God's coal can now rest in peace

GOD still has plenty of coal deep below St Luke's churchyard, but man yesterday stopped mining it. The Staffordshire coalfields are to be abandoned, miners at the two remaining collieries having wearied of the secular struggle to keep them working.

'Keep pits open - value God's coal,' said the poster on the noticeboard at St Luke's, parish church of Silverdale, Newcastle-under- Lyme. Churches have been in the forefront of opposition to Government energy policy and the consequent contraction of mining. This week, miners at Silverdale, and at Lyttleton Colliery in south Staffordshire, finally lost faith in the power of reason and argument.

'They've voted to take a big redundancy cheque and damn the pit,' a Silverdale Colliery manager said. 'Can you blame them? They've won all the arguments and met every target, but there's no market for the coal and there's not going to be one. I came back from South Africa to work in this coalfield. It was viable then, and it is now. What you can't make sense of is the illogicality of policy.'

Silverdale churches held a service yesterday, a commitment to the men and their families which was particularly appropriate in a coalfield where religion and mining have had a close relationship - the zealous Primitive Methodism defining the trade-union based politics of the Potteries for more than 100 years. Miners dominated local politics far more so than workers in the pottery industry, where unions struggled to become established.

The decline of mining will mean a decline in politics, according to Roger Seiffert, professor of industrial relations at Keele University. Apathy and unemployment have already depleted participation in union and party affairs. The most influential force in shaping a conurbation yesterday disappeared.

One of the Silverdale men said yesterday: 'What worries me is what the youngsters are going to do. I shall be all right, I'll keep myself occupied, and most of the lads have got interests and families which they quite like spending more time on. I'd had enough of being pushed around. In the end, you say 'bugger it', but the problems are going to start with the next generation. If you don't give kids real jobs they're not going to grow up properly.'

Silverdale is the 27th colliery to shut of the 31 the Government and British Coal earmarked for closure 14 months ago. Lyttleton was not on the original list. The Lancashire and Derbyshire coalfields have closed, and mining will end soon in Co Durham.

(Photograph omitted)

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