Industry in Crisis: The Mines: Militants prepare for a battle: NUM delegates are being urged to vote for strike action today. Barrie Clement analyses the debate

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WITH AN intoxicating mixture of common sense and fantasy a delegates' meeting of the National Union of Mineworkers in Sheffield will today urge pitmen to vote 'yes' in a strike ballot.

Arthur Scargill, the union president, and the NUM executive have pronounced on the issue and so has the Yorkshire area: all are inviting miners 'to get off their knees' and fight the closure of most of their industry.

The Yorkshire delegates command 40 per cent of the vote at the conference and are likely to be supported by the Nottinghamshire and Durham areas, thus giving the militants the edge.

Despite Mr Scargill's oratory, will the 30,000 NUM members opt for a strike? The odds must be heavily against. Many miners have barely recovered financially from the 1984-85 conflict and the NUM does not give strike pay. Mr Scargill's campaigns for overtime bans over the last seven years have gone unheeded. Indeed the NUM president was only just re- elected after a battle with a more pragmatic candidate.

The year-long strike might have been a magnificent battle in the eyes of some labour movement romanticists, but it was doomed to failure and the prospects for victory this time round are, to say the least, inauspicious. Six pits are due to close tomorrow, so there is no prospect of saving them through industrial action, other than through a 'work-in' which under safety legislation could be deemed illegal.

British Coal would almost certainly close the rest if a strike went ahead. At present management plans a phased reduction in capacity: six to go tomorrow, another six by the end of the month and 19 by the end of December. Only four of the 32 collieries earmarked for closure by next March are to be 'mothballed'. Coal stocks are higher than they were during the pit strike and so the miners would be facing a battle lasting anything up to two years. Sympathy action by other unions would be unlawful and from rail union leaders' comments yesterday, highly unlikely.

And even for the NUM loyalist who emerges from a miners' welfare hall after a typically persuasive Scargill speech, there would be other factors to be borne in mind later on. He - there are few women in the NUM - stands to lose his redundancy pay-off.

Under laws introduced by the Conservative government, workers are deemed to have broken their contracts if they go on strike with no hope of redress. For the most long-serving NUM members that would mean losing pounds 37,000 in the middle of a recession when official unemployment figures show an inexorable rise towards 3 million and when there is little prospect of another job. For those whose collieries are not due to close until March they would also lose four to five months' wages. The reasons for voting yes are largely emotional, but none the less potent for that. Do the miners stand by as British Coal and the Government kill off much of the industry? What dignity does that afford the redundant miner? What damage will it do to their communities? What will they tell their grandchildren?

The seed of common sense in Mr Scargill's case lies in his economics - although his exposition is somewhat florid. The NUM's fundamental proposition is that a government should involve itself in drawing up a balanced energy policy, rather than rely on a primitive view of the market. Mr Scargill's more fantastical assertion is that the NUM can deter the Government by going on strike.

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