'Scar-gill! Scar-gill!' - coal miners' chief takes on the Iron Lady
HE could well be the most controversial man in Britain right now. The country, now in the 10th week of a coal strike, watches every move of the man who called the strike and who has brought about a radical split in the ranks of the miners, the entire trade union movement, and Britain's political left.Skip to next paragraph
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Many Britons who don't subscribe to any of the above causes react to him with implacable hostility. ''I simply detest the man,'' said a Londoner who blames him for Britain's industrial strife.
News media critics claim he is unscrupulous in his use of statistics, doubling the number of pits the National Coal Board says it is closing. Such is the controversy surrounding Britain's most publicized union leader that the Daily Express missed publishing one day because of an editorial storm on how to represent his views.
Meet Arthur Scargill, Yorkshire leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), who wants to do more than defend the rights and jobs of British miners. He also wants to radically socialize Britain. Perhaps only Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - for different reasons - arouses as many passions as Mr. Scargill, who evokes enmity in some parts of Britain but also has a fervent following.
''Arthur! Arthur! Arthur!'' they shout at a rally here in the small town of Mansfield, in the heart of the Nottinghamshire coalfields. Young lads dash to greet him as though he were a football hero. ''Scar-gill! Scar-gill! Scar-gill!'' militant marchers roar.
Yet Arthur Scargill, small in physical stature compared with his brawny mining colleagues from Yorkshire and Scotland, might go unnoticed in the crowd, except that he is probably the only man wearing a suit.
As the 15,000-strong march winds through the streets of Mansfield, marchers say rude things about Prime Minister Thatcher and Ian MacGregor, the tough National Coal Board chairman who aims to streamline the troubled coal industry by closing unproductive pits. The glory is left for Arthur Scargill.
But just where Scargill is leading his followers is uncertain. This strike, however it ends, will almost certainly determine Scargill's credibility and viability as a major British trade union leader.
Doubts have been raised as to how accurately he judged the mood of the miners when he called them out on strike. Unswerving loyalty to the union can no longer be taken for granted, and whereas the miners' union had the clout to topple Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1974, that is no longer the case.
Asked at the start of the Mansfield rally what he expected the major achievement of the march to be, Scargill replied: ''I think it's a magnificent display of solidarity and determination to save our pits.''
Some marchers like Dave Clowes were confident that a good show of strength would bring an end to the strike. It didn't. And Nottinghamshire miners remained aloof. They preferred to work below ground while Scargill and his striking miners marched in the sunshine.
Although the British coal industry is more generally associated with Newcastle and the Welsh mining valleys, and Nottinghamshire with the legend of Robin Hood - Sherwood Forest is close by - this county is vital coal-mining country. It is critical to the miners' strike.
Nottinghamshire is Britain's richest coal-producing area. It also is the second-largest coalmining region in Britain. Unless Nottinghamshire miners strike, the union's call for solidarity is meaningless.
So far some 49,000 of Britain's 183,000 miners continue to work 43 pits: 25 of them in Nottinghamshire. But 121 mines are on strike, and 6 are in partial production.