TYRONE O’Sullivan OBE has warned of the return of the dark days when worker’s rights were non existent and protesters and strikers were shot for doing so. Speaking at the march to commemorate the 1911 Railway Riots in Llanelli today, Saturday (Aug 18) the former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Branch Secretary and current Chairman of Goitre Tower said that unless the trade unions wake up the ‘dark days’ are just around the corner.
Speaking about why he was at the event he said: “We try to remember the people who took action to make a difference in life. I am from a lucky generation. I have a pension, my kids went to University. It didn’t come easily to me. I had to go on strike seven times and I had to make a difference in the (19)70’s. Nothing comes from doing nothing. We have to go back to a time when people took action to make a difference.”
Tyrone was critical of the demise of the unions specifically their active participation in challenging politicians. He said: “It is about time the unions woke up again. During the Thatcher and Blair era they went to sleep. It is a tragedy because they lost ground because of that. It is time for them to wake up and start organising their members to make a difference to this world. Politics can be changed and politicians can be defeated even but it has to be done in a well organised way.”
The 73-year-old Mr O’Sullivan was supportive of a permanent memorial to the railway workers in Llanelli. He said: “We can have memorials for the Queen and Margaret Thatcher and everyone else. It is time for us to recognise the ordinary worker. The trouble is that for people with money the last thing they want is to see memorials of working people.”
Mr O’Sullivan issued a stark warning of harsh times to come should the unions disappear. He said “The dark days could easily return. They are just around the corner if we are not careful. If we stop fighting and stop showing resistance those days will come back. They will be able to kill again and they will always blame the workers.”
The march attracted a number of high profile Welsh politicians including the incumbent leader of Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood and the bookies choice for First Minister Mark Drakeford. Despite the poor weather there was a reasonable turn out for the march but numbers were down on last year.
The march began at Llanelli Railway Station before proceeding to no 6 High Street where two innocent men, John ‘Jac’ John and Leonard Worsell were shot while recuperating from TB. The annual pilgrimage to their graves pauses for a while at Spring Gardens where invited guests and those inclined to offer speeches do so, usually featuring the rights of workers and the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the two men.
John ‘Jac’ John and Leonard Worsell were two young men who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when in 1911 a strike involving the local railway workers in Llanelli erupted into violence.
John ‘Jac’ John was shot as he stood in a garden at no 6 High Street, overlooking the railway line. The Worcester regiment had escorted a train through the station, but strikers and their supporters had succeeded in climbing on board and imobilising the engine. Some stone throwing took place (although, interestingly, none of the train’s windows were broken) and Major Stuart, in charge of the military, ordered the magistrate Henry Wilkins to read the Riot Act. When this had no effect, Stuart drew his watch and gave the crowd a minute to disperse. Then the soldiers opened fire. Both men were taken into the kitchen where they were pronounced dead.
John “Jac” John was 21 when he was killed. A mill worker at the Morewood Tinplate Works he was a promising rugby player for the Oriental Stars. He was, according to a local rugby reporter, “one of the most popular young men in the town”.
Worsell had been suffering from tuberculosis, an endemic disease of the urban poor, and was being treated at Alltymynydd sanatorium. He was spending his weekend leave in Llanelli, and had interrupted his shaving in the back kitchen at no6 to see what all the fuss was about. He was killed by a bullet to the heart.
The march then moves on to Box Cemetery where wreaths are laid to honour the two men.
You can watch our film of last year’s event here.