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HANSARD

Adjournment debate – Hatfield Colliery and the low carbon transition

Thursday 02 July 2015


Hatfield Colliery

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Kris Hopkins.)

4.58 pm

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of Hatfield colliery in my constituency. The first mine shaft was sunk 99 years ago at Hatfield, in 1916. Over the years since, tens of thousands of workers at the mine have laboured on our behalf to keep the lights on. On Monday night, production ceased, probably for the final time. Four hundred miners and staff at Hatfield discovered they were losing their jobs. The vast majority of the men who turned up for work were told on the spot to turn around and go home because they had worked their last shift. The jobs they had done for 20, 30 or 40 years had come to an end.

The average age of a miner at the pit is 50 years old. One of the men I met on Tuesday is 57. He first went down the mines at 16. He has a job to go to, but it is at £7 an hour. That is the reality of what has happened. Hundreds of men and their families have lost their jobs—jobs that pay far better than the ones they might get in their place if they are lucky. The last deep mine in south Yorkshire—one of only three remaining in our country—has closed, with all the effects on the community that will have.

Today, I want to talk about Hatfield and the specific issues arising, but I also want to draw some wider lessons for Government energy policy.

At the heart of the debate is the following question: how do we shape a just transition to a low-carbon economy? I believe that this transition is right and necessary, and I support the Government in their endeavours to make it happen, but a just transition means fairness to workers in affected industries. Hatfield’s early closure is not, in my view, just, fair or right.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Kris Hopkins.)

Edward Miliband: Let me explain how we got here. I want to place on record my thanks to Vince Cable and to the former Minister of State at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), for what they did before the election. As the mine faced a serious crisis, they agreed at least to prolong its life until summer 2016, with up to £20 million of closure aid. Unfortunately, even after the aid was granted, things deteriorated quickly for Hatfield. In April, the Government doubled the carbon price floor, a tax on high carbon fuels. The levying of the tax at point of sale rather than when the coal is burned means that the energy companies have an incentive to stockpile coal, and they did so in advance of April to avoid the higher levy. Companies had huge stockpiles of coal and orders at Hatfield dried up.

That was the grim situation the Minister discussed with me two weeks ago. My argument to her was not that the Government should not have increased the carbon levy, but that they should take responsibility for its effect on Hatfield. We needed to piece together orders that might have made it possible for the mine to remain open. Thanks to the effort of the management, one energy company did offer to buy half the coal and part of the rest could also have been sold. In the end, however, there was a fundamental stumbling block to the mine remaining open.

In contrast with what was said before the election, the Minister said that not a penny more of Government aid could be provided. My argument to the Minister was, and remains, that early closure will end up costing more, not less, when we take into account the revenues that would come back to the Government if the miners were employed for another year. Calculations made by the company suggest that the extra investment required to keep the mine open as planned to summer 2016 would have been more than offset by tax and VAT revenues coming back to the Government. That calculation does not even take account of the money the Government will now pay out in benefits to miners who do not find work; nor does it factor in the impact of early closure on the 100 companies in the local supply chain or on the local economy, never mind the social effect of what has happened. The miners feel they have had the rug pulled from under them. I do not believe the decision makes economic or industrial sense, and nor is it morally right. I believe the Minister should think again.

I also want to use the debate to raise specific issues on which I hope the Minister can be of help. As I do so, I hope she will consider the context. Historically, we have asked the miners throughout our country to put themselves at some risk, in dangerous conditions, to help the rest of us to power our country. We therefore owe them a special duty of care. The miners at Hatfield were led to believe that they would have another 12 months of work and could therefore plan their futures. However, that situation changed in large part due to a Government decision. Inevitably, this chain of events leads to a deep sense of grievance against the Government. That grievance is compounded by the fact that the Treasury has benefited to the tune of £300 million from the high carbon tax. Our ask, therefore, is that the Government accept their share of responsibility and use a small part of the Treasury’s windfall gain to help the miners and their families. One option is to extend the life of the mine, but there are other things the Minister could do and I want to raise them with her.

First, I want to raise the issue of redundancy. Hatfield miners will be getting the minimum statutory redundancy of as little as £475 for every year worked, rather than the £900 for every year worked that was the norm in the industry. Since the mine closed briefly in the early 2000s and only reopened in 2006, the maximum service any miner can claim for is nine years. We are talking about very small sums of money that the men will receive. It means they have a very small margin to support them as they seek other employment. The Minister will want to reflect on that. I ask her to do so.

In those circumstances, and as a gesture of goodwill to the miners at Hatfield—as well as at the last two remaining deep mines, Kellingley and Thorsby, which are due to close in the coming months—I hope the Minister will seriously consider the possibility of enhanced redundancy.

I also believe that the miners at Hatfield deserve the best support to find fulfilling and well-paid work, as well as retraining. Will the Minister undertake that the work of the Employment Service will continue—not just for a short period, but at least for the eight weeks that the mine will remain open and beyond? I hope she will work with the Coal Authority, which will take over running of the site, as it might be able to take on some of the former workers. I ask the hon. Lady, as a BIS Minister, to use her good offices to work with the owners of the site, ING, to think about what a creative and possible future for the site would look like.

Those are some specific asks about Hatfield that I put to the Minister, but I want to make a broader argument about Hatfield and the low-carbon transition and what we should learn from this episode. Coal is definitely a polluting fuel, and it is right that environmental standards are applied to it as part of the battle against climate change. That means that there is no viable future for unabated coal, but there is a future for clean coal technology through carbon capture and storage as part of our potential armoury in the transition to a low-carbon economy. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) says, there are tens of thousands of jobs along with it.

However, the Government’s energy policy does not add up. There is a plan for a CCS plant at Drax by 2020. It will be burning coal, and it could be coal from Hatfield colliery, which is less than 20 miles from Drax. Yet it will not be: it will be coal imported from thousands of miles away, from Colombia or Russia, with all the associated environmental costs.

Projections from the Department for Energy and Climate Change say that by 2029 we are set to burn 26 million tonnes of coal or natural gas through CCS, but none of that will be from deep mines in the UK. I think people will look back on this and wonder how we got to this position. I would like the Minister to reflect in her reply on whether she believes that is a rational or sensible state of affairs and on what it says about the Government’s energy policy. I would like her to reflect, too, on how we got here.

The first CCS plant was due to be up and running by 2014. The last Labour Government committed to two to four CCS projects, and agreed a small levy to fund them. At the time, when I was the Secretary of State, I remember the Conservative Opposition criticised me—Oppositions tend to do this—for not being nearly bold enough. They said there should be four projects—never mind two to four—and asked why I was not getting on with it. What then happened is that the coalition Government came to power, dithered for two years and decided to scrap the previous Government’s plan and start all over again. As a result, as the Climate Change Committee noted in its report earlier this week, CCS will be up and running not by 2014 as projected, but by 2020.

That delay has been fatal for Hatfield and the other deep mines in our country. I say that not to score points, but because I hope the Minister will learn lessons for the future. My constituency has an interest in a gas-fired CCS project at Hatfield—the Don Valley project, which has secured European resources. Yesterday I met the director of Sargas Power, which owns the site and is now overseeing the project, and he emphasised above all the need for timely decision making by Ministers, so we cannot afford more dither and delay.

This takes me to a wider point that I hope the Minister will consider. In the two discussions we had—I hope the Minister will allow me to say this—the most heated moments were about whether the Government’s decision was motivated by ideology.

[Interruption.]

I see that she agrees from a sedentary position.

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): Only about having the conversation.

Edward Miliband: Only about the conversation. The ideology I referred to was one of a narrow view of faith in the market. The Minister said that that was not the case and not her motivation. In fact, she vehemently and perhaps characteristically denied it. In some sense, the issue goes well beyond what she believes and into a deeper issue about the ethos of government, particularly the ethos at the Treasury, which has controlled so much of what the Government do—not just under this Government, but under previous Governments.

