The dynamics of Reclaim the Valleys!
Once upon a time, before the industrial revolution, humanity was thinly scattered across the South Wales Valleys. Then British Capital needed a workforce to extract/refine the mineral resources geological chance placed under this rocky spur of land. The country was raped; the population multiplied by enclosure and immigration.
Obviously, living and working conditions were hellish. Responding to this, traditions of resistance through solidarity grew to defend beleaguered communities.
As with any strand of history, contradictory tendencies existed side by side. At first there were spontaneous actions. In 1831 the first industrial proletarian insurrection on and around Merthyr Tydfil, where for weeks the working class fought the British Army to a standstill with guerrilla warfare. As the wave ebbed, the clamp down kicked in, but the State had taken the hint.
Emergent unions were soon employed to mediate proletarian dissent. Working class power at the point of production and on the street was translated into gradual reform. Effective assimilation as it was, wildcat actions still broke through. Even channelled in this way, the valleys' working class could still shake State & Capital. The Great Strike (1984-5) was mostly a political decision to break the sort of working class power that had brought down the Tory Government in 1971.
The people of the pit villages that had powered labour-intensive drift mining were extraneous to British Capitals needs. The minerals that had brought them there were not. Capital-intensive opencast coal quarrying was escalated across the coalfield, regardless (as ever) of social or ecological cost.
Invited by local anti-opencast campaigners, an eviction site was set up at Selar Farm nature reserve (late May 1995), part of a proposed 880 acre opencast. This invitation of outside activists by local residents denoted an inextricable link between direct activists and the local community.
After the above introductory passages, the focus of this piece will deal with the relations between direct action activists and the people in the valleys around. The issue of separation from locals arises not so much in terms of accent or background, but approaches to anti-opencast tactics.
This piece concerns itself with the expectations of the role in the anti-opencast struggle that locals and site-livers had of each other, how they interacted. Obviously this is written in hindsight, the focus being especially on chronologically early events in the campaign that became Reclaim The Valleys. Most such interaction occurred then, setting the agenda for future relations. To this end, narrative elements will be given, then their implications developed.
With Celtic Energy given the go ahead to opencast, they contracted Alaska to 'translocate the SSSI watermeadows. As this presaged felling mature woodland, then clearance for coal extraction, locals acted to try and prevent this.
Honeymoon of Selar
Selar eviction site was established via a chain of communication from local invite to those with the abilities and inclination to establish an eviction site. The objective of stopping, or at least costing time and money while raising the issue was the initial focus of the site. Protesters were a mix of seasoned 'veterans' of previous campaigns (esp. Solsbury Hill) and first timers from nearby alternative urban foci (Swansea, Cardiff) from EF!/huntsabbing activist backgrounds. Much suspicion/derision was directed towards the latters' commitment by the 'hard-core'.
From the outset, Selar was viewed by the veteran 'eco warriors' in a defensive framework. The main aim of activity was defined as fortification for an apocalyptic eviction. Ironically, before much structural defence was in place, a media blizzard descended on Selar. This came in response to 3 activists (from EF! backgrounds) stopping the plant translocating the Watermeadows.
This work stopping action went directly against the 'orders' (advice phrased with enough force and seeming knowledge becomes this) of the defensively minded veterans. In terms of direct action it was an easy victory: work stopped for months, in PR terms it yielded a mine of media exposure.
The amount of coverage the site and its inhabitants received stemmed partly from the nature of the Welsh media: always eager to find specifically 'Welsh' slants on issues (eg The Western Mail's endless search for celebrities Welsh great aunts), in an attempt to demonstrate status beyond being a mere 'regional' media. Obviously, this related to protest against opencast (Welsh as leeks), with the added bonus of media friendly "eco warrior" exotica. Whilst this is old hat now, back then saw the flowering of its novelty value.
The power of TV then proceeded to inform the Welsh people of the "tree village", "eco warriors" etc., at Selar. Amongst those informed were locals directly affected by opencast, vested with interest against it. Many made the journey to check the site out, heading there with media derived spectacular preconceptions of eco protest. This depiction focused almost solely on "eco warriors" as an environmentalist vanguard there to 'save the trees'. Those local residents interviewed were heard expressing admiration for "these brave young people" fighting their battle for them.
Much of the attraction for the coverage lay in the romanticised (twee, dare I say) perception of the mostly youthful activists. They looked, talked and acted the part in an appropriately arcadian and emotive setting. On coming to site, local people found many activists believing the hype, acting out the clich and it's wilful archaisms.
