Mr Clarke's warning follows last Thursday's furore when more than 20,000 job cuts were signalled in businesses throughout the UK.
The Post Office said that it would axe 16,200 jobs over the next five years. Royal Ordnance announced 1,300 redundancies. Another 9,000 were added to the total in industries ranging from car manufacturing to textiles and water to film processing.
Courtaulds is shedding 900 jobs and Guy Warwick, one of the nation's leading makers of men's trousers, has called in the receivers, sounding the death knell for 242 jobs.
These and other lay-offs prompted Labour calls for action to stop the 'cancer' of unemployment. Last week's developments are likely to compound the sense of national crisis sparked by British Coal's pit closure programme almost two months ago.
Adding to the gloom, Mr Clarke said last week that British Coal's job losses could escalate further, if private operators are allowed to reopen pits that he intends to close. They would be looking for quick profits but would not be interested in investing for the longer-term development of mines.
These pits would eat into British Coal's already shrinking market and force the loss of efficient mines.
Mr Clarke said: 'Short-term operators could do a rape-and-pillage job and drive out long-life and efficient pits with the loss of yet more jobs.' He did not specify the operators he fears, but the threat could come from overseas energy companies with no commitment to the development of the UK coal industry.
Several UK companies, including private mine operators such as Budge and the Hotson group, are said to be interested in running some of the 31 doomed mines. But they are committed to investing for the long term.
Also interested in long-term investment is Malcolm Edwards, the former commercial director of British Coal, who is putting together a consortium to bid to operate mines. Mr Edwards says that he would find alternative markets which would not affect British Coal. However, he admits that he would use far fewer miners than British Coal.
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