Arguing that models of the evolution of coal production pay insufficient attention to the economic, political and social environment external to the mine, this article analyses changes in the Upper Silesian coal-mining industry during communism and after within a top-down, bottom-up framework. Three spatial scales are recognized: macro, meso and micro. Prior to the soft revolution of 1989, the Soviet model of heavy industrialization and international trading conditions were important issues, while at the national scale the government structured the industry and gave miners a special place in Polish society. Coal pro-duction could also be related to political vicissitudes. At the local scale the spatial characteristics of the industry strongly correlated with geology, bottom-up forces being weak The international collapse of communism fundamentally changed the fortunes of the industry, but despite the free market, the government continues to exercise considerable influence. Bottom-up forces are now more important, the col- lieries having a degree of autonomy, while the devolution of considerable political power to the counties has led to the enforcement of environmen- tal protection regulations.