After privatisation and restructuring, British coal-mining is the most efficient in Europe, but the high value of the pound makes exports extremely difficult. With a shrinking home market, RJB Mining will have to cut capacity by around 10 million tonnes. The company said yesterday that it may have to close five to eight collieries, probably in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, at a cost of 5,000 jobs. Others believe this is a conservative estimate, and the end of the coal industry - which in its heyday employed a million men - is only a matter of years away.
Today 9,000 men work in the remaining 29 collieries, some of which are very small. The once-mighty National Union of Mineworkers, whose strikes in 1972, 1974 and 1984-85 convulsed the nation, is reduced to a tiny rump of fewer than 5,000 paying members. However, the Labour government, with its strong historical links to the miners, is now working on a rescue package for the industry - coal's last chance.