If we look at the history, we find that until 2007 there was no Government Department that even had “energy” in the title—and there had not been since 1992. Why was that? It is because the prevailing assumption had been that energy could be treated more or less like most other markets. Of course, that is all changed by climate change, because without serious intervention by the Government we will not make the low-carbon transition. Part of the incoherence of energy policy at the moment is that we are stuck in a halfway house where at times the Government pretend that this is a market-oriented system, when the truth is that in large part it is not any more.

Let me give the House an example. The Government have negotiated a 35-year fixed price for new nuclear power stations. The last time I looked, price fixing was not an intrinsic part of a free market ideology. I do not blame the Government, because the risks associated with new nuclear and the difficulty of low-carbon transition demand a different response. However, I find it frustrating when new nuclear is given a multi-billion-pound bill payer subsidy, but a few million more for a coal mine is seen as an option that either cannot be afforded or should not be entertained—particularly in the context of the extra revenue from the carbon levy, and the billions that the Government have received in surpluses from the miners’ pension fund.

My appeal to the Minister is this. The reality that the Government need to embrace is that we are moving towards a much more managed market. They need to drive that logic through everything they do, not just some of what they do. That takes me to the issue of how we can prosper economically, and how we can create jobs that are worthy of the skills of the men who went underground at Hatfield and other mines in the country. How can we use those precious skills?

There is another tension that the Government need to resolve. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who drives so much of what the Government do, famously said, referring to climate change,

I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world.”

He has presented environmental progress and a strong economy as being in conflict, but in my opinion he is dead wrong. It is that view that has led to uncertainty, dither and ambiguity in the Government’s approach to the environment. We have seen that in the delays on CCS, and in the recent decision on onshore wind.

Quite simply, the more mixed messages the Government send, the fewer jobs—jobs that could be taken by the men at Hatfield and elsewhere—and successful businesses will be located here. I hope that the Minister, in her new job at BIS—and as someone who cares about good-quality jobs—will see it as her role to champion the environmental cause. I hope that she will think of that cause not as the enemy of a successful economy that some consider it to be, but as its friend, because that, I believe, is the reality.

Let me finally return to Hatfield. I want to record my thanks to the National Union of Mineworkers, to all the management who sought to keep the mine open, and to my former parliamentary colleague John Grogan, who chaired the employee benefit trust and made a herculean effort to save the mine. Without all their efforts, it would undoubtedly have gone under earlier. I also pay tribute not just to the current work force, but to all who have worked at Hatfield during its 99-year history—the tens of thousands of miners who have gone underground and worked in the most difficult conditions to power our country, and who have risked their lives over the years—and to their families. I thank them for their sacrifice, their service, and their hard labour on behalf of our country. They created strong and vibrant communities that were built on the mining industry. Theirs is a legacy of hard work, solidarity and comradeship, for which they deserve respect and admiration.

5.13 pm

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) on securing the debate. I also pay tribute to all the men who have served at Hatfield and who now face the end of that work, and to their families. I say “served” because there is a service in the working of coal, especially when it takes place underground in a deep pit.

I absolutely understand about the age of those men, and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, I understand—perhaps better than many Members, including those on the Opposition Benches—the effects of coalmining, and of the closure of a mine, on a community. I was brought up in Worksop, next door to Manton colliery, and I went to the comprehensive school that served the Manton estate. Because of my background, I fully understand the huge sacrifices made by men when they work underground. I will be frank: they are indeed lions, often led by donkeys in my experience.

I have never understood, however, why there has been such an over-sentimental attachment to working underground in, often, the most appalling conditions. As a girl, I was never allowed underground, but at Manton we built a coalface on the top: we could all visit, and see the photographs and understand the experience of men who were stripped to the waist and often worked squatting for long shifts in the most appalling conditions, as these men will have undoubtedly done at some stage in their lives. It is indeed darned hard work and it is a service.

I want to make it absolutely clear, however, that the right hon. Gentleman is effectively saying that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money should now go, and continue to go, to keep open this mine until next August even though, unfortunately, it has failed to secure a single contract, despite all the hard work and efforts of its board and the will and determination of all those involved in the pit.

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) talked about the economic benefits of keeping the mine open at the moment. The Minister’s earlier rhetoric was really positive, but what comes out of this same old Tory Government are ideological attacks on the miners. When will the Government give them a break and give them what they deserve?

Anna Soubry: I am afraid I am going to treat that contribution with the contempt it deserves and will continue with my speech.

We have made a commitment, and this is what we have done. In May 2015 the Government announced we had agreed to provide Hatfield with a longer-term repayable grant of up to £20 million to enable the colliery to continue operating until its planned and agreed closure in August of next year. This funding is state aid which has been approved by the European Commission. Further funding would require further state aid approval.

Last week the directors of Hatfield Colliery Partnership Ltd told my officials they had been unable to secure sufficient customers for their coal, thus calling into question the viability of the original closure plan. Since being advised of this position, the Government have done all we can to assist the directors of Hatfield, including reiterating our earlier commitment to provide up to £20 million to help the company achieve an orderly and safe closure, and accepting that this funding is, in the light of developments, now unlikely to be repaid. Despite this, the directors concluded it was not economically viable to continue mining and so took the decision to stop coal production on 30 June. It was their decision.

To understand the cessation of mining at Hatfield, it is important—[Interruption.] No, we did not pull the plug on it; absolutely not. We said we would give £20 million. We will continue to give up to £20 million. The decision was taken by the directors because they failed to secure the contract. This is the history, which I hope the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) will listen to.

Hatfield’s difficulties go back some time. I believe it closed in 2001 and 2004. Most recently it entered administration in 2010—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) continues to mutter in the way she is doing, I will take great exception, especially if she makes sexist comments.

Angela Rayner rose—

Anna Soubry: And no, I will not give way. I have already heard what the hon. Lady has to say.

Hatfield was restructured at the end of 2013,and in September 2014 had to secure a £4 million loan from the NUM to allow mining to continue. Owing to the continued deterioration in world coal prices, together with production issues, the NUM funding was fully utilised by November, so all that money had already been spent.

Unable to secure further funding elsewhere, Hatfield approached the Government in November of last year to request funding. In January of this year, the Government provided Hatfield with a short-term commercial bridging loan of £8 million. The intention was to provide time for the Government to consider options for longer-term financial support, which would allow mining to continue at Hatfield until 2016.

In undertaking the due diligence, and owing to changing conditions in the coal markets, it became clear that Hatfield would require funding in excess of the initial £8 million bridging loan and that longer-term support could not be delivered commercially. The Government worked extensively with the company directors and the European Commission to facilitate further support, and approval for state aid was quickly agreed with the Commission. I know that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North has paid tribute privately to, and I know he will join me in thanking publicly, all the officials in my Department for the really hard work that they put in to secure that arrangement.

It has been suggested that the Government could have provided Hatfield with additional support in the light of possible offers to buy Hatfield coal which might have kept the mine open until August 2016. The directors’ managed closure plan had assumed that replacement contracts, from June this year onwards, would be secured for all Hatfield’s coal output at pricing similar to what had been achieved before. I am aware that there was a possible offer—I have seen the email—from one company for about 50% of Hatfield’s coal output, in addition to other possible commitments and bridging loans. Those offers were at a significantly lower price than the previous contracts that were being replaced. That level of interest was deemed insufficient by the directors—it was they who made the decision—to support the planned closure through to August 2016, and, as we know, no contract was even drafted, even less signed.

Edward Miliband: I attempted in my remarks to make the tone of this debate as constructive as possible. It is correct that the mine would have needed more money to keep going, but does the Minister or her officials dispute the central proposition that more money would have come back in tax and VAT revenue? That is the central economic question that faces the House.

