In the ‘eighties, the clash between Thatcher and Scargill in England over the way of managing the country’s economy provoked a series of strict State measures aimed against the working classes, and more particularly against the miners whose trade union had grown into too powerful an opposition force. As had happened in the majority of mines, the Towell mine in Wales was then closed down. Deciding not to give in to bitterness and refusing to head for the dole queue, a group of miners planned to buy back the land and proposed that each employee reinvest his severance allowance and become a shareholder in the new company.
Against all expectations, the co-operative came into being and everyone resumed their work. Henceforth managed by a group of workers elected from within the personnel, the mine has survived but must now look to the future for, in fifteen years’ time, the seam will have been worked out. Over the course of several months, Jean-Michel Carré observed the work of the different employees and shared in their responsibilities. From white-collar executives to the underground workers, and not forgetting the new apprentice who had just been taken on, he paints the portrait of some of the actors in this working utopia. Management of this undertaking on a day to day basis is not, however, always easy.
Given permission to attend the annual general meetings, Jean-Michel Carré filmed the tricky exercise of direct democracy. The directors who had committed themselves to maintaining long-term employment in the region regularly clashed with nervous shareholders who feared for the loss of their capital in the short term. Nevertheless, so far Towell has survived ,despite all the remorseless deadlines for payments that must be met. These men will obviously be ready and willing to take on new risks and challenges, if only to prove that there does exist a way to escape from the sacrosanct liberal model. When all is said and done, charbons ardents courageously and defiantly paints a picture of an alternative which places employment, solidarity and the human being at the heart of all that matters.
In 1994, an economist decision by British Coal to close “Tower Colliery” in Aberdare (South Wales), convinced its miners boasting a generationally long history of political activism, that what they had was worth fighting for.
In unanimous vote to buy out the company, every miner pledged 8,000£, many relinquishing severance pay. Then union leaders, Tyrone O’Sullivan and a few other miners, decided to become businessmen.
When the Tower Company reopens, it is the property of its employees. The results are more than encouraging, with sizeable profits the first year due to a radical new organisation that favours the workers, rather than profits at any cost.
These events trace a day by day odyssey leading to the creation of an utopia, by ordinary working class men and women.
• Documentary : L’Opéra de la Mine AKA Tower Opera (57 min, in english, with optional french subs)
The idea of the current project was born during the making of the long documentary “Charbons Ardents” which dealt with the present-day struggle of a group of coal miners who had bought out their mine and become its sole owners. These miners accepted an offer put to them by the director Brendan Wheatley, to create an opera from the start of their adventure.
The film will follow the creation of this new type of opera where two worlds, that of miners and artists come together to recreate the battle for Tower Colliery.
At a time when everybody thought the Thatcher-Major tandem had won the economic war, a bunch of miners decided to use their redundancy benefits to buy the mine that had fired them! A few years later a French crew crosses the Channel to check out how they are doing. The film-maker ostensibly refuses to take sides: there is no voice over, no sense of direction. And that’s what is great with the film! Of course it is biased, and of course those devils of miners are presented as good guys. But so what! They ARE good guys and, for at least a few years, they have won and proved that they could be profitable (and keep the profit for themselves rather than turn it to a bunch of white collar workers who never sweat it out at the bottom of the pit!
1.26GB | 1h 28m | 1020×574 | mkv