The economy in crisis: An air of relief and resignation marks last shift: Jonathan Foster finds neither unity nor hope at Markham Main

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The Independent Online
SOME could scarcely wait to go. 'We have to be counselled about our future. That shouldn't take long, then we get the money and to tell the truth there are a lot in there who are glad to be going,' two men on Markham Main's early shift said yesterday.

They are adrift of Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, unimpressed by the support from the public, private buyers and Tory rebels.

More than 200 have already indicated their wish to see the back of the pit as soon as possible by readily signing redundancy forms. But young miners like Stuart Ramsay, 21, will collect only pounds 7,000 redundancy pay. 'They told me I had a job for life. I turn round, and the pit's shut.'

He goes home to a wife, a child and a daunting struggle. Doncaster JobCentre posted 13 new vacancies yesterday; six were part- time, and the rest included leek picking (pounds 120 a week), washing up, and 12-hour security guard shifts (pounds 2.40 an hour).

Unlike in a strike, there is no unity of purpose, no common cause in unemployment. Young miners feel abandoned; the older, cynical men say the important struggles were lost in the industrial relations guerrilla war which followed the 1984-85 strike.

All week, Armthorpe has abandoned its future to fate. 'Don't know what'll happen now,' a faceworker said. 'Who knows?' said a fitter on his way to the afternoon shift.

Next summer's school leavers, hanging around aimlessly, said the atmosphere at school was bad, the tension at home palpable. 'Do you think the Government care about people like us?' Matthew Parker asked.

Traders were more demoralised than the miners. Closure takes pounds 800,000 a month in wages out of the local economy, and affects the man who supplies the colliery canteen with pies, the St John Ambulance and the football team which uses a hut owned by British Coal.

The team depends for money and players on the pit, and for tactics on Carl 'Curly' Leighton, 35, a mainstay of union and coalface. Yesterday Curly was at the head of a mass march from the pit to the centre of the village.

'I've had 20 years in the pit,' he said. 'I've been kicked from pillar to post by management, and I've had enough. I want out. Last year, I earned pounds 24,000 to pounds 25,000. Halfway through this year, I've earned pounds 6,762.' Others have been earning pounds 150 a week.

British Coal decided last May to close Markham, though it is atop a fossil fuel bonanza comparable to a North Sea oilfield. 'I thought I had a job for life,' Mr Leighton said.

Mr Scargill's strident strike calls sound like a crazy relative shouting in the attic. The men are fed up, and not inclined to risk those redundancy payments. Nevertheless, colliery workers joined the march by more than 400 in to the village. The NUM is producing protest stickers deploring the closure plan; Doncaster council and health authority are to open special clinics for mining families enduring stress and anxiety because of the threat of unemployment.

A consortium with Australian backers may bid to lease Markham Main. There have been intense talks with the union in the Wheatsheaf's best room. One entire shift at the pit has indicated they would even invest redundancy payments for a stake in their own pit.

Some miners can scarcely wait to go back.

(Photograph omitted)

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