UK Coal pulls plug

As predicted, UK Coal - the company that operates 90% of British coal mining- is to shut down Selby, a massive coalfield which has been mined for just 20 years. The closure represents the loss of one third of the already devastated industry and the 5,000 who will lose their job by 2004 account for some 50% of the remaining membership of the National Union of Mineworkers. Coal seams abound and there is almost as much coal underground untapped as has been mined - about 150 million tonnes. The reason? Profits, of course, as always. UK Coal will not spend the money in developing new seams despite a hefty handout from the government: this went straight into the pockets of the directors and shareholders. UK Coal is not serious as a coal operator. It intends to pull out of mining altogether, but at the same time sink the pits it operates to stop anyone else mining the reserves. If this were not the case, why is Thorne Colliery, the mothballed 'superpit' to the east of Doncaster, not being got ready to absorb the men and coal production lost at Selby? The gear at Selby is state of the art, with five fully equipped sites now to be abandoned, and all the infrastructure for a new layout at Thorne is already bought and paid for. Why did it take parliamentary action to stop the corporate vandals filling in those shafts at the beginning of the year? The truth is they are not interested in mining and the whole business is set to be abandoned lock, stock and barrel. Land speculation is what they are really interested in - something which does not involve employing all those awkward miners and paying wages. Just making lots of money. Why does the government let them get away with it ? Because they are nursing a secret nuclear agenda. Despite losses of £2.3 billion last year, BNF, the nuclear company, has awarded its managing director a massive salary increase. The energy debate in the Commons the other week foretold of massive new nuclear development, regardless of costs or public opposition. This brings to fruition the long-term plan of the Ridley committee - set up by Thatcher to find ways of permanently destroying the power of the miners - a key component of which was the shift in energy supply from coal to nuclear. This has quietly been taking place behind the scenes. Scottish Nuclear - even before the inundation at Longannet mine complex, resulting in the end of deep mining in Scotland - was responsible for in excess of 60% of energy generation north of the border. In England nuclear power now accounts for 30% - equal to that of coal. Contrast this to the 1980s, when overall nuclear generation was less than 10% and essentially coal made up the rest. The strategic power of the miners to challenge governments politically and economically had proved too much for too long, and a final solution was worked out, the end game of which we are now painfully observing. This trend, without government intervention or, better still, the direct intervention of the labour movement, is unstoppable, for reasons entirely to do with class politics. The economic and social arguments would favour coal production every time, but that was not a consideration in Thatcher's or Major's day and it is not the case now. The miners at Selby will get a maximum of £27,000 - something less than a year's wage for a face or heading workers who now face a lifetime of unemployment and further destroyed communities. Regeneration of the coalfields is an industry these days, but not one which employs miners or makes much headway in tackling the social decay and feelings of abandonment prevalent in the former coalfields. Talk of new jobs for former miners remains just that in the vast majority of cases. Social deprivation and decay, and the loss of vision and hope which once so marked the coal communities, is now evident. Yes, there were voices at Selby calling for all-out strike action, but the truth is the miners have fought themselves to utter exhaustion and those calls were drowned in a sea of resignation. Dave Douglass NUM Doncaster