Crisis in the mines: Scargill delays a strike vote and asks public for support

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The Independent Online
ARTHUR Scargill yesterday asked the British public to decide on the case for coal.

Rejecting an immediate strike ballot, the president of the National Union of Mineworkers appealed to the public to persuade the Government to change its mind on the closure of 31 pits, with the loss of 30,000 jobs.

Union leaders gave authority for a ballot yesterday but withheld fixing a date to allow political pressure to take its toll on the Government.

'We don't want a ballot. We don't want a strike. All we want is to save the British coal industry and save jobs,' Mr Scargill declared at the union's headquarters in Sheffield.

Exploiting public sympathy against the scale and speed of the closures and joking about a new image, Mr Scargill hopes to expose the open divisions within the Conservative Party.

He said of the Government: 'They have no industrial case, no social case and no political case for throwing people on the ever- expanding dole queue.'

A meeting of the union's ruling delegate conference yesterday agreed to start its campaign for support with demonstrations by miners and their families at six pits threatened with closure today. This will be followed by a mass rally in London on Wednesday, to be organised by the TUC.

On Tuesday, Mr Scargill and other senior union officials are to meet John Smith, the Labour Party leader, to discuss political tactics.

The miners' leader would not comment on reports of 'sit-ins' at the six pits to be closed today, but said that managers at Trentham colliery, near Stoke- on-Trent in Staffordshire, had told local officials that employees would be locked out today.

'We are urging miners and their families to take what action they possibly can to prevent the closure of their pits,' Mr Scargill said.

Today's shutdowns at Trentham; Taff Merthyr in South Wales; Vane Tempest, near Sunderland; Markham Main in Yorkshire; and Cotgrave and Silverhill in Nottinghamshire will mean the loss of 5,000 jobs.

Although Mr Scargill made much of not fixing a date for the strike, the union had always indicated that it would take about two weeks to organise a vote.

The intervening time can now be spent in a determined effort to convince the public of the justice of the miners' cause.

It will also allow the union to build its case with its own members, who have been warned by British Coal that they stand to lose severance payments of up to pounds 37,000 if they take industrial action. Ken Hollingsworth, leader of Cosa, the white-collar section, said that many in the coalfields did not have the stomach for a fight.

'They are frustrated and demoralised but I don't think our members will gamble with their redundancy money,' he said.

Mr Scargill restated the case for coal and said that only a 'nut case' would understand the Government's closure programme.

He added that Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, was 'talking through his Goldilocks' when arguing that electricity produced by gas-fired power stations would be cheaper than coal.

Electricity bills would be up to 30 per cent lower with coal, and Britain would be saved the pounds 2.1bn immediate cost of closure plus the cost of keeping people on the dole, he said.

(Photograph omitted)