The inhabitants were, of course, shaped by the site's agenda and the expectations of their own role. Given the personnel that set up the site and their experiences, Selar was treated as a transplant of past English road protesting methods. This dynamic stemmed largely from friends that had protested together before. Due to their experience and confidence their words and deeds carried more weight than first-timers and 'weekenders, establishing an implicit hierarchy that was hard to challenge due to its informality.
Activists at Selar were allocated set roles. Most important were the tree living elite - harness as a badge of office. Their perceived role being to build tree defences and prepare site for the imminent eviction they would then 'front-line'. Protesters not so exalted were cast as 'ground support, basically the menial function of fetching, carrying, and tending to the specialists. Divisive as this was, divisions were not that rigid. Subject to a mate's climbing teaching and tat availability, most were encouraged to reach for the trees. Hierarchy, roles and empowerment existed in contradictory proximity.
The internal logic of such a 'two-tier society' was extended by site activists to those locals who came to site. Just as 'ground support' were to tend to the 'front-line'; 'local support' were placed in the role of supplying site. The requirements placed on those who came up were food, money, tools etc.
This became two-way traffic - locals arriving with a spectacular picture of a 'tribal' subculture, saw this buttressed in practice by 'eco warriors' on site. The locals then reciprocating such modes of behaviour. These divisions found fertile soil in the context of everyday life in this society
At Selar tree evictions were perceived as the pre-eminent form of protesting activity. The skills required are specialised, gained by repeated practice, the best training being to live in a tree. Such an interpretation of the tactical lessons of past campaigns can be attributed to there only having been few previous tree evictions.
The effect of this division of labour between fulltimers and those (especially locals) unable, due to commitments or physical capabilities, to fully engage in such activity was to sideline them to a passive role. It's worth considering that listening to 'war stories whilst sitting at the bottom of trees being eaten by gnats isn't just boring, but disempowering.
Since then, the physical difficulties of limited numbers disrupting inhumanly large opencast sites, manned by tough working class valley boys in massive plant has been encountered. The campaign is bedevilled by the lack of human sized targets to disrupt by Direct Action (DA), unless nationally mobilised numbers are involved. It's not coincidence that Celtic Enemy's 'human sized' office has been targeted three times to date.
This is in marked contrast to the way road protesters at the blue route in Kent got up at 7am, walked the route, saw work and stopped it. Leaving a handful on diggers they went searching for more.
Unfortunately, anti quarrying campaigns don't have the option for such proactive offensive actions with low numbers.
Offensive Direct Action is not only effective tactically, but radicalises and empowers. Given local enthusiasm and potential, it's a shame there were no 'digger diving' targets to galvanise their activity.
Even defence as a focus for interaction and empowerment was not totally realised. The possibilities of training aids like low practice walkways and treeborne lockons were never fully explored. This is partally understandable, as even 'eco warriors' cannot be on duty 24hrs. Also, many of the committed local protestors were middle aged to elderly. This can perhaps be accounted for by their direct experience of living through the valleys' solidarity, youngsters only experiencing its disintegration.
This way of operating set the pattern for future relations. Even the inspiring efforts at outreach like the 'Teddy Bear's Picnic' open day reinforced the pattern of locals visiting site, bringing food etc., then going. The marked difference between this and other protest sites being the scale of local involvement - compared to other campaigns this was great, especially from liberal, single issue perspective.
Battle of the Watermeadows
Selar settled into "site life as normal". Sentimentally speaking, this was a sunny blissful experience to live through. Then mid July the routine was broken up as Celtic Enemy's contractors Alaska set about finishing the PR job of translocation. Private security wasn't hired, as South Wales police were more than eager (and efficient) at doing the job. This, then, was the crunch time: for both site living protesters and locals to turn their promises into action.
The activist community responded with style. They came in numbers from across Britain, kicked arse and had their arses kicked. Major confrontation on the first day saw police brutality and more than 2 dozen arrests. Significantly, locals were involved in attempting to blockade the lorries laden with translocated watermeadow. Mostly, though, it was full time protesters playing the role of 'cannon fodder'.
'Watermeadows' demonstrated one of eco protests perennial problem in attempting to involve those outside of an unemployed (in capitalist terms) subculture. Clearly its difficult to engage in disrupting work during working hours when committed (jobs, family, etc) at these times. Those locals who stood observing translocation cannot be criticised, as due to the heavy policing, most site dwellers did likewise. Most of the effective action during this week occurred at night (e.g. iron bars spiking the watermeadows). Some locals engaged in such activities.
