Social Scientist. v 13, no. 140 (Jan 1985) p. 23.

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Economy And The UK Miners' Strike

BY the end of 1984 nearly 150,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had been on strike for nearly ten months. The strike broke out in March over the National Coal Board's (NCB) plans to reduce capacity by some 4 million tons, implying the closure of around 20 collieries, and the loss of about 20,000 jobs. Many aspects of the strike have broken new ground: the fact that over one quarter of NUM members did not join the strike; the unprecedented use of massive police presence to prevent effective picketing; the very important role of the women in the mining areas in forming "support groups" to sustain the strike.

This article, however, concentrates on the central economic question of the strike—should the NCB have the right to close the so-called ^uneconomic^ pits on purely financial grounds? The government has forced the NCB to take a very hard line on this question by appointing lan MacGregor as Chairman with the task of eliminating the NCB's financial deficit. The NUM has insisted throughout months of intermittent negotiations that pits be closed only when there are no reserves of coal which can safely be mined. It is argued here that, under the present economic conditions of mass unemployment, the position of the NUM is entirely justified from an economic point of view, thai is, leaving out of account special social considerations. The case is spelt out in some detail, not only because of its importance to this dispute but also because it has much wider validity as well.

The Basic Case against Pit Closure

The basic economic case against pit closure is simple. The effect of closure is to reduce coal output by the contribution of the pit concerned. This is a cost to society which no longer has the coal at its disposal. In the present context of mass unemployment, the numbers out of work will increase by the number of people who lose their jobs after

*This article is based on a pamphlet entitled The Economic Case against Pit Closures written by Andrew Glyn for the National Union of Mineworkers. Andrew Olyn is Fellow in Economics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and co-author, with Philip Armstrong and John Harrison, of Capitalism since World War II, published recently by Fontana.

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