'Keep memories alive'
WITH the centenary of the Llanelli Railway Strike Riots of 1911 fast approaching, the Star is keen to ensure our readers are fully up to speed with the significance of those historic events.
Tim Evans, who is chairman of the 1911 Llanelli Strike Committee, has kindly agreed to pen a weekly column in the lead-up to next year's centenary celebrations in the town. Here is his latest:
ALTHOUGH there has been little official recognition of the Llanelli Railway Strike, there is a rich vein of folk memories. Many families have one story or another. My grandmother used to tell me about how police dug up the back gardens of houses in Llwynhendy, looking for looted produce.
She also recalled a speech from the leader of the local railwaymen, John Bevan, who stood on the track by the Eastern crossing and insisted that no trains were going to pass except over him first.
My great-aunt, Harriet Ann Thomas, a worshipper at Dock Chapel, used to take great pleasure in telling the story of a looting crew who made a huge effort rolling a giant barrel of beer up Bigyn Hill, only to find out, as they thirstily tore the lid off, that it was vinegar. Harriet Ann was always firmly anti-alcohol.
For most people Llanelli 1911 means the riot, with its looting and later on its raids and arrests. As it happens, court and prison records are sometimes the only way working-class activism is registered. In any event, we should understand one thing about riot: it has been part of the political process in Britain and elsewhere for centuries.
Martin Luther King called it "the voice of the unheard". And direct action works. Look at the Rebecca Riots of the 1830s, which got rid of the tollgates, or the Poll Tax Riots of 1990, which effectively toppled Margaret Thatcher.
Yet the riot was only one part of what happened in Llanelli in 1911. It was first and foremost a railway strike, and one which scared the living daylights out of the authorities.
The rail workers were low paid — poverty stalked the streets of Llanelli in 1911, despite the expanding economy. Infant mortality was high.
In 1911, 113 babies died in Llanelli. Yet the railway companies were making record profits and handing out substantial dividends to their shareholders.
This money could have gone some way to giving railworkers — who worked between 60-72 hours each 6-day week — a modest increase in take-home pay.
The revolt in Llanelli 1911 was in many ways a revolt against these conditions and against such inequality.
It was also a revolt against the authorities, who had showed that, in order to protect the profits of the railway companies, they were prepared to shoot people dead in their own back gardens.
Over the next few weeks, I hope to demolish some more myths about 1911. I shall also be looking at how our song "Sospan Fach" keeps the memories of 1911 alive.