Anna Soubry: I do take issue with the right hon. Gentleman, and absolutely undertake to provide him with all the figures. My argument—it is not just my argument; it is the argument of the officials—is that there is effectively no market for that coal. It would be wrong to mine that coal and stockpile it for—what?—six years on the off-chance that perhaps somebody might come along and buy it. If there had been any way in which any company might have thought it could buy that coal, those contracts would have been secured, but, despite best efforts, they were not. It would be wrong—it would be a complete failure of the Government’s duty to the taxpayer—simply to hand over over and above the £20 million that was originally a loan, but which we now accept will never be repaid.

Edward Miliband: Forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker, for intervening on the Minister again. With respect, she acknowledges that contracts were possible for 50% of the coal from one company. I have the email and could read it out, but I will not trade emails with her in the House. Another significant part of the coal could have been sold. It is acknowledged that more money would have been required, but, on the basis of the contracts that she has acknowledged could have been put in place, my contention is that more money would have come back to the Government. That is why it does not make economic sense.

Anna Soubry: That is where we completely fall out, unfortunately, because there was not even a draft contract. The email I saw was not even the beginnings; it was couched in terms of “perhaps”, “maybe”—

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): No.

Anna Soubry: The hon. Gentleman says “No” from a sedentary position. He has not seen the email—

Jon Trickett: I have seen it.

Anna Soubry: Well, we will talk about it later. If the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene, he should stand up and do it in the right place.

In the emails I have seen, there is no contract. There is, unfortunately, no possible contract.

Edward Miliband rose—

Anna Soubry: No, I will not give way, because I want to finish this point.

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Give way!

Anna Soubry: No, hang on, hang on. I have given way. [Interruption.] Hang on. This is a debate. I need to finish my sentence, and I am running out of time.

There was no possibility of a contract. The right hon. Member for Doncaster will accept that the directors and others—all involved in the future of the pit—were doing everything they could to secure a contract, but the one thing that nobody has been able to do is to secure a contract. There is no debate about that.

Edward Miliband rose—

Anna Soubry: I will give way again, but I will run out of time.

Edward Miliband: I hope the hon. Lady does not run out of time.

I shall read an email from the head of generation liaison at the company concerned—I will not name the company but the Minister knows it. Let me just read this paragraph, because it is important:

with the objective of working with you to support a managed closure of the mine with dignity, we have reviewed our procurement strategy and have determined upon a higher risk/higher stock approach that we could manage within to facilitate contract volume with you. Indicatively, subject to internal approvals, we could therefore commit to procuring”.

Then it lists the procurement of, essentially, half the coal. If that is not an offer, I do not know what is.

Anna Soubry: That is the same email that I have seen, and the whole point about it is the “coulds” and the “maybes”. Why did they not draft the contract? They had more than two weeks to do so, so why was it never done? If there was any chance of a contract being put in place, the process of deciding terms and conditions would have begun, but it never did. Why? Because the reality is that the companies knew that they could not afford to pay the prices to get the coal and to keep the colliery open.

Let us dig further into that email and make it clear that the offers involved a significantly lower price than those in the previous contracts that were being replaced. The level of interest was deemed insufficient by the directors, and that is the point. The right hon. Gentleman seeks to have a debate with me, and of course he is entitled so to do, but he should be having that debate with the directors. They were in possession of this information, and they were in contact with this particular company. They are the people who should have been getting the contract, but they did not do so. That is because they knew that they could not achieve what they wanted.

Edward Miliband: The contracts were not put in place because the Minister was saying, “Not a penny more.” That is the whole point. It was a chicken-and-egg situation. An offer was made by the company concerned but it required the Minister to agree to further aid. My contention is that that would have been economically rational.

Anna Soubry: If the right hon. Gentleman is right, why did the board of directors never say that to me? They certainly did not say it. They knew that if there was any chance of a contract, they would have pursued it. They did not do so. Why did the right hon. Gentleman not have this debate with the directors? Why did he not say to them, “Come on, guys, you’ve got an offer here. Get it written down in black and white. Get the contract signed.” That never happened because the board of directors had taken the honourable and the right decision. I am sure they took that decision with bucket-loads of regret, but the mine cannot continue because it is no longer financially viable, notwithstanding the fact that up to £20 million of taxpayers’ money will undoubtedly help to ease it, as it has done in the past. That money has been spent far more quickly than was ever anticipated. It was due to last all the way through to next August, but unfortunately, at this rate, there could be only a few weeks left, if that. And of course that includes the £4.5 million to ensure that the mine is put good.

I reiterate that Hatfield has been unable to secure contracts to sell sufficient volumes of coal at the price necessary to support its closure plan. That is why the directors decided that it was not economically viable to continue mining. It is not a question of the Government putting in additional short-term funding. We have reiterated our continued commitment to make up to £20 million available—that was originally announced in May—to assist the company in achieving a managed closure. The reality is that there is a lack of economically viable contracts to sell the coal that is mined. I am running out of time, but I promise to answer in writing all the other questions that the right hon. Gentleman has rightly raised about the carbon price floor and other matters. He also asked about carbon capture and storage, which I will try to deal with in a moment.

I noticed on yesterday’s news that the first step had been taken towards opening a £1.7 billion potash mine in North Yorkshire, with the local authority giving its approval for the mine. That will provide 1,000 permanent jobs in the area. Those of us who have lived in or represented a coalmining area will know that there is a history of coalminers travelling to find work. I remember that one of the first National Union of Mineworkers officials I met was Jimmy Hood. He was at Ollerton at the time. He had travelled down from Scotland to work there, and many miners across the country came to Nottinghamshire or travelled to Wales to find work. I very much hope that some of the new jobs in North Yorkshire will go to the men of Hatfield.

I want to deal briefly with the question of carbon capture and storage. It has been claimed that the closure of Hatfield is short-sighted because it could have been used to supply the proposed new power station at Drax, which will be fitted with carbon capture and storage capabilities. The long-term future of coal is inextricably linked to CCS, and the Government have committed significant resources to facilitate its commercialisation, including committing £1 billion to our CCS competition, plus operational support under contracts for difference. However, on current plans, the coal-fired CCS project at Drax, one of the two CCS projects being supported through the Government’s competition, is unlikely to be generating until 2021, so that would not have been of assistance to Hatfield. I reiterate—

5.30 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).



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Jim Shipley- Obituary

It was with deepest sorrow I learned of the death of Jim Shipley. Many people came to know Jim after he left Dunscroft and his involvement with the coal industry, and he has had a rich full life since, always with back breaking hard toil he never was to escape the shovel.

The Jim Shipley I knew was a Union man, a Socialist, and a pitman, he was my mate, my comrade, my marra ! We shared many adventures sailing close to the wind on the political edge – and doon the pit. I remember the first time I met Jim and his wife at the time Lynne, both in their leathers, the bike shining in a line of bikes outside the Abbey. I was selling the radical miners paper The Mineworker round the tables, they both came back to one our frequent impromptu parties which so annoyed the neighbours and we talked and drank into the wee small hours, pitwork, politics, blues heavy metal, bikes. We were soon marra’s working the endgate rip’s, pounding away with the jigger or making the boom ripper battle its way into the thick stone through the fog of stone dust.

