Activities outside Parliament

An injury to one is an injury to all – Port Talbot's message

10th November 2001

'There are just three things you can do on occasions like this – support the families, thank the emergency services, call for an inquiry and await the results.'

These were the quiet words of wisdom from Paul Murphy, the Secretary of State for Wales. He was with a small group of union and community leaders when he visited Port Talbot to give his support within hours of the explosion in No 5 Blastfurnance which took the lives of two young men, injured thirteen others – some very seriously – and traumatised the workforce, the town, and the whole of south Wales.

The Secretary of State knew only too well of the pain and trauma of these events – his own family tragedies in the coal and steel industries of south Wales and his vital work in the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Port Talbot is no different from any other industrial town or village. In times of tragedy you perhaps strangely see people at their best. Councillor John Rogers said to me,

'Taibach is a community, Cwmafan is a community but the whole of Port Talbot – because we all have family and friends in the steel works – is one big community.'

Even more than that because of redundancies in coal and steel, Port Talbot is a microcosm of the whole of south Wales. When tragedies like this happen, our industrial legacy of community, fellowship, solidarity and striving for social justice is re-awakened.

The American trade union slogan, 'An injury to one is an injury to all' is now evoked again in Port Talbot.

And the best expression of that sense of solidarity is in the heartfelt words of Sammy Jenkins, whose own brother-in-law is one of those injured, said,

'People who knock our Health Service should see what I saw in the Burns Unit at Morriston Hospital. The care, dedication and professionalism of all the staff is second to none'.

When I went to the steel works and the hospital and spoke with the families, the unions, the management, the nurses, I had a mixture of emotions – anger about the injustices of life mixed with pride and admiration of the way in which our community responds to such tragedies.

I remember my own cousin being killed at the same steelworks, as a millboy, aged sixteen. And I remember my father, as a miners' official having to deal with the tragedies of Aberfan, Cambrian and Six Bells in the 1960s.

It is not enough to say that steel is a dangerous industry. That is unacceptable.

We owe it to all the families – those who love lost their loved ones or who wait anxiously at Morriston Hospital – to find the cause of the explosion and to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.

David Ferris, Chairman of all the unions at the plant, summed it all up for me,

'We are community unions and it is our duty to care for our families and our communities and we do that by giving safety, always, our highest priority.'

Hywel Francis is the Member of Parliament for Aberavon which includes the Port Talbot Steelworks. He represents Wales on the Parliamentary Steel Group of MPs and is a prime-mover of the soon to be established all Party Parliamentary Group for Steel Communities.

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