Wednesday, 13 October 2010
The 'Miracle' in Chile
It is a great joy to see the 33 trapped Chilean miners being brought to the surface today – a shared joy across the world, indeed! With the international mine-workers’ union estimating (conservatively) that 12,000 miners die in accidents across the globe each year, we can see just how lucky those Chileans have been. But miners die slowly as well as quickly because of their profession, just as my grandfather Henry Smith Pinkney died in his early 70s because of the coal dust that had accumulated in his lungs after 50 years working down the pit, first in High Spen in County Durham and then, from 1932 onwards, in the Kent coalfield at Betteshanger Colliery.
So it was a great shock to me, reading my way through William Morris’s political journalism in Commonweal a few years back, when I first came across his article on ‘Coal in Kent’ (8 March 1890, p.77). ‘The news that coal had been discovered in Kent, and that it would probably prove to be workable, has no doubt sent a shock of hope and expectation to some hearts and of terror to others’, Morris announces; and thus he seems to predict my family’s future history in the 1930s and 40s, as my grandfather and his two eldest sons, my Uncles Harry and Jack, were working down the mine. Grandad, I’m glad to say, was a Communist Party member and was still, even after his retirement, selling The Daily Worker outside the colliery gates in the 1960s.
Nothing survives of the Kent coalfield today except a ‘Miners Way’ country walk linking some of the old pit villages (I did part of it with my Auntie Dorothy some years ago). Whether anything survives of the political militancy that the miners once embodied is an even more moot question. Let us at least hope that the rescue of the Chilean miners today fans the flames of anger against the capitalism that put them in such desperately unsafe working conditions in the first place.