When looking for ways that the Labour and Co-operative movements intertwine and mutually reinforce another, one needn’t look too far away from the venue of Co-operative Party conference.  In fact, about 25 miles North West of Cardiff lies the site of one of the most inspirational and moving stories to have ever graced the co-operative consciousness. During the pit closure programme of the Thatcher government, the Tower Colliery in Hirwaun was predictably one of many earmarked for closure. Following the miners strike of 1984/85, the Tory government pushed through with their programme of closures, which had the predictable effect of devastating the local economies and scything through hundreds of miles of social fabric.

The mine had provided employment in the area for generations; miners like Tyrone O’Sullivan – the NUM lodge secretary who later wrote a book on the subject – had seen their fathers work and in some cases even die in Tower. The emotional bond between the colliery and the community was unbreakable. The pit was of central importance to the local towns and communities that it served for around 140 years.

The proposed closure of the pit was a body blow for everybody who relied on it for work. The only available option for the soon-to-be-redundant miners seemed to be a passive acceptance of the brutal fate of worklessness. In areas like Hirwuan, such a hit to the employment base can be near-terminal, consigning generations to the indignity of being willing – but unable – to work.

Instead of this, the miners forged a plan for action; each employee had been given a redundancy payment – the option thus presented itself to pursue a worker buyout. 239 miners pledged £8,000 each and bought out, then re-opened the mine. Tower thus became a co-operative, with the workers themselves in control.

This was people-power in its purest form. The miners embraced the co-operative ideal and refused to be trodden on by a government utterly unsympathetic to their lives and needs. It was a victory for co-operation and socialism, and a stinging defeat for the ideology of Mrs Thatcher and her mercilessly hostile government.

Her argument that the mine wasn’t profitable was proved to be completely wrong. From the time of its reopening until its closure in 2008 when there was no more coal to mine, Tower was a successful and thriving business. It managed to return a surplus most years, and pay a dividend to its owners – the miners. It returned £28m turnover per year, with £2.8m profits. The contrast between the two closures in 1994 and 2008 could not be have been more marked. Instead of protests and anger, the day was celebrated with street parties. They were celebrating not the closure itself, but the successes of the worker buyout and the following years. The mine was eventually able to close when it ran out of coal, and with a majority of the workers finding gainful employment elsewhere.

The big heroes of the story are campaigning Labour MP Ann Clwyd and O’Sullivan, but the truth is that the triumph of Tower is, fittingly for the Labour and Co-operative movements, bigger than any single individual.

This article first appeared on LabourList.org