Scargill 'is unlawful president'

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FROM today, Arthur Scargill is defying the law by remaining leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, according to senior sources in the union.

Under employment legislation, his tenure as president should have ended yesterday, five years after he was elected. The voting process, from the time the leadership calls for nominations, can take more than two months. While all other unions have accepted the legislation and hold five-yearly ballots, no mention of an election has been made on the executive of the NUM, which is dominated by his supporters.

Sources close to the leadership said that no one dared mention the election for fear of being accused of undermining the battle to save the pits. Mr Scargill was unavailable for comment yesterday and has not broached the subject with colleagues. However, it is now possible for any NUM member to challenge his presidency under the 1988 Employment Act, which provides for a postal ballot rather than the traditional pit- head vote.

Even Mr Scargill's detractors in the NUM find it difficult to understand his reluctance to stand, given his new popularity outside the union and a resurgence of support among NUM members.

Union insiders believe the president could invoke union policy to defend his position. The union's annual conference has consistently held that the NUM rulebook takes precedence over 'Thatcher's law'. Under the NUM constitution, officials over the age of 55 need not submit themselves for re-election. Mr Scargill celebrated his 55th birthday on 11 January.

Rail passengers could face a series of one-day stoppages after the leaders of the RMT union, with 70,000 members at British Rail, agreed to a strike ballot on 5 March in protest at redundancies. The union's decision is part of a ballots strategy agreed with mining unions.