Dai Coity Davies spent his entire life in the mining industry of South Wales, firstly as an underground worker at Wern Tarw (Pencoed), then as a full time official of the Wales area of the National Union of Miners. He was elected to the Area Executive of the union in 1955 and became compensation secretary, a post he held until his death.
His father was active in the 1926 general strike and the long miners’ lockout that followed. “I can recall my father being brought home by two policemen….who had beaten him up….set upon by Devon police, with no accusations, nothing said, just beaten up and frog marched through the village, to show those young militants exactly what would happen to them if they didn’t curtail their activities…..they’d only just come in there (Pencoed). I think they were trying to show their own strength….he’d been accused of no crime, his only crime was, of course, that he was on strike and not working”. The situation in South Wales by the end of 1926 was that a state of almost semi-guerrilla war existed, with a “certain pride in challenging the police and political prisoners being awarded significant status and prestige within the community”.
By the 1950s the veneer of nationalisation of the mines in South Wales was starting to wear thin, and despite an uneasy truce, frequent localised disputes over piece work, custom, and pit closures ignited. The most serious disruption in the coalfield since nationalisation occurred between May and July 1951, over the threatened partial closure of Wern Tarw Colliery at Pencoed near Bridgend, where Dai Coity Davies worked.
The National Coal Board (NCB – or “NC bloody B”, as it was known to miners) had, since 1947, pursued a policy of rationalisation into bigger production units; there had been thirty four closures in South Wales alone up to 1950, many of which had been resisted. Although there had been very many unofficial disputes in the coalfield, a strike by about 15,000 miners now loomed. This was led by Dai Coity Davies, along with Penry Jones and Frank Hayward – all of them from the anthracite area.
The NCB wanted to transfer eighty seven men from Wern Tarw to Llanharan Colliery because of manpower shortages, but also as prelude to closure. While the official coalfield conference failed to back the branch, and the transfer of men went ahead, the campaign ensured that, not only did Wern Tarw go onto outlive Llanharn, but became a catalyst for increased rank and file control over the union and support for the Communist Party.
An unofficial movement headed by the Communist Party and based on the resurrected pre-nationalisation combine committees surfaced. Representatives of 41 lodges (later 68) met at a Neath pub, “The Shakespeare”, convened to lay the basis for initial success, which included a ban on overtime on Saturdays for 40,000 out of 100,000 South Wales miners.
It was from this spark that Dai’s election to the union’s Executive occurred. He soon became an expert on social security legislation and took a special interest in occupational health of miners. Over many years, Dai gained a well-earned reputation for fighting hard for adequate compensation to be paid to miners who suffered from pneumoconiosis and other mining diseases.
During the 1974 miners strike he spoke at numerous meetings, including at Bath University, where students had been accommodating flying pickets. In 1976, he was the only speaker at the Welsh TUC to condemn the then Labour Government’s cuts and rigid incomes policy.
When Dai Francis retired as general secretary of the South Wales miners, Dai was in the running to follow him. However, he stood down in order not to split the vote and George Rees was elected. Although Dai Francis was later disappointed that Rees did not argue more strongly for a Parliament for Wales or learn the Welsh language, an unwritten pre-requisite for the post of General Secretary of the South Wales miners.
In the late 1970s, Dai was active in “Fightback” a national anti-cuts campaign, primarily focusing on the NHS, and its South Wales section. He spoke at many public meetings and on television. He was instrumental in stopping the closure of Ely and Lansdowne hospitals in Cardiff and gave valuable assistance to the West Glamorgan Health (anti) Cuts Committee.
In a TV drama about the life of miners’ leader Arthur Cook, Dai played Cook to great acclaim.
Dai helped link health cuts, fight to save the steel and coal industry, but remained concerned about the failure of the Welsh and British TUCs to organise the fight against redundancies.
Even when his health was deteriorating, he sought to play down its impact on his well-being and continued to campaign for his beliefs and never said `no’ to any request for help or advice.
As an obituary in `South Wales Fightback’ stated: “Dai’s death is a shattering blow but his actions have ensured that many will continue the struggle for socialism, a struggle to which he contributed much.”
Dai died on 14th May 1980 aged 63.
Source: `The Fed’ by Hywel Francis; David Smith; Rob Griffiths