Watermeadows was a crucible, demonstrating and amplifying tendencies in the campaign at a crisis point, serving as a microcosm for this stage of the anti-opencast protest.
Celtic Enemys head offices had already been cased with invasion in mind, but it took the need to hit back to galvanise offensive action. On the 2nd day, locals loaded their vehicles full of protesters, driving them to CE's offices.
It remains one of the campaign's most spontaneous and effective actions. Despite claims from Wales Today (regional evening news), that protesters "went too far" by going off site and breaking laws, locals ferrying them to the target clearly negated this. Having said this, they still took a back seat role.
It was wholehearted involvement. The abilities and levels of commitment, if anything, suiting the respective parties attributes. By then the parameters of local involvement were mostly delineated as support to an 'eco vanguard', and that was the way it stayed.
In a hotly engaged site meeting on the 2nd night, feathers were ruffled by the statement: "You're going on about the locals turning up, but what are they gonna do? Locals are about tea and chat. We've got to stop these bastards ourselves."
From the standpoint of anarcho theory, this is doubly dammed as elitist militant liberalism. As a practical appraisal of the tactical options, it was accurate; depressing as that maybe. Whatever possibilities existed for site/local relations at the start, after their consolidation into routine this was the reality the campaign operated under.
Within the ambit of orthodox eco protest, the week of watermeadows was an effective period for anti-opencast protest. The local people, for whom the site had lost novelty value, were re-enthused. In addition, the drama and news worthiness of the actions gained loads of media coverage. Some of those who then started coming up to site due to this proved to be amongst the most involved and longest standing on the campaign.
As ever, the media informed far more people than would have heard by hearsay. In response to Wales Today's attempt to start a media backlash against the campaign by a blatantly biased interview, the campaigns then national level of support was demonstrated by more complaints before or since. These came from all over Wales, not only from victims of opencast. Next day, Wales Today were at Selar apologising; and they've kissed our arses ever since.
As ever, media coverage was a double-edged sword. Combined with this the imperatives of life under Capital provided the double whammy. The nature of work is to reinforce such specialised role playing. The Fordsist assembly line serves as a fitting metaphor: work partitioned into specific repetitive jobs, separated from the process as a whole. Control is enforced, expectations of empowerment lessened.
There were also those valley people affected by opencast who did nothing. This seeming apathy is used by arrogant militant liberals to pour derision on the mass of the populace. This 'apathy' though, isn't an independent datum free of social patterns. At the risk of being too conspiratorial, it's clear that such a situation is created and fostered to perpetrate the present order of things.
Underpinning this is the mechanism of mediation in everyday life, reinforcing alienation and lack of engagement. There are myriads of examples on a society-wide level, but the archetypal example is the political system directly affecting communities threatened by opencast.
The people in these villages are told to give over their fate and that of their children to the judgement of 'technical experts' employed by a county council similarly placed there to channel and diffuse their urges. Bluntly put, their potential collective power is either given or stolen away; little wonder they're 'apathetic'.
Two weeks after Watermeadows a rally of hundreds of people (from the Neath valley and beyond) took place. This and Watermeadows were the high point of site/community interaction at Selar. Afterwards, with the lines of interaction well and truly defined the same tendencies manifested themselves, but on a gradually lesser scale.
The focus of site activities remained domestic/defensive - with the emphasis on just 'living really'. Numbers on site went down. Local involvement similarly decreased. By the winter these were reduced to a handful of die-hards. Relations consisted mostly of borrowing of specialised equipment, like a tractor to build a log cabin.
Watermeadows took its toll on personnel. Most arrested activists found themselves bailed out of Selar, while others went to crew the nearby Brynhenllys site, effectively splitting the campaign's already dwindling numbers.
Already beleaguered by years of campaign some experienced activists found Watermeadows as their point of burn out. This had the effect of removing many experienced with sustainable outside living.
Some activists attempted to rekindle the old level of relations, but inertia gripped both local support and site livers: an attempt at a teddy bears picnic style event in mid September attracted only a ripple of interest. With the onset of winter harshness on a Welsh hillside, survival took up most energy. As snow settled on the trees, the commitment of the summer was just a memory.
Eviction sites often stagnate as their initial energy is expended. While Selar fell into this cycle, Brynhenllys site enjoyed its brief honeymoon of creative energy. As with Selar's early stages, much of this was geared into defensive building, initially on constant eviction alert. With low numbers and effort geared inward to site fortifying, even Brynhenllys most productive phase was somewhat introverted: intensive building leaving little energy for outreach into local communities.