Those conditions we endured in those days would make folk gasp today, mine officials gave us a wide berth they thought us a pair of trouble making red ragging bastards, although actually we were good at what we did, we took pride in the ‘completion’ if left to get on with it. But we had a small non-negotiable moderate programme; 20 minutes dust free snap time, and no supervision, its amassing the number of rag-ups and disputes those wee principles engendered. We stopped the chain at snap time, we sat down when a gaffer was in our working area. I remember one occasion when during a massive fall of ground, the arches stood silently in mid space with nothing over them and a heaving roof just ready to fall. Me and Jim block by block bag by bag building a solid chock and pack from the arch of the tunnel to the groaning roof above while showers of small stones deluged us, and great rocks loosed avalanches of stone to our right and left. This was a race against luck and time to secure the top before we were buried beneath it. The face chain had been vibrating the strata, and shaking the top so we locked it out. Bathed in sweat and knees knocking like castanets we passed the blocks up from the floor, chock by chock to form a wooden canopy. Then like a voice of doom, Mr Deeming the colliery manager comes over the tannoy from the surface, telling us to let the chain go and let our job stand. We ignored it at first, bathed through with sweat, watching the top for the least movement , but the voice persisted and Jim suddenly filled with rage, slid, stumbled, fell, jumped down from above the arch and bellowed on the annoy. ‘Hoy’ Deeming, there’s a bloody hole here like the grand canyon, there is nothing holding up this end but sheer will power and good luck up to now, if we leave this now, and you start cutting this end will be in, this gate will collapse, and you will lose weeks of production not that I give a monkeys f--k about that, but I came to work with a spine connected to my neck , and that’s the way I’m going home mister unless you fancy knocking on wor back door and telling our lass I was buried because of your daft instructions. Now if you want this job to go, get some of them colliers off their arses on the face and pass me and Dave up some timber to save this end, all right ?!” Silence. We carried on.


Christians talk about ‘a revelation’ the day they found god, ‘the hour I first believed’ well Jim had a revelation, but he didn’t find God, he discovered that the wealth of the world was produced by the working class but they didn’t own it or control it, and that the struggle of the workers of the world to wrest it back of them and create a new world of co-operation and justice was something which struck a chord with him for the rest of his life. Jim had the ability to put himself in the shoes of the other man, and know how we would feel in someone else’s position. He had Don Dalloney an American black panther sitting at his dinner table. Don with his big freak out hair, his ankle length black leather coat, with his incredibly beautiful tall and elegant Eritrean girlfriend, sharing his story of oppression and brutality and discrimination and the struggle for one person one vote. Later round the same table with Frank Murphy, fresh from the Civil Rights movement in Ulster, his head lumped from truncheons, his eyes and throat red from tear gas, incredibly also fighting for ‘one Person one vote’ . And Dahan, the Palestinian student from Occupied Palestine. It didn’t take too long for Jim’s sense of political direction to figure out where all this fitted in to the struggle of a Dunscroft pitman at Hatfield Main Colliery.

Actually Don, the Black Panther Party comrade had spoken to a packed miners Welfare at Stainforth, and the young’uns might not have understood all the politics but by god they thought he was just so cool, this black man had pride, and style and he was never gonna take any shit from anyone. Legay, Jim’s Dad veteran Labour, Tenants campaigner and NUPE official got up, in his cap and belt and braces and advised “Well tha knaa’s Lad, it took us a thousand years to build trade union movement I’nt Labour Party” and Don booms, “Man I aint gonna wait no thousand years, were taking it NOW!” . Cheered to the rafters.

Jim’s triumph was at the Labour Party Young Socialist conference speaking on an uncompromising resolution in support of the Irish liberation struggle, we had been dropped on from great heights to withdraw the resolution, much arm twisting and pressure. Finally we agreed, and Jim got up to speak to withdraw it, but the platform wasn’t expecting what they got, for twenty minutes Jim blasted them all from the platform, ‘were withdrawing this resolution because it’s not worded correctly, but we don’t withdraw one ounce of support for the struggle for an independent 32 county socialist Irish republic, or from the struggle of the Irish people to govern their own sovereign country without British presence.” Jim’s credentials as a Yorkshire coal miner, working class to the bone, couldn’t be faulted and he was undoubtedly the hero of the hour, for us at least.

We were building a radical miners movement called ‘The Mineworkers Internationale’ and Jim, although he had never been out of Yorkshire came with me to Belgium to speak (through translators) to the Belgium miners and to mass meetings of foundry workers and steel workers too. I had a translator, but when I got lost from Jim in a crowded bar I wondered how he’d gaan on. As it turned out fine, there he was in the thick of a crowd of Belg miners (who speak Dutch) managing to communicate because of his hard Yorkshire dialect which shares many words with the aud Dutch, in bliddy Anglo-Saxon! One of the miner’s leaders asked if Jim didn’t drink, aye I replied but just Guinness, and they don’t sell it. A short time later there is a cheer, and there being held aloft is a bottle of Guinness, which they open and hand to Jim, who takes it beaming and starts to swig. I notice his face start to change colour and his eyes start to narrow. The bottle was one of a crate from world war two, when the British army was liberating Belgium and the locals gave any British soldiers a celebratory drink. This last survivor was well over 20 years old and had turned to suger and god knows what else in the bottle ! ‘Brilliant’ he said heroically.

Jim who like most us in those days hated authority, left the pit to be his own boss, and started a Home Coal delivery service. Sadly this opened him up for some scandalous accusations during the great strike. Jim remained a solid socialist of course and would never cross a picket line if his life dependend on it. But he had a big coal yard and a mini-veyor such that large loads of coal were dropped in his yard for all the small lorries to reload. Now what should be clear is that all this coal was sanctioned by the NUM for social services issued dockets, old folk, schools, and people with new born babies. The big lorry which delivered to Jim’s yard was sanctioned by Manvers home coal depot, Jim had no say over who dropped that coal off. It seemed then that the lorry delivering to Jim’s yard was a scab firm. But as said, he neither new that nor approved it, it was Manvers depo operating the NUM docket system which had let it through. Jim was able to explain all of this to Barnsley strike co-ordinating committee, who gave him a clear bill of health. Jim then stopped any coal other than his own coming to the yard, and set off every day to Manvers to collect his own. He was then spotted on the M1 and two and two makes five people said he’d collected it from Nott’s. He was once again able to show where he had collected it, when he collected it, and all the approved dockets and NUM clearences. But fling enough mud…Jim’s soul went out of the community after that, and he closed down the business and left to better things, making fancy paths, still in concrete still with the old shovel and wheel barrow.

He formed many friendships, many relationships has fine sons, and grandchildren and an army of hard working men who love him for his personality and graft and principles.

His funeral was mobbed with many people deeply touched, he went out to the blast of Motorhead’s Ace of Spades.

It was a pleasure to have known you comrade, and friend, you are already a great miss.

David Douglass


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Milliband, joins Tory-Lib Dem anti-coal coalition

 

 Labour's anti coal agenda just got a boost right at the time when we need it to relax its anti fossil fuel obsession to save our last three mines. While Labour MP's attend rallies against the closures, the Labour leader has signed a joint declaration with the coalition to close down all remaining coal power stations which don't have carbon capture and storage ( none of them do at the moment and only one is being developed at Drax).  The consequences for coal communities, mining and the population at large couldn't be worse. Over a third and more of all power in Britain comes from coal power, it is easily the cheapest form of energy and is the only factor holding down the price of your electricity and gas bills.
 
  the relevant part of actual statement to By Susanna Twidale to Reuters is below:-
 
"LONDON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The leaders of Britain's three main parties have pledged to end power generation from coal plants that don't use emissions-capturing technology, and to push for a global climate deal, according to a document published on Saturday.

  .. campaigners welcomed the cross-party announcement and said Britain was the first major economy to make such an explicit promise.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the leader of the opposition Ed Milliband said that acting on climate change "is an opportunity for the UK to grow a stronger economy, which is more efficient and more resilient to the risks ahead."

The pledge comes ahead of a national election in Britain in May and a day after almost 200 nations agreed a draft text for a global climate deal expected in Paris at the end of the year.

The British politicians will push for an internationally binding agreement in Paris which limits temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius, they said."

It was Labour who signed up to the most anti-coal policy in the world making an EU commitment to stop all fossil fuel emissions with the next decades in the first place.
 The pledge comes with a promise to invest £1billion in two CCS 'research' projects, that, without any word on our remaining collieries,& knowing that the Don Valley plant which was set to be built at Hatfield was costed at £2billion, is no use whatever in saving the British coal industry. The move comes as a complete kick in the teeth to all the NUM officials and sympathetic MP's who have campaigned so hard to get Labour to adopt a policy on energy which would save our mines.
 
