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The future worked


After 140 years of deep coal extraction, Tower Colliery in Rhondda Cynon Taf, South Wales, closed on 25 January. Miners and their families marched proudly from the colliery to mark the closure of the last deep coalmine in Wales, and to celebrate the unique achievement of the Tower miners in running the pit themselves for the past 13 years.

Tyrone O'Sullivan, pit manager, spoke of local families' long history in the mine. The Tower miners fought National Coal Board closure in 1994 as "too expensive to run", and bought it out with redundancy money of £8000 each. For 13 years they gave the lie to the NCB, making the mine pay and providing jobs. Now the coal has run out. "I am the proudest person in the world" he said. "We have changed the world. We've mined the last ounce of coal".

There is no romantic nostalgia for coalmining here, as the miners look to the future. As the older miners speak you can hear their laboured breathing. John Wood, who entered the pit at 15, has emphysema, bronchitis and white finger. Like many miners, O'Sullivan's father died in a pit accident. O'Sullivan was 17.

What does industry mean in 21st-century Britain? Not a return to the dangerous old heavy industries of the past; technological advance makes possible cleaner, safer lives for workers who extract raw materials and make what society needs. Have we accepted there is no industrial future here? We need to learn from the Tower miners, and free our thinking to envisage a better future. If we fight, we can change the world.