More Than 2,200 Miners Return to Work
LONDON (AP) _ More than 2,200 striking coal miners broke with their leadership today and returned to work, the National Coal Board said.
The number of workers returning ″illustrates that with every day that passes, more northeast miners are recognizing the strike is now nothing more than a completely pointless exercise which is doomed to failure,″ said David Archibald, the coal board’s director in northeast England.
The board said 2,237 miners turned up for the morning shift, and hundreds more were expected for the day’s later shifts. The largest return to work in any 24-hour period was 2,338 on Nov. 19, it said.
Today’s turnout was attributed to the collapse last week of the latest initiative to settle the dispute. The heaviest turnout appeared to be in the northern county of Yorkshire, which has been a stronghold for the strikers, the coal board said.
Talks broke down last week when the board insisted that the agenda include the negotiated closure of uneconomic pits. The strike began March 12 over the Coal Board’s plan to close 20 unprofitable mines and cut 20,000 jobs.
Miners leader Arthur Scargill said today his union ″is determined to stop this butchery, saving our jobs, pits and communities.″ However, a secretary at the office of the National Union of Mineworkers said nobody was available to comment on the Coal Board’s figures.
The latest returnees brought the coal board’s count of working miners to more than 81,000 of the union’s 187,300 members. The union earlier claimed 140,000 of its members were still on strike, including 90 percent of those who originally walked off their jobs nearly 11 months ago.
Coal board officials estimate another 30,000 men will have to return to effectively end the strike.
The coal board says miners who go back to work this week qualify for tax- free earnings and vacation pay up to the end of March, an incentive to miners who have been surviving on welfare.
Pressure on the strikers, who have already endured months of hardship because of the stoppage, intensified Sunday when the coal board closed down Scotland’s oldest mine, the 111-year-old Frances facility.
The board’s Scottish Area Director, Albert Wheeler, said 500 jobs were lost with the shutdown following a two-week fire at the mine.
He warned another 1,800 jobs could be lost if the big Seafield complex, linked to Frances, had to be closed if another fire could not be controlled.
Wheeler blamed the union for not sending strikers to fight the blaze 1,800 feet underground alongside strikebreakers. Scottish union officials accused the board of using the closure threats as a ploy to break ″the most solid area of the strike in the Scottish coalfield.″
Frances was not among the 20 unprofitable mines earmarked by the board for closure.