We will note that green campaigners have had the ear of the political leaders while the NUM, the TUC and MP's campaigning for coal have been utterly ignored. Green Peace are now dictating energy policy in Britain, with disasterous results. Prices are bound to rise as use of coal declines, for the simple reason it is the cheapest, as only the more expensive nuclear and even more expensive yet, wind are the main input into the grid. Gas is of course cheaper but is totally reliant on imports.
 
The policy we need is to ring fence the produce of the remaining British mines to the remaining coal power stations so its our coal that gets used first. Any CCS coal power station, paid for by British tax payers, ought to first guarantee the use of British coal, in order to secure security of ongoing supply and long term future of the industry.
 
What makes the whole situation worse, is the fact that Milliband's own constituency is home of one of the last mines, and it was to him that the Hatfield miners have looked to, to save the pit in his own back yard. Imagine any of the Tory MP's in the Golden Mile of the City of London, allowing the last British three banks to close without they turn hell and heaven to ensure they don't. We need the same loyalty and commitment to our traditional industries and supporters as they give to theirs.
 
As Dennis Skinner said on the rally to save the last three pits at Kellingley, the government took £70 million from the Miners Pension Scheme last year, give that back to the remaining British mines and they would be saved without question. The coal production from the three mines must have a secure market in future CCS facilities and not hived off to allow imports to get the advance of our tax investments before we ourselves have that privilege.
 
If Hatfield is allowed to close voters should never ever forgive labour for it, as the ball is well and truly in its court.
D Douglass
 

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Two faced double dyed ?

You will remember how this government walked away from the best carbon reduction scheme in the world, the new CCS clean coal generator to be built at Hatfield and thus ensure the long term survival of the pit, and 1000 new jobs on the site in the power station and energy park ? This same government which refuses to invest in our last three deep mines and save the industry ? Well it turns out they've been doing it all the time. The bad news is they've been it ABROAD with our money while closing British mines, investing in foreign mines and bringing the fuel in here to burn in our power stations paid for by us. The new White Rose clean coal power station at DRAX paid for with our taxes will not however ring fence British coal as the fuel it will burn, but will use the fuel from abroad which it now seems IS ALSO SUBSIDISED BY US while we get slung on the dole or are destined to languish on the dole with our kids and grandkids. No friends of ours Greenpeace discovered this truth its on their Energy Desk on line

SUEK
The UK government has pledged hundreds of millions pounds of financial support to fossil fuel industries abroad over the last four years, according to an analysis by Energydesk.
The total support for fossil fuel industries amounts to £1.76bn-worth of Export Credit Guarantees between 2010-2014, underwritten by taxpayer’s money.
This is despite PM David Cameron recently publicly decrying fossil fuel subsidies, and the financial backing breaks a promise set out in the coalition government’s manifesto.
David Cameron denounced “economically and environmentally perverse fossil fuel subsidies which distort free markets and rip off taxpayers”  at the Ban Ki Moon climate summit in September.
The coalition manifesto stated the new government would use Export Credit Guarantees for “innovative and green technologies, instead of supporting investment in dirty fossil-fuel energy production”.
UK Export Finance agency (UKEF) is authorised by the government to decide what to financially back and their main instrument is the Export Credit Guarantee. These are designed to minimise the risk of making deals abroad for UK exporters.
In practice this means UKEF can work with banks to partially underwrite bonds that are a sort of insurance policy on the contract – and expected by the overseas buyer to be provided by the exporter. This supports the deal by releasing the working capital paid by the overseas buyer to the exporter, which can be used instead of placing it with the bank.
UKEF also provides insurance for UK exporters to protect against  non-payment or other issues that commercial insurance won’t provide, as well as sometimes lending money to the buyer of the UK export so that they can pay them directly.
In the four years since the coalition government came into power in 2010, UKEF has announced significant support for a range of  overseas fossil fuel projects – from backing for coal mining in Russia to oil and gas exploration in Brazil.
 


 
Last financial year was a particularly big one in terms of financial backing for fossil fuel projects, with over £380 million going to Brazilian state-controlled energy giant Petrobras (which is embroiled in an ongoing corruption scandal). This was as part of a US$1 billion – around £660 million at current rates – line of credit signed with the firm in 2012. The deal involves UK drilling services for oil and gas exploration in Brazil, and presumably offshore exploration, too, since one of the UK firms specialises in subsea engineering.
There was also what UKEF called its “largest limited recourse project financing” that it has ever supported – around £475 million so going to support the build of petrochemical complex in Saudi Arabia by a UK construction firm.
Since 2010 there has been six instances of financial support pledged to Russia by UKEF, totalling around £430 million. This includes hefty support for Russian coal projects, financial backing for state-owned gas giant Gazprom to receive engineering equipment from Rolls-Royce Power Engineering, and expertise and software to other fossil fuels projects.
Around £67 million of the UKEF backing for Russian fossil fuel developments has even gone to US-based Joy Mining, which has a manufacturing arm in the UK. The money has supported the export of mining equipment to Siberian Coal & Energy Co (known as SUEK) and Southern Kuzbass Coal Co OAO.
SUEK is the largest coal producing company in Russia and is one of the companies that the UK imports its coal from – roughly 30% of Russian coal imports to the UK. A Greenpeace investigation found the UK spends nearly a billion pounds each year importing coal from Russia.
SUEK’s chairman Andrew Melnichenko has connections to the the UK government, the investigation found. His long-standing advisor George Cardona, is a former special advisor to Geoffrey Howe.
The Energydesk analysis comes after reports Germany’s government will give financial support for the export of coal-fired power-plants by the country’s manufacturers. Late last year French President Francois Hollande announced that France will stop public export credits for coal projects in developing countries.
A recent report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) revealed that the UK is still giving close to £1.2 billion annually to support exploration for oil, coal and gas – of which some is made of up of national subsidies (including tax breaks for North Sea oil exploration), and some $663 million (£425m) per year in public finance for overseas exploration including in Siberia in Russia, Brazil, India, and Indonesia.

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Hatfield Fights for its last life

It is with impending dread that we report on the imposing crisis at Hatfield Colliery. The price of coal is in free fall, generators chase the lowest price on the spot market and refuse to sign long term contracts to fix a price for British coal. The government and opposition are committed to ending coal generation, have tied an albatross round the necks of coal generators with a fossil fuel tax and carbon tax to raise the price of using coal while subsidising nuclear and wind. After spiking the futuristic Don Valley clean coal power station at Hatfield Colliery “the greatest carbon reduction scheme in the world” according to the EU, they now use tax payer’s money to fund a less efficient White Rose project at Drax but refuse to use British coal in it. So our taxes to close down British mines while protecting the market for imported coals. Under such pressure a cash flow problem at Hatfield threatens to tip the last English mine over the edge into the abyss. The government have offered a cash injection but only to allow the current face to continue until next year. The new face awaiting development to take its place now is abandoned, meaning that Hatfield as of now is bleeding to death. We need the new face development. We need long term support for Hatfield and Kellingley and Thorsby, in line with what they are offering for the North Sea oil industry. It should be noted that while they have gushed with sympathy and support for North Sea Oil, which is affected by falling world oil prices, they offer only loans for closure for British coal affected by falling world coal prices.

Into this we are waiting to see Mr Miliband, the Leader of HM Opposition and whose constituency this is, stand up and make a pledge that if elected Labour will ensure the survival of the deep mine British industry and support its development and expansion. Tory MPs in London ensured this happened with the banks, is it too much to ask Labour MPs and especially the leader of the Labour Party to step in and save the last of two mines in Yorkshire which happens also to be in his own backyard?

