Miners' resistance to colliery closures begins to weaken: British Coal says strike closed only 20 pits

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MINERS' resistance to the colliery closure programme faded yesterday as more pitmen defied a second 24-hour stoppage called by the National Union of Mineworkers.

The number of pits producing coal doubled, according to management. During the first strike on 2 April up to 10 out of the 40 operational mines produced coal. Yesterday half the pits were working, British Coal said.

In many areas the strike remained solid, but in others, including South Yorkshire there were signs of disaffection with the NUM's policy. Arthur Scargill, president of the NUM, denounced Coal Board claims that 20 out of 40 pits were working as 'a figment of an unimaginative mind'. He said the strike had inflicted 'incalculable losses on the Government but minimum damage to the public and trade union members'.

Last night Ken Capstick, vice- chairman of the Yorkshire area of the union, accused British Coal of peddling 'propaganda' by claiming that essential safety work at pits constituted coal production. The strike had been as effective as last time, he said.

'Sometimes you have dangerous conditions in pits and you have to give safety cover, which means moving the coal-cutting machinery. Some coal will be cut, but only a limited amount. British Coal is being unscrupulous by calling this coal production. It is outrageous.'

However, the strikes came at a time when public fury over colliery closures seemed to have abated along with the Tory backbench rebellion. Area managers reported that five pits in the Midlands and Wales region were producing 'some coal', compared to one last time. One official said that despite 'token picketing', hundreds turned up for work.

In South Yorkshire, Manton colliery produced coal throughout yesterday. Kiveton pit, near Sheffield, was also in production yesterday morning, management said.

Members of the pit deputies' union Nacods in Yorkshire joined the NUM strike yesterday as they did a fortnight ago.

Production was continuing normally in the Nottinghamshire heartland of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, whose members recently rejected a call for a 24-hour strike over pit closures.

All five deep mines in the Selby complex in North Yorkshire were closed once more and in the North- east the number of NUM members turning up for work varied between a zero turn-out at Ellington colliery to half at Easington.

Kevan Hunt, the corporation's employee relations director, said some miners at the 20 non-producing pits were deployed on other duties.

Meanwhile, British Coal said production is to cease at two Nottinghamshire pits on 30 April. Clipstone, near Mansfield, which employs 600 miners, and Bevercotes, near Retford, where 470 work, will be put on care and maintenance.

It also said production would stop next month at Easington and Westoe, in the North-east, which both employ about 1,000 miners and which will be placed on care and maintenance.