Miners in four key coal regions, including hard-line south Wales, voted Friday for their national union to order a mass return to work--acknowledging that there was no hope of winning Britain's longest national strike.
The votes by union leaders in south Wales, Scotland and the northern England counties of Lancashire and Durham increased pressure on a conference of the National Union of Mineworkers scheduled for Sunday to send the miners back to work even without a settlement.
"A return under leadership is better than a drift back where the leadership will have been destroyed by the numbers going back," said Emlyn Williams, a union chief in south Wales where 80% of the 20,000 miners are still on strike after nearly a year.
Arthur Scargill, president of the the miners' union, called the strike last March 12 without a vote of the membership to protest the government's plan to close 20 money-losing pits out of 174 mines operated by the state's National Coal Board. The plan would have eliminated 20,000 jobs through attrition.
Scargill reiterated Thursday that he would never sign an agreement to let the National Coal Board close mines unless they are dangerous or tapped out. But he said he would abide by the vote at Sunday's conference on whether to send the remaining miners back to work even without a settlement.
The union chief said in a television interview Friday that the strike would end if delegates voted to return without a settlement. "The strike would come to an end, but the dispute (over planned closures) will go on," he said.
Michael Eaton, chief spokesman for the National Coal Board, said on the same program that it was "highly likely miners will return to work next week."
By the coal board's count, more than 96,000 men, or 52% of the union's 186,000 members, are already back at work, nearly a third of them having given up the strike since the beginning of the year.