Readers should demand that Ed comes out of the hidey hole and fights for Hatfield and the coal industry. Visit his surgery. Write to him at the House of Commons, raise it loud and clear when you see him in the flesh.

We have ONE YEAR TO SAVE HATFIELD.

 

 

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Peter Manson reports on the expulsion of Cosatu's biggest affiliate

We reprint here an important article on the changing face of class struggle in South Africa with the expulsion of the most dynamic of workers unions the Metalworkers from the South African TUC. This has happened with the full support and connivance of the South African Communist Party who support the ruling ANC. This metal workers union recently led the great wave of strikes in the coalfields and coalfields as miners left the traditional NUM to join a fighting union. Tens of thousands of miners are now in the Metalworkers since the NUM has become hog tied into the government and holding down the miners. Its important that the NUM here doesn't do any knee jerk reactions and suppose the South African NUM is right and the miners themselves are wrong. They made that mistake with the struggle in Ukraine, it would be tragic to repeat it in South Africa.

Click here for full article in pdf

 

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The Price Of Coal

Soma illustrates how the value of miner’s lives is linked to the price of coal just as it was in Victorian Britain. The recent denationalization of the large Turkish coal industry brought with it a squeeze on safety standards, and workers rights just as it did here. After a relentless rise in safety standards in Britain’s post war nationalized coal industry both driven by a strong miners union, we had a decade of defeats from 1985 culminating in privatization in 1994. This process was marked by the repeal of several important mine safety acts, and a simultaneous purge of union militants, during this time we lost many key union lay safety inspectors, resulting in a catastrophic fall in safety standards and a rise in the number of men killed in the mines. Something similar has been occurring in Turkey although no-one would have thought things would be driven back to the days of the early 1800’s and the carnage which was then common. The Soma mine management even yet is pleading ignorance and claiming the mine to have been one of the safest in Turkey, if that were true it’s a damning citation of the industry. What was happened here is a number of critical failures. Firstly, dust suppression is a vital feature of the underground environment. Airborne dust, apart from its individual impact on the lungs of the miners, is the catalyst in spreading explosion. The blast feeds through the tiny particles of coal dust spreading the explosion in an instant wherever the air carries the dust. This would be true of any dust, but coal dust is itself combustible and spreads fire and explosion in a huge sheet of flame which in turn sucks in air from everywhere in its path and feeds itself until all the gas, air and airborne materials are exhausted. It is clear to me whatever the source of the explosion firedamp was present in huge quantities (basically methane) along with Coaldust airborne throughout the mine. The explosion fired the firedamp which exploded with a monumental blast and then spread into all the workings. The rate of death throughout the mine illustrates that it had free passage everywhere. Then comes afterdamp, (basically monoxide and C02) which creeps along the floor and instantly kills anyone who survived the blast and explosion, one lungful is enough. It is known that there was a fault on an electric cable just prior to the explosion and it was being repaired. If I can speculate based upon similar accidents in Lancashire and Yorkshire in 1979 and 1975 (killing 15 men in total at Goldborne and Houghton). During the period of the electric fault fans ceased to operate. This allowed gas to accumulate. Before turning the power back on, no-one checked what the gas levels were, no-one took the time to clear the tunnels and faces of gas. The repaired cable was not replaced just patched up, or a new one was not fitted securely. When the power was turned back on a spark jumped from the cable and ignited the gas and caused the explosion. Such would have been bad enough, and in the case of Goldborne it killed ten men, at Houghton five, but the explosion because of extensive preventative measures was localized to the area of the explosion. It didn’t spread throughout the district or the whole mine. This is achieved by securing simple devices to ‘break’ the path of the explosion and deny it the fuel on which to feed. At one level this takes the form of a stone dust barrier which is a platform in the arch of the roadway piled high with powdered stone dust. Another is a similar device supporting plastic tanks containing water. The effect is the same; any blast dislodges the stone or water and forms a fire break localizing the explosion. At these mines there was a failure to test for methane , despite the fact that ‘deputies’ are appointed to do that at least twice in the shift and certainly before any electrical device is switched on to ensure the working area’s were gas free. In the case of Soma it is quite clear gas detection wasn’t carried out anywhere, probably for some considerable time, because the presence of the gas once detected would have ensured all coal cutting machines and tunneling machines were stopped until the gas was cleared. Something else which is crystal clear the miners themselves are not carrying the traditional miners oil lamp, a fundamental piece of safety equipment which hands the power to detect the gas, and shut off the machines and power in their own hands. Likewise for 100 years British miners have the legal right to carry out independent unhindered workmen’s inspections of any area of the mine and report directly to HMI, highlighting any breach of safety or potential danger areas. Following privatization it was an uphill battle to find miners brave enough to take on this role as management found all sorts of ways to sack safety inspectors. For a fifteen year period at Hatfield Main, the mine at which I was Union Secretary, not one independent workmen’s inspection was carried out because no-one would become a workmen’s inspector. It is clear to me, Turkey which has a strong and militant miners union has come under similar pressure since privatization .At Soma the mad rush for production totally neglected gas detection and ventilation speed which is essential to clear accumulating gas accumulations, and dust suppression on coal and stone cutters and loading points wasn’t being carried out either otherwise the air would not have been alive with explosive airborne coal dust.

The world is awash with cheap coal at present, prices are being driven down below the costs of production as USA in particular now energy rich on shale gas dumps its massive stocks of coal and offloads its unwanted domestic production into world markets. Others are flooding markets with below production cost coal in order to secure foreign currencies. Third world countries see coal as a cheap source of income and power and have driven down the wages and standards of miners past subsistence point in many countries, not least in South Africa which now holds the record for the worlds worse mining causalities, passing even the chronic rate of slaughter and injury and disease in China. It is this feature which has led to the £15m shortfall at UK Coal and the closure notices at two of our surviving three deep mines. In Turkey we see the race to produce greater and greater quantities of coal in order to meet spot market coal prices and stay in the race has been borne by the blood and bones of our comrades. In a response worthy of the Victorian coal owners the state now tear gasses and clubs down the mourning wretched friends and families of the dead miners protesting at the carnage. Despite this ongoing tragedy, miners world wide are not demanding an end to mining. It is not coal mining which causes the death and destruction but the methods by which its worked and who owns and controls it .Nationalisation under direct workers and consumers control of the mining industry linked to a European wide programme of clean coal CCS power generation is a practical demand which could be realistically achieved if the Turkish and Trade Union movement of Europe as a whole put their weight behind it. In Turkey this might be the final straw in bringing down the already deeply unpopular government, and uniting the city youth and students with the coalfield communities.

David Douglass National Union of Mineworkers

 

 

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Sad Week for the Trade Union and Labour Movement

It is with great regret that we record the death of two great friends of the Miners and trade union movement in general; Bob Crow and Tony Benn. Both played mighty roles in the great strike and the later 92/3 campaign. RMT was our co union in the series of one day strikes aimed at stopping rail and mine closures, a strike movement which called for workers across industry to down tools, go on the sick or generally not turn up. 12 million days were lost on each of the days of action. Bob was the principle trade union leader in Britain heading up one of the only fighting unions left on this island.

There is no one to take either man’s place.

Tony Benn of course was a veteran left wing politician, still clinging on to the hope, the faith, that Labour would return to its core values and become the party of the working class and unions. Me and him had many a knock about over that. But tony was a politician of tremendous principle, there was much back stabling and lies and vote rigging to get him to lose the deputy leadership vote of the Labour Party. Big unions were urged to switch their votes from Tony who their members were supporting to Healy who was standing simply to block Tony’s rise to the leadership. Had he won, he would have become leader of the Labour Party during the great strike instead of Kinnock, just think of the difference that would have made.

