A report on the peaceful direct action that shut down the Ffos-y-Fran coal mine in Wales
By Andrew Butler
May 4, 2016
It’s around 5:30am and the Reclaim the Power action camp is awoken by an unusual alarm clock; the dull thud of a police helicopter, making slow low circles above the tents. It’s the day of a mass action to close down Ffos-y-Fran, the UK’s largest opencast coal mine near Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. It’s a bright but bitterly cold morning, sleepy people begin to emerge from ice-covered tents and make their way to the tea tent to fortify themselves for the day ahead. We’re due to set off at 7:30am and the only thing that might scupper the plans are the queues for the 3 compost loos, which are long and slow moving. Still, there is a nervous but joyful excitement in the air and the people waiting in line are kept entertained by a very funny and rude clown and some tunes from a portable sound system; Get Down by P.O.S. has people bouncing, but it’s unclear if it’s the music or the need for a poo that has them on their toes.
Everything works out and people move off on time, with four big blocks of about one hundred people each going in different directions and with a different part of the mine as a destination. Within the blocks are smaller affinity groups, each with their own missions cooked up over the preceding 3 days in the camp. Everyone is dressed in red boiler suits - red is the theme of the day as people use their bodies and banners to draw red lines across the mine, symbolising the lines we cannot cross if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Ffos-y-Fran has ambitious expansion plans to open a new pit, one closer to people’s homes, which would add to the dust, noise and air pollution that local residents already suffer and make it harder to meet the emissions reduction targets agreed to by the British government and international community. This is why people have come from all over the country to join in solidarity with local residents to protest the expansion plans and say ”No New Coal”.
Walking into the mine no one knows what to expect; will there be riot police, lines of security guards or impenetrable fencing? As it turns out it’s much easier than expected and all the teams make it into the mine with minimal fuss. During the course of the next 12 hours there are people of all ages taking action, from blockading the tracks with lock-ons to people walking the paths with signs, dancing under the enormous diggers, performing plays, playing football and hanging banners from trucks.
It is a truly beautiful sight to behold - hundreds of people working together in every aspect of the action camp; from taking the site to cooking the food, facilitating the workshops to taking care of each others wellbeing. It is a taste of another world that is not only possible but essential for our wellbeing and continued survival. And it’s a world that in many ways is already here.
Rather than writing something afresh, perhaps the best way to end this piece and illustrate the spirit of the camp is to republish the Action Consensus which was co-written and agreed upon by the participants ahead of the action and embodied by what took place on the day; when the UK’s largest opencast coal mine was peacefully shut down without accident, incident or arrest.
Reclaim the Power Action Consensus – End Coal Now 2016
On 3rd May 2016, Reclaim the Power is hosting a mass trespass at Ffos-y-fran opencast mine near Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. The invitation to join is open to anyone who can envision a cleaner, fairer future beyond coal, and who wants to take action to stop the expansion of opencast coal in Wales.
For nearly a decade, the 11-million-tonne Ffos-y-fran mine has scarred the landscape and the community in South Wales. Despite massive public and political opposition locally and nationally within Wales, the mine’s operator Miller Argent now wants to dig another vast coal mine just over the brow of the hill at Nant Llesg.
This is a massive affront not only to local democracy and protest, but also to the international climate agreement signed by the UK and other governments in Paris last December. Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and we cannot transition to a just, democratic and clean energy system while we continue to open new coal mines. We know we need to leave 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
On Tuesday 3rd May, hundreds of us will enter the mine at Ffos-y-fran. Through our presence in the mine, amongst the vehicles and machinery, we will force the mine operator Miller Argent to suspend operations. This action takes place two days before Welsh voters choose a new Government for Wales, and hence the minister who will decide whether to permit mining at Nant Llesg. Our aim is to show the strength of public pressure locally and globally, for an end to opencast mining, in Wales and beyond.
This action agreement has been drawn up to explain what you can expect to happen on the day. We respect that movements are diverse and we chose to adopt different tactics in different circumstances. In this case our action agreement has been created in a spirit of respect for the local community campaigners.
The plan is as follows. With our bodies and banners, we will draw a red line across the mine, to show that new coal crosses a red line for the climate. Everyone participating is encouraged to wear red and to bring banners, signs, flags, streamers, props and costumes to make the action beautiful.
We will behave in a calm and cool-headed way, we will not escalate the situation to violence and we will not damage machinery. Safety will be our top priority. We will be well-prepared to enter the site safely, and will ask drivers to turn off their vehicles. We take common responsibility for the success of this action, and for supporting each other. People under the influence of drugs or alcohol will not be welcome to participate.
We understand that the mine workers rely on their jobs to provide for themselves and their families. We will treat them with dignity and respect at all times. Our issue is with the company, the bosses and the government. Our demand is not only to leave fossil fuels in the ground, in South Wales and elsewhere, but also for the creation of rewarding employment opportunities for all, in an economy which respects our planet and all its inhabitants, now and in the future.
Everyone is welcome regardless of whether they have experience of protests or not.
This action was part of the Groundswell year of action and Break Free wave of action to keep fossil fuels in the ground. For more information visit Reclaim The Power.