London — The Marxist leader of Britain's coal miners, ''King'' Arthur Scargill, has received a massive rebuff from his own rank and file.
After weeks spent confidently campaigning for support for a 30 percent mineworkers' pay rise, a nationwide pithead vote has turned down a Scargill strike demand.
The result has left Mr. Scargill, who came to office six months ago in a landslide vote, searching for ways to rebuild his credibility.
For Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher the outcome is another notch in her by now impressive record of facing down trade unions attempting to break through government pay guidelines.
Details of the pithead ballot reached Mrs. Thatcher soon after she heard that workers at the BL car firm had accepted a two-year pay offer from management. Government officials greeted the two developments as a further sign that official pay policies were proving effective.
Scargill has dedicated his considerable energies to confronting the government over pay and attempting to improve the Labour opposition's chances of dislodging the Thatcher administration. In pushing this line he and the miners' executive decided to link a question about pay to one concerning rumored pit closures by the government.
The idea apparently was to reinforce miners' opposition to the government, but angry pitworkers apparently resented linkage of what they saw as two separate issues. Scargill had hoped for 55 percent support but got 61 percent rejection.
Speaking after the ballot outcome, Scargill flourished what he said was a National Coal Board secret document detailing plans for dozens of pit closures in the future.
He said that regardless of the adverse pay vote, miners would strike to resist pit closures. It is known that the Coal Board plans to close a number of pits to make the industry more economic, and Scargill appears to be attempting to recoup his prestige by leading a rearguard action against these moves.
But nothing could disguise Scargill's setback. He threw himself and a reported (STR)100,000 ($170,000) of coal miners' union funds into campaigning for an industry pay rise.
Miners in his own Yorkshire region and in Scotland supported his call, but elsewhere most miners remained unimpressed.
For Mrs. Thatcher the miners' vote was a further sign that her stubborn resistance to union demands was paying dividends. Miners' actions have destroyed Conservative governments in the past. In 1974 a miners' strike led to a general election that ended Edward Heath's tenure as Tory prime minister and produced the coming to power of a Labour government.
Mrs. Thatcher has continued to argue that with inflation coming down and expected to reach single figures in the new year, there was little justification for a 30 percent pay rise for miners.
Instead, the coal miners have settled for an 8 percent rise. The prime minister, refusing to crow publicly about the outcome, let it be known through her officials that she was more than pleased with the miners' vote.