The Aberfan disaster of 1966 happened on a Friday (Socialist Worker, 19 October), and broadcasts told people to keep away. But by the Saturday evening, they’d put out an appeal for people to relieve those who were there.
I got there by around 7pm and my brother Eric and his friend had come from Glynneath.
We worked through the night, it was a slog digging through the collapsed slag heap.
We were trying to keep the drainage ditches clear, because all the pipes had burst and water was coming down.
There were one or two bodies recovered that night.
At 7am the Civil Defence leader wanted the tip and the disaster scene cleared.
Some people were doing stuff to finish off, I was standing having a cup of tea.
He came on the loudhailer and said if we didn’t leave immediately, we’d be forcibly removed.
I did not take kindly to that fellow.
To speak to people who’d been helping all night like that was pretty low.
A lot of people in South Wales knew someone who was affected. The mother of one of the teachers at the junior schools worked in my wife Gwyneth’s hair salon.
He managed to get half his class out, but the other half didn’t make it. The poor guy had a total breakdown eventually.
Since then a lot of what people had been saying about the causes of the disaster have been confirmed.
The National Coal Board (NCB) had the information and ample warning, they just did not act upon it. There had been tip collapses before.
The chair of the NCB was Lord Alf Robens, who’d also been a Labour MP and shadow minister, before he joined the Conservative Party in 1979.
The NCB was guilty, but no one ever suffered for it or was prosecuted. It’s just a shame it was a Labour government that let it happen.
Ronald Evans, Aberdare, South Wales
Remember Poland ‘56
During 1956 there weren’t only important developments in Hungary, but in Poland too (Socialist Worker, 19 October).
It all started in the western city of Poznan on 28 June. Workers in the biggest factory, Zispo (Cegielski), struck for wage increases and better working conditions. They went onto streets with banners saying, “We want bread and freedom”.
Workers from other factories joined in. An enormous crowd gathered in the square outside Poznan’s city hall. From there protesters rushed to prisons, freed many prisoners and grabbed some firearms.
Others moved on to attack a secret police headquarters. Armed workers also clashed with the police.
The same morning Poland’s Stalinist government sent in army units to drown the uprising in blood. In the afternoon tanks and soldiers entered Poznan and soon established full control of the streets. But sporadic clashes were still taking place on 30 June.
The uprising was just a beginning.
In October 1956 workers’ councils sprang up across the country and the “reformist” Communist Party leader Wladyslaw Gomulka was brought to power.
Poland only narrowly avoided Hungary’s fate—an armed Russian intervention.
Polish workers stood in solidarity with their Hungarian comrades, fighting against the same Stalinist oppression.
Jacek Szymanski, North London
I had to show passport when I was pregnant
When I was pregnant in New Zealand and seeking treatment in a public hospital, the receptionist informed me she was calling the immigration department (Socialist Worker, 19 October).
I showed her my passport as a citizen. No one else had to, but I thought I was being helpful. But she tried to deny me treatment anyway.
After looking at my passport she suddenly flew into an uncontrollable rage and had to be restrained by a colleague.
The atmosphere turned from a patient-carer relationship to a criminal-punisher one based on my skin colour alone. I don’t know if New Zealand even had a requirement for such checks.
The documentation is only secondary when these attitudes are institutionally encouraged.
Name provided, Australia
Barking up the wrong tree in Haiti
Haiti is often held up as the worst case of deforestration in the world.
But Peter Wampler, a US professor, has published new research that shows this is not the case.
Wampler’s findings haven’t gained much traction. That’s because they don’t fit the dominant narrative that overpopulation and poverty cause deforestation. This blames the poor for environmental destruction.
Sometimes there is a correlation between poverty and deforestation, but that doesn’t prove causation.
Haiti does have problems of deforestation, but that’s because its resources have been ruthlessly exploited by wealthy firms and countries.
Katherine West, Salford