit to see whether it would be worth their while taking over from the police. However upon their arrival "persons unknown" (but rumour has it a mixture of local kids and some people from the site) surrounded the car, slashing its tyres and pouring brown paint all over it (rumours that 'We'll Keep a Welcome in the Hillsides' was sung are probably untrue!). Eviction notices have been served on both sites but as yet Celtic Energy have yet to work out how the hell they are going to enforce them!
Whilst quarrying at Caerffili has been halted and the trashing of Selar and Brynhenllys are being vigorously resisted there are dozens more planned quarries in the Valleys. There are not enough 'professional' activists to initiate direct action at them - we can only hope that we have provided some inspiration to the communities to take control of their own struggles and to resist the latest in a long line of attacks on them and the environment that they live in.
Recently the fight against the construction of the Cardiff Bay Barrage has taken something of a back seat as the emphasis has shifted towards quarries. Sporadic actions do take place and defaced and damaged billboards belonging to Cardiff Bay Development Corporation are still a common sight. They must be quite nervous about what might happen as the site is now protected by a sweeping searchlight and cameras safely located in the water!
The beginning of 1995 saw a number of actions that sent a few slight jitters up the backs of the barrage builders. Regular(ish) actions were occurring on site that at times managed to delay or even on odd occasions stop preparation work on the beach. Their work structure was forced into taking the tide more carefully into account as activists sat on JCBs and watched the tide come, lapping around their wheels. After this the merest hint of an EF!er would send the diggers scurrying for high ground.
Away from the site, a lecture given by the chair of Associated British Ports to the South Wales Institute of Engineers was turned into a farce as Sir Keith Stewart's knowledge of Cardiff Bay was found to be somewhat lacking by rude hecklers. South Wales Police's (SWP for short, ha ha) knowledge of the law regarding Breach of the Peace was also rather embarrassingly inadequate much to our merriment. eCostain - one of the major companies involved - had a rough time. Not only were they suffering severe financial problems but their Cardiff HQ was 'occupied' by approximately 40 activists who rumour has it decided it would be only fair to ring everyone in eCostain's business contacts and inform them of the situation. A rather worried looking official from Balfour Beatty (the other major company involved) complained to an Earth First!er on the site a few days later that eCostain were a little unhappy about the amount of criminal damage done and that their office wouldn't be able to function properly for weeks. According to Construction News, the cost to eCostain, because of damage caused during the occupation and two break-ins elsewhere in the country, came to £tens of millions. eCostain's AGM was also disrupted, vanloads of Group 4 trolls (but in posh uniforms) were hired, enough for them to claim "Err, no - we're here for our own conference or something". Vans of police were also called because the half a dozen protesters who had taken a dislike to the directors' BMWs, Mercedes etc. weren't taking the couple of police that remained after Group 4 had got in on the act very seriously. The moral of the story? eCostain, who may also be doing Newbury (oops) are shitting it, they are broke and they are scared - TARGET eCOSTAIN!
There were attempts to send veal calves out to Europe via Swansea Airport. Protesters immediately set up camp. One attempt was made to get the lorry through the gates - this failed. Despite promises made by Igor (Bob Parry), head of the Farmers Union of Wales (a more 'militant' rival to the NFU) that it was a legitimate trade and the lorry WOULD get through, it never did. Farmers became increasingly annoyed about the 'threat to their livelihood' and held demos of their own. Making all sorts of idle threats about how they would escort the lorries through themselves, they never did - couldn't they be bothered or are they chickenshit? In frustration Igor wailed, "The Government has lost control [if only!] - it's time they sent the Army in!" As yet no live exports have been made since then. Rumours were floating around about the farmers' plans to buy an airfield but nothing has come of them.
Yr Enfys was Cardiff's anti-CJA squat/community centre. Although there were problems, particularly towards the end when few EF!ers felt able to help anymore, it had its positive moments. Yr Enfys received some positive coverage and was welcomed by members of the local community - even the owners of the Church that formed the squat gave the project a cautious approval at first. A cafe was (eventually) opened and a regional gathering -"Severn Seas", was a great success. Yr Enfys has now been evicted. By the end of its short life it had lost sight of its original purpose as the various people involved's aims began to diverge. Mistakes were made and hopefully learnt from.
As yet Wales has not had any major anti-roads campaigns. The A55 in North Wales is as good as finished as is the Second Severn Crossing (SSC). The SSC saw one high profile Greenpeace action, but work was more effectively delayed when workers building it went on strike against the dangerous conditions they were forced to work in. Dangerous? Part of the bridge fell down at one stage delaying work perhaps most of all. Protest is building up against the M4 extension across the Gwent Levels and it looks like a major direct action campaign is on the cards there.