 

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UNDERGROUND COAL GASIFICATION
Biggest Threat Ever to Britain's Remaining Coal Reserves
David Douglass


The Tories have long danced on the grave of the coal communities and the memories of the once powerful NUM, but at the back of their minds they have retained the fear that this corpse might not stay down and might one day rise again. Fears were grounded in the fact that something like 1000 years of untapped coal reserves in vast coalfields still remain. That the existing mining workforce and army of unemployed miners are still just young enough to fuel and redevelopment of the coal fields. That our sons and grandsons might follow on in our traditions in the conscious memory of our collective history. Now
they have the stake with which to drive through the corpse of the coal industry to make sure it never rises from the dead. It is called UCG.

Read the full illustrated article in this downladable pdf:

 

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Government agrees to pay £ 1 billion to Five Quarters UCG

Tragic news is just breaking that the government has agreed to pay £ 1 billion to Five Quarters UCG company to rape and waste the vast coal reserves of the North East coast. 25 billion tonnes of recoverable coal lies between the Wear and the Northumbrian/Scottish borders. The area was prime for the development of eight new super pits along the coast from Sunderland to Berwick, ensuring work for 16-20,000 miners for centuries to come. Now UK coal who holds the licence to mine this coal, has cut and run, cutting the throat of the deep mine coal industry with it, by passing the licence to Five Quarter to 'frack' or UCG the reserves. It should be noted that this same government wouldn't give the Billion£ to the Don Valley clean coal CCS project, "the best carbon reduction scheme in the world" according to the EU, but instead feeds it to this gas drilling outfit instead. Whereas coal power faces almost a 50% surcharge on its production to keep the price of coal power artificially high and subsidies wind and nuclear to make them look cheaper than they are, this scheme will be given tax exemptions and subsidies. It is also a wanton waste of the countries long term power reserves, only 4% of the total calorific values of the coal will be used, the rest will remain wrecked and useless underground. It should further be noted, coal can be extracted by conventional methods and then gassified on the surface, using all the calorific potential of the mineral. I hope everyone will write to the Energy Secretary the Shadow Energy Secretary , and all coalfield MP's to fight against this scheme. Northumberland Council who will have to approve this also should be inundated by objections calling for these vast reserves to be mined not fracked. Hopefully the NUM NEC will discuss this matter and take it up as a matter of grave urgency.

 

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Mick Renwick

Trade Union activist, Wobbly
Anarcho-syndicalist, anti fascist
Internationalist
Geordie working class hero.

I met Mick first when I just turned 14, we were in the first flush of that revolutionary generation that Bob Dylan had promised would soon shake your windows and rattle your doors , because we wanted change we were part of that huge current for change and revolution and peace which began to subvert our whole generation. Mick was in its vanguard
It was he who, sitting in the smallie wee hoors of the morning in his living room after an underage drinking session roond the toon,  had revealed the sacred Bob Dylan, Times Area A Changing LP. I had heard nothing like it in my life.  I thought those words; those concepts were addressed to me. It was in the words of the Christian revivalists a revelation. We became aware of ourselves as a world wide wave of youth rebellion intent on shaking the system till it changed its ways or died.

First up at Heaton CND then in the faction that became the Tyneside Direct Action Committee and later the Committee of 100, demonstrating up at Holy Lock on the Clyde and down on numerous Aldermaston marches against the H Bomb and Atom Bomb which had come to the very wire of nuclear war and we were convinced our premature departure from life before we had the chance to live it.

Mick was a key character in a city movement, always around, always on the scene. Sex and drugs and rock and roll and revolution that was us. Mick was ‘a lad’ right enough. As our beatnik and mod strange new wave confronted the old culture, the teds, the biker gangs still in their white socks and greased back hair we were often attacked. We represented something strange and scary, politics, beat poetry, peace campaigns?
Mick was no mean street fighter and although we aspired at first to pacifism, he was a handy lad to have around because he wouldn’t easily see his friends attacked without wading in.

Mick had been born into a unique and dying community, for his Dad wasn’t simply a Northumbrian pitman, he was a Geordie pitman, he worked at the Rising Sun Wallsend. Mick lived in back to back Heaton, miners, railway men, and shipyard workers. He was raised in the strongly militant trade union tradition of the miners union and communities.

My life has been marked by Mick presence and Mick’s comradeship; we were together at Grosvenor Square, as we tried to storm the US embassy in solidarity with the Vietnamese people. On anti fascist mobilizations and punch up’s with the NF. He was for a time the Secretary of the Gateshead Trade Union Council and organised some of the Tyneside May Day best rallies. He was shoulder to shoulder with every battle the miners had from the 70’s 80’s and 90’s. raising funds, joining pickets. He developed a deep and lasting love of Bulgarian and Greek culture and spent every spare holiday there, became a self taught expert on all aspects of Bulgarian and Greek culture and history.

Me and Mick started our political careers as Anarchists, and then took brief detours through the woody glades of Trotskyism in the 70’s Mick to the Socialist Workers Party, me to the Revolutionary Workers Party. By the time of the Miners great strike we were both headed back to Anarchism. We both became enthusiastic founder members of the Industrial Workers of the World when it re-founded in Britain and it was this organization that Mick heart and soul has worked for in the last fifteen years. He has also been an enthusiastic member of the Follonsby Miners Lodge Banner Community Heritage Association and enjoyed greatly our joint work with the local Lingey House School on the Leam Lane who are part of that project. Mick was as proud as punch to be the only ‘political’ stall to be invited to the School annual sports and gala day, where he manned the IWW stall selling badges to the children and literature to their parents.

Mick’s last fight with cancers has been his hardest, and he wouldn’t yield. He smoked and drank to the end; he paraded and demonstrated when he could scarce stand. Indeed he very nearly died at last years Durham Miners Gala, but clinging onto the railings to hold himself up he refused to take a taxi to the hospital demanding that the Cole Pits Pub was the only destination he was heading for. He went through Hell this last year. He refused to give up, always believed he’d beat this and come back.

Mick was my friend and comrade for over a half a century. We shared so much. My biggest bollocking from Mick was parking a car full of explosives outside his Gateshead house while we popped in for tea, only to find the angel cakes were laced with pot, and coupled with the broon sparked out all over the house, with the clock ticking on twenty years in jail sitting outside the front window.  We had the extreme privilege to have been teenagers in the 1960’s and to setting ourselves a benchmark for freedom, for justice whatever the law said, until in our own 60’s we still aspired to those same values, because we couldn’t live any other way. Mick was a character roond the toons Gateshead and Newcastle were his stomping grounds, he met tens of thousands of people, debated with whole cities over the bar table. People all over Tyneside knew Mick; he will be a huge loss. You were a diamond marra! I will miss you in ten thousand ways.

 

Memorial Wake

Comrade Mick Renwick

7th Dec

12 noon – 5-pm
The Black Bull
Gateshead
(Opposite the Gateshead Metro Station and Bus Station)

An invitation to Mick’s Friends and Comrades
To come and share your memories, tell a tale sing some songs have a jar.

 

 

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Ex-miners to get 'coal or cash' offer under Osborne plan

 

Chancellor George Osborne has announced a financial boost for former pit workers during a trip to one of England's remaining deep coal mines.

He said the government would guarantee 400 pit workers recently made redundant a free delivery of coal every year worth £1,300 or a £600 in cash instead.
A further 1,000 retired workers will also get help under a concessionary fuel scheme dating back to the 1980s.
Mr Osborne said he was determined to help people with rising energy bills.
The chancellor went below ground with pit staff at Thoresby colliery in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire's last remaining deep coal mine.
About 69,000 former mine workers or their families currently receive a fuel allowance from government each year under the terms of National Concessionary Fuel Scheme.
'Concessionary coal' Friday's announcement will mean that a further 1,500 former mine workers, who would otherwise have lost their benefits following the recent collapse of UK Coal, will now be brought into the scheme.
The commitment is expected to cost under £2m a year.
In July, UK Coal said that two of its companies had gone into administration following a major fire at its Daw Mill colliery in Warwickshire, which has subsequently been closed.

