On Tuesday July 16, UK Coal, the biggest deep mine coal company in the UK, announced the closure of the Selby coalfield. It was a shock in some respects, but in others a lot of us had expected it. We believe that UK Coal do not want the bother of mining the Selby coalfield - that is the problem. They have starved long-term investment to the coalfield since privatisation, they have raped the industry over the last ten years, and now they want to get out - and they are asking the government for the money to get out.
The closure of Selby will make 2,000 miners redundant and will lead to another 3,000 job losses in related industries. So the Selby area will suffer up to 5,000 redundancies, all this in an area that is already deprived of industry.
Ten years ago when UK Coal took over the mines in the Selby area, we were promised "jobs for life". Miners moved to the Selby coalfield from throughout the country. I work with people from all over England, Scotland and Wales. Now it doesn't look like they have got a job for life and they are very bitter about that, a lot of them and their families have come to Selby and now they have been kicked in the teeth.
The union totally opposes the closure. Deep mining produces about 17 million tonnes of coal, these closures will cut that by 5 million. We believe that this is the beginning of the end of the industry if the government doesn't step in. A few weeks ago we met with Brian Wilson, the energy secretary, who criticised the Conservatives in 1992 for closing down the mining industry. The meeting got off to a fairly good start; Wilson said that by 2012, 70% of electricity in this country will be produced by gas, and 90% of that gas will have to be imported. At that point of the meeting I thought we were going to get a good response, but when we asked about the future of coal they said they were "not prepared to interfere with the plans of a private company." We immediately replied to that if UK Coal aren't willing to mine these reserves, the government should take the pits into common ownership - both on the Selby coalfield and on all the other coalfields to guarantee the future of the industry, that way they could be run for the benefit of the people of this country and for future generations.
As far as the economics of it all is concerned, deep mining in this country is by far the most economical in Europe. When you look at the coal that is imported all of it is subsidised in one form or another by governments throughout the world. So there is an economic argument for keeping the pits open. But that does not matter much to the government who obviously have a political agenda. Last week the government announced a £2.3 billion loss to the nuclear industry and that was for one year. The government plans to cover that loss themselves, if they gave that kind of subsidy to the mining industry we would be able to give the coal away and give people £10 to take it.
The diabolical situation is that on the one hand we have a coalfield with millions of tonnes of coal, which the government is just going to throw away; and on the other, in 20 years Britain will be a net importer of energy, we believe this is an absolutely ridiculous situation.
Last week's announcement came with a £40 million package, that hasn't gone down well at all with miners. The government has been dipping into the miners' pension schemes, they have taken £4 billion since the late 1980s. So the miners can see that the government is giving a private company, UK Coal, their pension fund money in subsidy. UK Coal gave most of the money they received last year in subsidies direct to the shareholders, they gave £30 million. This is an absolutely ridiculous situation where the government is lining the pockets of a private firm that is now trying to sack thousands of workers and close profitable pits.
We are mounting a campaign at the moment for the re-nationalisation of the mining industry. We feel that that is the best way to go forward with the industrial dispute. We need to win a ballot of our members; the main problem we face is, we've had nearly 20 years of closures, and we have to convince the members that we can win this dispute. The issue that the union will ballot the members on is that of compulsory redundancy, that is the thing that none of the members want. The Conservatives, even though they put a lot of pressure on people to go, still brag to this day that there were no compulsory redundancies under the Conservatives. It looks like if we do not win this battle there will be compulsory redundancies under a Labour government which is an absolute disgrace, and it is something we will be taking to every corner of the movement to try to get support against this happening.
We are meeting sympathetic MPs today to get their help in organising a protest in London, we want to mobilise the whole membership, we will also organise a rally at the Labour Party conference. When we meet the MPs today we will ask them to raise the closures for debate in parliament.
We know there is a time limit on our campaign, because if by Christmas we have not forced some kind of change in the situation the industry will start to close. We are fighting for our jobs, and for the survival of our industry.
I have been surprised by the echo we have received; the TUC has backed a resolution calling for the re-nationalisation of the mining industry - this says something about the mood in the trade union movement which is moving to the left in the present period. There has been activity and even industrial action among sections of public sector workers; not just the railway workers on the underground, but also local government workers, and teachers, they are saying "keep public services public".
We have got to campaign on that issue, and in the campaign we will emphasise the insanity of the situation. The private firms that have bought over huge swathes of formerly nationalised industries are not prepared to invest in production, and safety, but insist on running services down to make a quick buck. The Labour government must break with big business, and put forward socialist policies. They must renationalise these industries under the control of the workers, and use the resources generated by them for the benefit of society.