The fundamental consideration of Brynhenllys relation with these ex-pit communities was that they never showed anything like the same level of enthusiasm Cwmgrach and Glyneath initially had for Selar. This is difficult to account for. On one level Selar's support was unprecedented by any eco DA campaign; it would be optimistic to expect the same for relocating just 20 or so miles away.
It could be (and has been argued) that this came down to more opencast workers with connections living nearby; but as with all communities housing the workforce for Capital-intensive opencast, these account for a fraction of the local population. More significant is that in the wake of Selars first Welsh presentation of spectacular roles, novelty value and thus interest had waned in a consumer society.
Some tendencies of migrant 'protester culture' also took its toll. While some activists were briefly enthralled by the arse kicking elements of 'Watermeadows' and channelled this into site preparation, their energy levels soon dropped. The pressures of eviction site life kicked in. Faced with this, many moved on, often to other such sites. This behaviour pattern of recovery via transience may well have kept them fresh, but also made it difficult for locals visiting site to form friendship bonds with the high turnover of personnel.
From the beginning relations between supportive locals and site dwellers fell into the familiar eco warrior/local support paradigm. As there was never the initial enthusiasm as at Selar, the same potential of a crossover into equal partnership in direct action never seemed as possible.
Support that was gained took patient work, building links with sympathetic individuals. That tried and tested technique, a site openday, was utilised . A working relationship was set up with the existing local public enquiry orientated anti-opencasters. Brynhenllys almost became the DA wing of the Upper Tawe valley preservation committee.
Such relations were not only a mediation of the local people's opposition to coal quarrying, but was channelled through their committees of mediators. Impure as this maybe as abstract theory, it kept the campaign in food, building supplies and boosted site morale. Early Selar's heady expectations of breaking down specialised roles into equal partnership in action were now a dim memory. The campaign functioned as a conventional eviction site in a now familiar vein.
Combined with the factors above, geographically on the logistical fringes of the transient DA 'tribe's circuit, Brynhenllys was by Autumn chronically undermanned. Keeping site together drew almost all energy from those remaining, turning activity further inward.
Cut off, with low numbers in an attractive setting, opencast and it's evils seemed a long way away. The few activists used to direct acion, were surrounded by others of different inclinations. Brynhenllys began to display utopian tendencies.
While experiments in sustainable living are necessary to demonstrate alternatives to the present course of human suicide, steps towards this are probably not best done in the path of 500 acre opencast quarries.
Faced with this navel gazing, most locals could hardly be expected to display much interest in an endeavour that seemed, at best, irreverent to their concerns.
Left to themselves, both South Wales sites stagnated. It took an outside agency to jolt them back to life, coming in the form of the old enemy and its eviction of Brynhenllys. Though the anti-opencast campaign was neglected, it came at the end of a summer of growth and potential for the movement, after quiet months lots turned out for the eviction.
Coupled with a mix of experience and raw talent Brynhenllys was an epic 4 1/2 day eviction. The confrontational tactics used were effective: at no other tree eviction have enemy climbers had such a hard time of it. Despite this, everyone was taken down and all trees felled, but then thats evictions.
Superb as the commitment in the trees and buildings was, the focus of this piece concerns itself with local involvement Some of those in the buildings were local and they got nicked with the rest. There were parallels with Watermeadows, as the by now traditional role of 'local support was extended at a crunch point. The eviction was prolonged and activists' commitment fuller, as a result of provisions and hospitality extended after the site lost its living structures in 70 mile hour winds and driving rain.
So far, so orthodox. The local kids heading up to hillside at night with fireworks were going less against type than their elders, though this cant all be put down to youthful exuberance. The old divisions of role were sometimes broke down.
Until tiredness set in, and odds on the ground got too heavy, a sizeable mobilisation of locals got stuck in and disrupted work. The second day saw more of them arrested in confrontation on the ground than of 'imported activists in the trees. Recollections include a 70 year man comparing rough and tumble with Reliance to his rugby career, while seeming quietly proud of his sons arrest for similarly mixing it.
Perhaps it was being placed next to large scale environmental destruction, and experiencing bailiff and security guard brutality that spurred on old style Valleys' Direct Action. Crucially, in this situation there was no possible agency to mediate for them: they had to do it themselves.
