Scargill heads for legal clash on union presidency

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The Independent Online
ARTHUR SCARGILL is heading for a clash with the law over his presidency of the National Union of Mineworkers.

Under employment legislation Mr Scargill's tenure expires at the end of January, but the NUM executive has yet to start the election process which can take up to 10 weeks.

A legal challenge to Mr Scargill's presidency would need to be mounted by an NUM member, but so far none of his critics within the union have put their heads above the parapet.

His detractors within the union are unable to understand his reluctance to trigger the election, given his new-found popularity both inside and outside the union. No one on the NUM executive has broached the subject and Mr Scargill has remained inscrutable on the issue. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Under labour law Mr Scargill, in common with other senior union officials, has to present himself for re-election by postal ballot every five years.

Union insiders, however, believe that Mr Scargill might invoke the union's constitution that officials above the age of 55 need not submit themselves for re-election. The NUM president celebrates his 55th birthday on 11 January. Anyone who challenged his position could be told by Mr Scargill that under NUM policy the union's rules should take precedence over what he would describe as 'Thatcher's laws'.

It is also possible that he could argue that he has assumed a new post within the union which would render the law inoperable. Since the retirement of Peter Heathfield as general secretary, Mr Scargill has assumed both the presidency and the general secretaryship.

Another ploy under consideration is that the dominant Yorkshire area could merge with the North-east and Nottinghamshire areas to form a new 'national' NUM which would elect Mr Scargill as a member of the executive which could appoint him to the new combined post.

According to some union officials Mr Scargill has recently deferred over the chairmanship of the executive to Frank Cave, a Scargill loyalist. However, since July 1989 even non-voting members of the executive have to submit themselves to a postal ballot.

Mr Scargill was first elected president of the union 10 years ago with a 80 per cent majority in a pit head ballot. Five years ago he offered himself up for re-election under the old system in order to avoid a postal vote and his majority slumped to 54 per cent with John Walsh, a moderate from north Yorkshire, attracting 46 per cent of the vote.

When he stands for re-election, the NUM president will probably face a challenge from John Burrows, NUM compensation agent in the union's north Derbyshire area. Mr Burrows will receive the support of the anti-Scargill areas such as Scotland, Wales and north Derbyshire.

Faced with the Scargill loyalism of the dominant Yorkshire area however, Mr Burrows faces an uphill task.

Mr Scargill's star has risen as the Government's policy on coal and energy has looked increasingly beleaguered. The NUM president's call for trade unionists to 'stay away' from work on 19 January in protest at pit closures, however, was rejected yesterday by the TUC General Council.