British miners' strike changes character as miners, police clash

After 100 days, Britain's miners' strike has changed character. Instead of being an opportunity for miners to demonstrate their opposition to the National Coal Board's program of mine closures, it has become a physical confrontation between militants and police.

The transformation of the dispute was building for a week or two before extreme violence broke out near Rotherham in Yorkshire. Day after day, sometimes with miners' leader Arthur Scargill present, ''pickets'' had been turning up to face police cordons.

The sudden rise in the temperature of the dispute coincided with a notable sharpening of conflict between Mr. Scargill and Ian MacGregor, Scottish-American chairman of the Coal Board.

Scargill continued to claim that Mr. MacGregor was following orders from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and plans to close 20 coal pits and lose 20,000 jobs in the mines. MacGregor noted that Scargill had consistently refused to hold a nationwide miners' ballot. MacGregor's threat to hold a ballot of his own to discover the miners' feelings enraged Scargill, who ordered a new and massive show of strength.

The sheer savagery of the resulting clash caused profound misgivings within the Thatcher government, but the prime minister stuck to her view that neither she nor her ministers would intervene.

Under industrial legislation passed by the Thatcher government, the Coal Board could seek court injuctions to prevent violent acts before they occur. But the board believes this might worsen the problem. It would rather bide its time, rely on big coal stocks, and let the strike run its course.

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