...remember Tryweryn. In 1963 the valley at Tryweryn, near Bala in North Wales, was flooded to make a reservoir to provide water for industry in Liverpool. The village of Capel Celyn was evicted en masse. This kicked off the most violent protests in rural Wales for centuries. There were mass demonstrations, sabotage and a wave of bombings. The protests saw the birth of the armed groups of the Free Wales Army and the Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Movement for the Defence of Wales). Nearly a decade of armed struggle followed, first against water pipelines and later against the British state in general and the investiture of Charles Windsor as "Prince of Wales". It was recently announced that Welsh Water were thinking of extending the reservoir, however as the story spread and people geared up to oppose them it seems that Welsh Water remembered their history and backed off for fear of "protest". However it is possible that they may just extend a different reservoir and flood yet more of rural Wales to power industry. Yr Eyri is one of the wildest and most beautiful places on this island, we cannot let it be trashed anymore. If any plans are announced it is hoped that a direct action campaign can be launched.
- Contact Cardiff EF! for more info.
Sion Aubrey Roberts is a Welsh political prisoner. He was framed in the late 1980s to hide police/M15 embarrassment that they could not catch anyone involved in Meibion Glyndwr. Several other attempted frame-ups had gone wrong and the state really wanted to scapegoat someone. Sion is in jail in England and has reportedly had hassle from fascists who found themselves in the same nick as the 'Welsh IRA'. Despite Sion's first language being Welsh, he is not allowed to be sent Welsh language videos etc. With the 'Saoirse' campaign to free Irish political prisoners gathering momentum it is important that we do not forget all the other prisoners inside for fighting back or because of frame-ups. Sion is important because the state is trying to isolate and intimidate him by using his language and his culture. Imagine being thrown in a foreign jail where you could hardly speak the language, could get few visitors and were prevented from receiving 'normal privileges' simply because of your language. That is why we cannot allow Sion to be forgotten.
Write to Sion at: Sion Aubrey Roberts, BJ3795, HMP Full Sutton, Moor Lane, York, England.
A young black Cardiff man called Mark Harris was murdered by the police in Trinity police station, Bristol - the same police station that some of the arrested from Solsbury Hill have been taken to. He was arrested under SUS - precisely what the CJA has re-legitimised. SUS means that the cops can arrest you because they suspect you of a criminal offence, i.e. because your face doesn't fit: because you are black, Irish, a traveller, a 'known politico', scruffy, or simply in the wrong area. SUS kicked off the riots of 1981 because black kids were harassed by the cops. The CJA has allowed this to happen all over again. Paul Condon has justified mass harassment of black kids by saying that the majority of muggers are black. The campaign by Mark Harris's family and friends has been the subject of intense intimidation by the police. Mark's brother, Paul and his girlfriend have been arrested and assaulted and people from the campaign doing stalls have had loads of hassle from the cops. Maybe people from Green Anarchist know what I'm talking about? The CJA is law and it is being USED. At Selar people were charged with Aggravated Trespass, SUS is back in action. Get involved in fighting police harassment because we're all in this together.
Anyone who came to Severn Seas might have noticed on the night of the party a bunch of very stressed people running around with sticks, Lucozade bottles etc. Cardiff Anti-Fascist Action got a little jumpy that night. About 40 fascists (including heavy bastards from London) had shown up to attack an Anti-Nazi League march, but were put off by the march's size and quite possibly the presence of an AFA block at the back (including heavy bastards from London!). They managed to attack and injure several ANL stragglers afterwards and then moved on to scout out the possibilities of an attack on Yr Enfys. It was noticed that they were keeping the squat under observation so Cardiff AFA got a little worried about the damage 40 tooled up fash could do amongst a crowd of unprepared, happily drugged up revellers. Luckily they must not have fancied attacking what had the illusion (thanks to AFA's frantic efforts) of being a defended squat. Fascists have a problem with EF! After the eviction of Claremont, protesters still stunned from three days on a roof were attacked by C18. C18 had organised two previous attacks on No-M11ers, one attempted firebombing and an attack on a house which left a number of squatters badly injured. During the struggles at Jesmond Dene in '93 the fash threatened activists and Tyne and Wear AFA came and helped protect the camp. In Cardiff we've had our meeting place shot at. So you see why we get a little worried. Still we're not that worried, 'cos if our local Nazis had bothered asking we could have told them that air guns don't do that much damage to windows, a half brick would have been much more effective!
...things. Getting media coverage in Wales is piss easy. (Whether you want media coverage is a different matter! - that's how grateful we are...) The Welsh media 'Taffia' are so desperate to prove to themselves that they are a 'national' media that they produce countless documentaries etc. in which we've found ourselves much loved stars. They even covered the story about the protester at Selar "quirkily known as TWAT".
The Earth First! Action Update is now produced in South Wales, it now comes out monthly and has all the up to date news as it happens. So if you don't get it, get it.
What does the future hold? More quarry stuff - they're planning to extend slate quarrying in North Wales too, more beach actions at the Bay (if you've got a spare boat let us know), stopping the M4, more police harassment and maybe some actions in the mountains... oh yeah, and more fuckin' pollution from Sellafield, Hinckley, Trawsfynydd, Wylfa, Rechem etc. not to mention Chernobyl fallout - still, Ho hum...
No Compromise, mae'n cwl i dorri pethe'!
- Anon, Cardiff EF!
1) See Come Wet My Truncheon, Dave Douglas.
2) See Issue 3 of DoD for further details.