But the stock market-listed company announced it was setting up a new company to operate Thoresby, the Kellingley colliery in Yorkshire and six surface mines.

Mr Osborne said it was "important to support a group of people who through no fault of their own had lost out" and demonstrated the government's wish to support workers in all industries across the country.
He said he had been urged to intervene by local politicians, including Conservative MP for Sherwood Mark Spencer.
"There were ex-miners who lost the concessionary coal they were getting because the company they work for went bust," the chancellor added.
"I am determined to help those ex-miners so the government is going to step in and pay for the concessionary coal."
'Owed' But Labour MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, who has been campaigning to save the miners' fuel allowance, said ministers had "caved" in to pressure in the face of potential legal action.
"The concessionary fuel allowance is a contractual obligation to be paid to former miners and in some cases their widows," he said. "It is not a benefit, but part of what these former miners are owed."
"My constituents now need the fuel as soon as possible so that they can heat their homes this winter."
The National Concessionary Fuel Agreements were put in place between the state-owned British Coal Corporation and the mining unions in the 1980s.
When British Coal was privatised in 1994, the government retained the obligation to provide concessionary fuel to former British Coal workers entitled to it.
The responsibility passed to UK Coal, when the company restructured its operations and changed its name in 2001

 

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What the frack?

Mention fracking these days and everyone immediately thinks of the Government’s idea of getting cheap energy by destroying the strata to release gas, regardless of the cost to the environment – today or in the future.

The fact is, ‘Frak’ was a four letter word invented for the science fiction series ‘Battlestar Galactica as long ago as 1978, as a substitute for the ‘F’ word, (in a similar way to which ‘feck’ is used in the comedy series, ‘Father Ted’).
In the ‘re-imagined’ series of Galactica the false expletive was used with much greater frequency and in a much grittier fashion. The actors interspersed their dialogue with as many fracking fracks as they could, along with other made up expleteives, such as, "felgercarb" (noun), (a euphemism for "crap"), and "golmonging", also spelled "gall-monging" (adjective), (as in ‘We'll show those golmonging Cylons how to fight now!’ ). This gave their discourse realism, and it worked really well, as shown by the present day fracking popularity of the now accepted word ‘frack’. There must be many Galactica fans who recall with a smile Starbuck struggling not to laugh when she used the word ‘motherfracker’ to Chief Petty Officer Tyrol, who was visibly taken aback and responded with, ‘motherfracker?’ whilst trying hard not to crack up.

Wikipedia tells us that since then, the usage of ‘frak’ and ‘frack’ has also appeared in other television shows, including Eureka, The Big Bang Theory, Veronica Mars, 21 Jump Street, Better Off Ted, Warehouse 13, Chuck, 30 Rock, Babylon 5, Transformers: Prime, and Castle, and it has also been used in the 2012 video game Transformers: Fall of Cybertron.

As with ‘feck’, we have a popularly used made up word with exactly the same meaning as a similar taboo word, which someone thought would be a great name for a controversial method of gas extraction. Come to think of it; it would be funnier to hear the newscasters saying, "Protesters are gathering to show their feelings about plans for fecking in the nearby countryside".

So there you fracking have it. Now frack off and tell those greedy motherfrackers that they should be investing in what’s fracking left of our fracked up coal industry instead of fracking about with the environment.

 

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Hatfield management request voluntary redundancies, after announcing the pit has entered a 30 day period of consultation.

Following from last weeks announcement that workers at Hatfield Colliery will be expected to work three hours per week without pay, they have now been informed of a meeting between colliery management and unions, regarding the mine’s future. In a notice to the workforce, B. Holland, Colliery manager, states that the mine has entered a 30 day period of consultation and that redundancies will be required to cut costs.

30 Day notice image here.

 

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Hatfield management ask for commitment.

We heard last week of a letter which had been given to the workforce at the colliery, a copy of which is attached here. Basically, the letter, signed by the colliery manager, Brian Holland, outlines the present problems at Hatfield and ends with a thinly veiled attempt at blackmail.
In the letter, Mr. Holland tells the workforce they have to work an extra three hours per week, for no pay. If they don’t show this ‘commitment’ then, the HCL Board will refuse to invest in the mine.

Surely, forcing the workforce to work without pay will only lead to resentment, rather than having the opposite and desired effect of instilling commitment to the mine’s management, but, as Mr. Holland says, his ‘message is clear’; back Hatfield, or else…

 

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Scargill’s ring a ring a rosy, with our cash

 

People often ask what is our once great leader doing these days, well from time to time and actually all too frequently he is causing merry hell in the courts by taking legal actions against the NUM. He invariably looses these cases but it doesn’t matter, so long as it throws shit at the current leadership, undermines confidence in the ability of the NUM to do its work at this crucial time, and costs us a fortune in defending the actions.

Latest one you may have seen, he was successful in having the election of Nicky Wilson the Scotland Area President’s election to national NUM president overturned. It cost us a fortune in time and money. He argues that the position which is elected from within the ranks of NEC members themselves should not require a 30% of the vote to stand, and the position should not be subject to area nominations. So Yorkshire Area as an area cant decide who we want to vote for, for National President and we should leave it up to the members of the NEC who are supposed to represent us, to do what they want themselves. OK he wins this one, the result ? Nicky Wilson was nominated by the NEC members and voted in as National President ! Big victory Arthur.

Then we come to the Area Agent position in Yorkshire, Arthur argues that Chris Kitchen who is the current Area Agent should be turfed out, ‘because he isn’t a member’ (the argument here is Chris, since he was a full time official of the union, hasn’t got a pit and therefore isn’t employed in the industry. Needless to say, being the Area Agent of the NUM is by anyone’s imagination ‘being employed in the industry’.) and because he did loose the Area election last time round. You might recall that Chris Whitehead from Maltby won it, but then decided the job didn’t pay enough and refused to accept the post. So another election is only fair since Chris Kitchen was whacked in the race. But the second part of his claim is that Thompson, widely seen as Scargill’s candidate should be appointed Area Agent instead since he was another (failed candidate) in that election. Hmm that doesn’t make a lot of sense to us Why him ? Its not clear, but that appeal isn’t going to be heard before the actual reelection takes place, with Mr. Thompson we think now from Kellingley running against Chris Kitchen for the position. Mr. Thompson has every right to challenge any position in this union he is eligible for of course, except it must be said he has never occupied even a branch position let alone an Area one and the union is in dire straights at this time and needs experienced leadership above all. But democracy is king here and members will decide, its their union after all. The members must say who should be area agent not the courts .

No doubt the industry is on the cliff edge, the latest impositions at Hatfield are more than flesh and blood should be forced to bear and as yet we don’t know the men’s reaction to being told to work extra hours without pay or the pit closes. What is sure is that this is blackmail, and I think we know the problem with blackmailers is, you cant pay them off, they will keep coming back for more and more. A meeting with company is pending, and we believe a mass meeting of the Hatfield branch.

We also note that the last of the pits in wales are now closed or ‘mothballed’.

 

 

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UK Coal to be taken over by Government administrator

Britain's biggest coal producer, UK Coal, will be placed in administration and most of its mines and pension liabilities transferred to a state-run pensions agency in a bid to save 2,000 jobs, according to a union leader and a newspaper report.

The British coal industry has struggled to break even in recent years because of rising costs, hefty pension liabilities and competition from cheap imports from Colombia and the United States. (Dave Douglass comments, that actually coal from Colombia is massively more expensive to produce than British coal but recieves a hefty government subsidy which British coal does not. US coal largely from open cast sites is being 'dumped' below production and export costs because sales in the domestic US market have crashed after a boom in natural and shale gas )

More on this story here:
http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/07/01/uk-britain-coal-rescue-idUKBRE9600VW20130701

 

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