'Coal not dole'- an idea we should dig up?

‘Coal not dole’- an idea we should dig up?

The campaigning slogan ‘coal not dole’ is an abiding memory to many people in the UK in their forties or above, but the outcome of the nationwide 1984-85 coal miners’ strike was defeat, large scale job losses and the devastation of whole communities not just coal mining. Was it necessary then and is it a national sacrifice we would make again, given the choice today?

The shock of job losses in coal mining led to violent strikes as communities resisted throughout the 80s. Between 1981 and 2004 there were 222,000 male job losses in English and Welsh coalfields and worse- twenty years on these communities have not recovered. Read more here: http://www.channel4.com/media/c4-news/pdf/coalfields.pdf

The figures for Yorkshire stand out as particularly extreme, but those for Durham, South Wales and Nottinghamshire are all above 20,000 too. And of course, these are not the only jobs lost with so many other jobs tied to coal mining and related services in these counties’ economies. In 2016 the UK miners’ struggle continues, all be it in a period when employment in the mining industry has virtually disappeared – the struggle now is in protecting miners’ pensions from the UK Treasury (and battling austerity measures that former coal mining communities are long familiar with).

#Solidarity with #MinersPensionTheft #Waspi we are all in this fight together.

Coal mining communities in England, Wales and Scotland were obliterated by callous new social and energy policies. The story in Poland is quite different and coal remains the dominant primary source of energy with the Polish government committed to the defense of it’s industrial heritage and the coal mining industry, as national employment figures show.

Following a period of rapid decline throughout the 1990s, when 250,000 jobs were lost, overall employment figures were stabilised after 2000, and only dipped below 100,000 in 2015. Polish coal reserves remain substantial with ‘hard coal reserves totalling 19.1 billion tonnes, mainly located in Upper Silesia and in the Lublin basin. Mineable lignite reserves amount to almost 1.6 billion tonnes’. Coal basins are in the southern half of the country (map here). The viability of the Polish industry mainly rests on hard coal or coking coal making up 44% of it’s coal resources. Coking coal still commands a significant price premium over non-coking, or thermal coal and prices have been booming: ‘over the past month the price of coking (metallurgical) coal has joined iron ore, surging more than 40% to the highest levels since early 2013.’

JSW SA surged to a two-year high on Tuesday after Poland’s biggest coking coal producer outlined its investment and cost-cutting plans….The stock jumped as much as 26 percent (in one day). The state-controlled company is the top performer in the Warsaw’s WIG30 Index’s this year with a 268 percent gain.

Bloomberg report of 30.8.2016

But don’t overlook Lignite coal basins, they are also important given the imbalance in Poland’s downstream energy infrastructure: ‘more than half of Polish power stations are over 25 years old…. The lignite – fired power plants are amongst the newest ones and they are being refurbished to meet EU environmental standards’. Both lignite and hard (coking & thermal) coal support 10,000s of Polish jobs.

These jobs have been under threat, with falling coal prices over along period and EU pressure for Poland to move away from the use of coal to cleaner fuels such as gas. Poland has obvious historical and geopolitical reasons not to become more reliant on Russian natural gas or oil. Their national independence is in many ways tied to coal. In 2015 we witnessed strikes as Polish coal miners resisted creeping job losses and there are signs in Poland of the pain that UK mining communities felt in the 1980s and 1990s:

‘Police say organized gangs and freelance scavengers, drawn from Poland’s army of unemployed, risk death or dismemberment to steal coal from trains as they cross southern Silesia, the country’s industrial heartland.’

Since the 1990′ around 200,000 coal miners have lost their jobs in a series of pit closures- leaving many former workers struggling to find work where unemployment, in places near the Czech border, is around 30 per cent. Should we dig up and reuse the UK miners slogan ‘coal not dole’ in Poland?

Daniel Gilbert