Just as with Watermeadows, the eviction caused a media shitstorm. Due to popular sympathy, TV and the press were unable to be too negative, so again the issue was dramatised for the nation. Granted, the usual elitist clich's were recycled, and duly internalised by consumers. Even nearby the media force was felt: a few days into the eviction, some activists from the trees met local kids in Cwmllynfell square. After a sympathetic conversation, as a parting shot one boy, living half a mile from the eviction, said hed watch the news the next day to catch up on events.
After the eviction the locals were perhaps more ready than ever to engage in Direct Action against the opencast threat. Unfortunately, the Brynhenlys activists were now burnt out and homeless, and those whod come for the eviction had other campaigns they were committed to. Despite briefly breaking out of their mediated roles, local energy fizzled out without a focus.
Selar's Final Days
Many, empowered by the eviction went to Newbury for the next big thing. Not just South Wales, but all regional campaigns suffered from the haemorrhage of personnel, narrowing horizons of possible activity. Selar suffered accordingly. After long months of siege the eviction in late February was an anticlimax.
While many returned, war weary from Berkshire, the numbers were insufficient against heavier opposition than Brynhenllys. Scab climbers out for revenge and desperate to impress before the Newbury eviction phase went into overdrive.
Months of torpor lessened the local mobilisation. Here, as in the trees on site, the State learnt its lesson from October. Media access was barred on the first day, preventing possible reportage of their brutal, almost murderous tactics. Fearing replays of direct local involvement, approaches to Selar were cordoned; those who tried to break the cordon, pensioners and all, were arrested.
This then was the end of that phase of the anti opencast DA campaign. Some activists remained on Selars 800 acre site, their presence keeping the embers of protest alight until others, rested from the winter, felt able to resume the struggle. This was really self-referential to the activist community. With the loss of the old site, its personnel and mature oaks, the local community began to forget the possibilities of the previous Summer.
Nant Helen On April 1st, new energy focused on taking a site in the path of the proposed Nant Helen 'extension opencast. This was a radical departure from the previous tactic of occupying already 'doomed land with the decision given for quarrying.
In effect this was an acknowledgement of the true dynamics of opencast protest in South Wales. It tacitly admitted eco protests role as a vociferous 'pressure group which dramatised the issues via the media, affecting the mainstream decision making process.
This reflected the true physical odds of a scattering of DA protesters, able to cover only a handful of putative quarries and unable to actually STOP these. Actual/proposed opencast covered a vast chunk of the coalfield. The true struggle to prevent this devastation obviously falls to embattled local communities.
This is how it should be. Unfortunately, local resistance is still bound up in the mediated form of the public enquiry system. From this, on-site energy found most of its expression as an extension of this process.
Though organisational matters received attention, with much discussion of the campaigns internal dynamics; and the usual site work/tree building occurred, for once the focus of activity was off site.
Cutting across the insular tendencies that had developed in the late stages of Brynhenllys and Selar, site dwellers mixed socially with local residents, building up affinity. Numbers of local kids, enthused by the site and its implications, spent a lot of time at Nant Helen. They had a laugh, but more on the training/empowerment front could have been done. The usual open day also occurred though not on the scale of the teddy bear's picnic.
The main drive of activism was towards preventing the forthcoming council decision going in favour of the opencasters. To this end, energy went into door to door leafleting and petitioning; stalls were set up in Ystradgynlais Square. The public meetings (in Abercraf and Ystradgynlais) were attended and contributions made, adding to the case made by anti-opencast locals.
Feeling threatened, CE attempted intimidation by bringing in loads of burly opencast workers. Faced with these mobilisations (for and against the quarry) the County Council bottled it and postponed the decision from mid August to 20th September. Fearful of public disorder police limited supporting numbers to fifty a side.
Against precedent the decision went against CE. This was mostly due to the local communities' mobilisation. Despite being bound within the mediated system, the council felt upsetting the pro-opencast lobby to be the lesser of evils.
On a historical angle, it is the case that any reforms conceded under the rule of Capital have been via mediated agencies to prevent escalated popular unrest.
The presence of numbers of DA activists added to this. Aware of the media hype from previous actions, and combined with this a banner drop at the council offices, away from both coalfield and protesters usual range, the Council cant have relished the prospect of actions against them. Fluffy PR stunt that it was, the implied threat was clear.
Though protesters actions would have been an irritation, more worrying for them were links with lots of pissed off locals, with little faith in the system anyway...
Social forces could have negated it, or the forces of law and order crushed it; but the council must have considered and been unhappy with the prospect of protesters acting as a catalyst taking the community beyond their mediated channels.
