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Proletarian issue 5 (April 2005)
An island built on coal … wasted
As predicted by many in the industry, UK Coal, the company that operates 90 percent of British coal mines, has pulled the plug on yet another colliery (in the case of Ellington, the plug was kept in and the colliery has been allowed to flood).

The closure will result in the loss of 340 direct mining jobs and five times that figure in indirect job losses. The colliery produced around 12,000 tonnes of coal a week, which supplied the nearby Alcan power station. In the short term, environmentally hazardous opencast mining and imports will make up the shortfall.

The cost of closing the colliery is estimated at £6m (UK Coal figures). The government gave £8m in subsidies to UK Coal to assist in coal production. What happened to that money? Why wasn't it used to keep the colliery open? Why wasn't the union allowed to visit the area? Or was the money just used for redundancies?

At Kellingley colliery in Yorkshire, UK Coal have alleged geological problems that have resulted in a further 180 jobs disappearing. In order to justify this unnecessary reduction in manpower, UK Coal has said it needs to "explore all the feasible and viable alternatives in mining operations that will maximize output".

Shorn of euphemism, this simply means that the management are intent on attacking the working conditions of their employees. A few mineworkers who were selected and vetted to transfer to Kellingley from the nearby Prince of Wales colliery (closed in 2002) were made to sign new contracts of employment or they wouldn't be offered jobs.

This tactic was used again when the Selby coalfield closed in 2004. This deplorable action by UK Coal, that cuts man power then requires the remaining workforce to work longer and unsociable hours to maintain production and profit levels, is inexcusable.

As recently as 10 February 2005 this tactic was again used. UK Coal announced that Welbeck colliery was to close completely, with the loss of 580 men by the end of the year because of "limited reserves".

Less than two weeks later, UK Coal announced that the colliery was to remain open because UK Coal had negotiated with the UDM (scab union) new "working arrangements", ie, terms and conditions. If there were limited reserves on 10 February then those reserves would still be limited two weeks later. All that had really changed is the that the mineworkers would be working longer hours and putting themselves out of work sooner.

On the 16 February 2005, UK Coal admitted it had force majeure on its contract to supply coal to Drax power station in Yorkshire and was unable to supply 750,000 tonnes of fuel by March 2005. This is despite the fact that the Selby coalfield that supplied Drax has only been mined for 20 years, coal seams abound and there is almost as much coal underground untapped as has been mined (about 150m tonnes).

All this is evidence that UK Coal is not a serious coal operator and actually intends to pull out of mining altogether. Land speculation is what the company is really interested in - something that doesn't involve employing mineworkers and paying wages, just making lots of money.

So why does the government, which gave millions and millions in the form of subsidies to this company, do nothing to prevent it when UK Coal announces a colliery is closing? Why do Labour controlled councils grant licences to out-crop (opencast mining) greenfield sites? Once stripped of assets, these leave a scarred landscape that is unable to heal itself for generations.

The fact is that the British state has been engaged in a deliberate policy to end British coal mining since the early 1980s. The central reason for this policy was the miners' collective strength and the militancy of the NUM. The opportunity to defeat the strongest and best organised section of the working class outweighed the consequence that Britain now has to import low-grade coal from elsewhere.

At the time of writing, the total number of collieries open today is just seven. The total manpower is now less than 3,000. How the mighty have fallen.

The British bourgeoisie is clearly not interested in protecting British coal supplies from the depredations of the petty profiteers because it meets its energy needs largely from the looting of the oil of the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. To the extent it specifically wants coal, it is happy to import from countries where coal is cheap as a result of low wages and abysmal working and safety standards. For this reason the struggles of all oppressed nations against imperialism, and specifically the fight of the Iraqi people to end the imperialist occupation, are one and the same as the fight to save our coal mines.
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