Former union leader Arthur Scargill called on the West Midlands’ last remaining miners to brook no compromise over closure threats to their pit – with its future set to be decided next month.
The former NUM leader returned to the Birmingham site of his most famous victory at Saltley Gate exactly 40 years to the day, and urged the 800-strong workforce at Daw Mill, near Coventry, to remain defiant.
The future of Daw Mill hinges on a review of the UK Coal colliery set for completion by the end of next month. The pit has been dogged by productivity problems in recent years, including a three-month “face gap” when no coal was mined, costing the owners £75 million.
Andrew McIntosh, director of communications at UK Coal, said before Christmas: “We will look at every prospect, the worst case being closure or mothballing, to we just stop developing. There are a range of options. We have to get it in better shape, we can’t continue as we are.”
And UK Coal chairman Jonson Cox warned after the company brokered a two-year peace deal with unions, including a pay freeze and a new shift system: “We simply cannot continue to accept a loss-making mine.”
Veteran NUM hardliner Scargill told the Birmingham Post at the Saltley anniversary: “You will not save the mining industry by compromise. It is only by defiance that we will bring about change.”
But Dave Meuse, Union of Democratic Mineworkers branch secretary at Daw Mill, said: “Arthur had the best interests of his miners at heart but he picked a fight (in 1984-85) he was never going to win. The industry needed trimming at the end of the day – his motives were never in question, it was the way he went about it.
“Daw Mill is a good pit and I certainly hope they are going to give us a chance. We are still mining and the miners are working harder than ever. It supports a lot of jobs and families.”
Mr Scargill, whose fiery oratory helped trigger a walkout by 30,000 Birmingham engineers and ensured triumph for miners at the Battle of Saltley Gate on February 10, 1972, retraced his steps with a call for more “working-class solidarity.”
Now 74, he recalled the Saltley Battle, when a human blockade by 15,000 marchers brought the closure of the last remaining fuel depot still open in the UK, forcing the Government to cave in and award the miners a 21 per cent pay rise.
“To their eternal credit, the workers of Birmingham on that day turned out and demonstrated their support for miners.
“Forty years ago, I stood on this spot among 15,000 Birmingham workers who were fed up with seeing the miners battered on picket lines outside Saltley Coking Works. We didn’t want pound notes, we wanted them out on strike to give us physical support in a struggle which we had to win.
“Workers turned out in force and secured a victory which went down in history. On that day everything I believed in as a trade unionist and socialist crystallised.”
The former NUM leader told the Post the UK’s plentiful coal reserves could be used to stop spending billions of pounds on imports.
He said: “We may have to turn back to Britain’s coal reserves, of which we have got 1,000 years’ worth.
“We need a sensible energy policy and the re-opening of mines that were closed. It’s as easy as ABC – you are talking about 100 to 150 pits.”
He warned of “deprivation and degradation” facing the UK. “40 or 50 years ago, 80 per cent of our economy was based on manufacturing. Today, it is only 20 per cent,” he said.
“We need to re-establish our manufacturing base and re-establish real wealth.”
“We are facing the most vicious attacks on our living standards in living memory. You cannot compromise with a system which creates inequality and injustice.
“I am sick and tired of trade unionists saying ‘we can negotiate a compromise, we can do a deal.’ The rotten, corrupt system of capitalism is falling apart.”
A spokesman for UK Coal added: “Daw Mill continues to work to a recovery plan and UK Coal believes that its workers’ interests and the company’s interests are fully aligned.”