Pragmatically, the work around the public enquiry was the most effective tactic to prevent Nant Helens destruction. Direct as the action of work disruption and eviction would have been, they would have only delayed 'development.
True, the decision could well be reversed as Celtic Enemy used their right to appeal to the Welsh Office (heard in September 97), and this will [?] lead to permission to quarry, but devastation was stalled for longer and with less effort.
This activism represented a bizarre reversal of the usual protester/local paradigm. Instead of receiving 'local support in their DA endeavours, site dwellers provided support for respectable local efforts. A petition was drafted by the Upper Tawe Valley Protection League. Unable to beat the mediated system on their own, unable to draw locals to work outside of its parameters, the direct action campaign worked within it.
Nant Helen stands non evicted. Rather thinly manned, the site is basically hanging around until future decisions are made. The focus of the campaign had shifted away sometime previously.
Reclaim The Valleys
The point for this was marked by Reclaim The Valleys - the campaigns' first week of action. This saw a series of direct actions and the taking of two sites in the path of Selars 880 acre opencast - People consolidating themselves on a manmade island.
Treeless (with no topsoil), this site was never barricaded against eviction, being instead a living space and the launching pad for 'RTV 2: The Sequel.
The island had comparatively little involvement with locals, though fresh connections were made with Rhigos (the other side of the valley from Glyneath). RTV 2 continued from the ideas formulated in the the first week of action, whereby it was felt offensive action against opencast were only possible by drawing in activists from the outside the area.
Their chief impact lay in the amount of media coverage generated. After a quiescent period opencast was once again on the national news, once again on the agenda. Of course the same old elitist shit was perpetuated by the mainstream media.
This was partially accurate as, having failed to mobilise threatened communities into direct action, the campaign drew in others from its own subculture. Local contact had become increasingly rare, exasperated by the Islands geographical inaccessibility.
Except for the fits and starts of the weeks of action, this was a mostly tepid stage for the campaign. The inactive mood can be partially accounted for by activists recovering from the trauma of the last few years, while the new blood on site didnt take it on themselves to initiate things.
Though mostly a regressive phase with community relations, the trusted method of a walk/openday was called at the end of RTV 2. The turnout was reasonable including many old faces from the Selar era. The general feeling at the time was that neither party was really that up for it.
This recovery and weeks of action phase was an often interesting, often creative phase in RTV. Here it is skirted over, as developments were mainly internal, falling outside the parameters of discussion. Punchlines
Nant Helens devastation is stalled to this day. The eviction sites delayed Celtic Energys opencasting by months, costing them loads of money. Similarly offensive direct action also cost them, though their most damaging effect on the enemy was probably disruption of routine (and therefore efficiency). Vast in personal terms, the financial toll is a mere niggle in Celtic Energys budget. The workdays lost will be balanced by future profit. The long term damage they sustained is on a PR level.
On a long term level the campaigns results are more in the negative sense of weakening the opencast lobby, than in the positive dimensions of catalysing a viable alternative force.
Though already an issue, opencast has been placed visibly on the agenda. Local communities in physical proximity may have been enthused by DA, but the majority of Valleys people will only have consumed it on TV after Neighbours. Still opencast and its evils have been dramatised.
Unfortunately, resistance remains focused on mediated local committees geared towards the corrupt public inquiry system. While people are more amenable towards DA, it is presented and perceived as a job for specialised eco-warriors. RTV has to date failed to break down specific divisions of labour and failed to catalyse direct mass community resistance.
Failure as this is, it is understandable in the circumstances. The campaign opposed more than opencast, its backers and working class vigilantes. It fought a force more powerful than the state and its foot soldiers. Ultimately what was confronted was the crushing force of everyday life and the mechanisms which propagate it.
This engendered hierarchy within the movement and locals readiness for their wishes to be mediated. There are historical precedents, tying in South Wales history, with autonomous action channelled into trade unionism.
Such a force far outweighs the colourful, sometimes inspiring, actions of a radical subculture. In the light of this, RTV should be judged along side other orthodox eco-direct action campaigns. Limited by milieu, hemmed in by societal imperatives, RTV achieved the results it could.
These were never enough, but given the opposition, its always going to take more than the eco-direct action movement can give. We can provide a strand of autonomy, but only as a thread to be incorporated in a society wide web of resistance.
While not as romantic or glamorous as the spectacular role of swashbuckling eco-warrior, the movement will become viable by real integration with community struggles. We can learn from our successes, but must also correct our mistakes.
For further info and to get involved, contact
Reclaim the Valleys!