Heritage Awareness Day 2018

Mining Solidarity in Europe: Past, Present and Future

 “We have found that miners throughout the world, though they speak with different tongues and work under diverse conditions, have a common language based on their experiences underground and the hazards of their industry.” [1]

Peter Ness, Fife District Secretary, National Union of Mineworkers, 1955


European mineworkers have shared a historic solidarity; from France to Poland, Germany to Russia, pit workers have supported each other financially and politically, joining together to improve their working conditions when times got tough.
We’re joining in on #HeritageAwarenessDay with Historic Environment Scotland, to highlight our past, present and future #ScottishConnections in Europe. Find out how Scottish mineworkers fundraised to support their European comrades during the Second World War, why Scottish miners were keen to holiday in Poland and how we continue to work with European heritage sites here at NMMS today.


Historic Unions

Scottish miners have historically been politically-minded and charitable, quick to help their fellow mineworkers across the globe in times of trouble.
For example, Scottish miners were particularly proactive in aiding their European comrades during the Second World War. The Scottish Executive of Mineworkers expressed their “deep disgust with the action of the British Government” in 1938 when the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed over a British-controlled region of Czecho-Slovakia to Hitler. By 1939, the Nazi’s had invaded the rest of Czecho-Slovakia, paving the road to the Second World War.

Young miners working on rope haulage, 1950s


Scottish mineworkers, along with their English and Welsh neighbours, joined together to raise a huge £1,000 “to assist the miner victims in the Czecho-Slovakian coalfields.” £1,000 in 1939 is the equivalent of around a staggering £60,000 today, highlighting the enormous generosity of ordinary British miners, who would not have earned vey much at all.
The Scottish Executive of Mineworkers also had a particularly strong relationship with the Russian miners’ trade unions because of their shared interest in promoting socialism. When tensions began to rise between Russia and Britain in the late 1940s, Scottish trade union leaders sent the following message to their Russian counterparts, reassuring them that they were still comrades:
“Scottish miners send fraternal greetings to the Russian miners’ trade unions and trust that the building of the socialist state will continue and, despite provocation and threats, will emerge successful from the International Struggle, and calls for the support of workers’ organisations throughout the whole world” [2]
The Scottish miners were also particularly known for supporting European miners who were on strike. When French miners were on strike in 1948, the Scottish Executive helped to fundraise another enormous £1,000, collected from various trade unions across the country, to assist their struggle for better wages and working conditions.


Continued Connections

Here at NMMS, we’ve continued to promote our historic connections with the European mining community. In 2003, we curated a small exhibition named “European Connections” displaying objects ranging from coal sculptures from Poland, to a miner’s tie from the Ruhr Coalfield in Germany.
Our varied collection features a number of interesting objects highlighting the solidarity amongst European workers. This bible sculpture was hand crafted out of coal by a Lithuanian miner in around 1935, who we believe worked here at the Lady Victoria Colliery in the 1930s and 1940s.


Coal sculpture hand-crafted by Mr W Staniowski

A beautiful bible sculpture created by a Lithuanian miner who worked in Scotland in the 1930s-40s.

Scottish miners had a particularly good relationship with the Polish Miners Union. On several occasions, Scottish miners were invited to spend a holiday in Poland and experience the working conditions of the pit workers there, where they stayed in the homes of Polish miners.
This sculpture, also made from coal, was one of the objects featured in our European Connections exhibition. It was carved by Mr W Staniowski, a Polish miner who also came to Scotland to work in the pits and was later presented to the museum as a gift.
However, not all gifts presented to Scottish miners were made out of coal! This doll was donated to the museum by Mr Adamson, once the Area Coal Preparation Engineer in Fife. Mr Adamson was one of the Scottish miners presented with the gift when Polish miners visited the Seafield Colliery in Fife in 1966.



Future Solidarity

European industrial heritage sites continue to work together to promote the future of mining and industrial museums across the continent. The National Mining Museum Scotland is featured on the European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH), a network of the most important industrial sites in Europe. ( Sites are diverse and range from disused production plants to industrial landscape parks and inter-active technology museums.

Map of European Industrial Heritage sites

The ERIH highlights that industrial history is a crucial part of Europe’s shared past and that the Industrial Revolution was one of the most significant events in the past two centuries. The network also highlights the innovation that many industrial heritage have undergone to become exciting and endlessly interesting museums.


Mineworkers memorial at the Mine Museum in St. Étienne, France

However, the preservation of former industrial sites and their interpretation as museums can be challenging, and is an issue faced by many European industrial heritage sites. We have lots of exciting plans for our museum, including opening our historic Undercroft and expanding our exhibitions spaces. Alongside Heritage Awareness Day, we are crowdfunding for our #MiningtheFuture appeal so that we can reach our ambitious goals. Click here to join our supporters who are helping us by #MiningtheFuture.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our intriguing European connections this Heritage Awareness Day- why not join the conversation using the #ScottishConnections hastag!

Want to learn more about our fascinating history? We are open 7 days a week, 10am – 5pm from April to October and 10am – 4pm from November to March.
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[1] R. Page Arnot, A History Of Scottish Miners: From the Earliest Times (George Allen & Unwin, London: 1955), Foreword.

[2] R. Page Arnot, A History Of Scottish Miners: From the Earliest Times (George Allen & Unwin, London: 1955), pp. 257.

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