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Out of the pits
Weekly Worker 519 Thursday March 11 2004


After emailing this paper to lobby for a piece on the Miners Advice website, Hatfield Main NUM branch secretary Dave Douglass will be gratified to see that his bit of gentle arm-twisting has paid off. Just a quick glance at this website suggests it is an antidote to the disappointing sites that were reviewed last week (Weekly Worker March 4). Dave is quite justified in his claim that “Miners Advice is the original miners’ website, political and industrial anyway, and it has no competition”.

The home page opens with a touch of honesty. It starts: “We have plans for more pages and more content, which will be added later.” Why so many left groups cannot admit their sites are works in progress too is beyond me. The first set of items is grouped under ‘Site updates’, and starts with the ‘News now’ link, which directs the viewer to the foot of the page. Here a couple of news feeds concerning international coal and trade union news are linked, almost equalling the news volume of Labour Start’s website (Weekly Worker January 22).

The next item announces the closure of Hatfield Main, and directs us to the ‘News and views’ page. The story itself outlines how the colliery could have a bright future because of government plans for a nearby clean-burning coal-fired power plant/energy park complex. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the problem lies with the proprietors. The pit itself is in administration and there is no sign of a bail-out. Nevertheless the government is quite happy to keep nuclear power afloat with generous bungs.

The other items listed include the financial scandal at the scab Union of Democratic Mineworkers; the tribunal of Dave Murdock - a left NUM official sacked by the union; and an article outlining the social decomposition of ex-mining communities in France. ‘The pits’ features an exhaustive gallery of pictures and clips. ‘Forthcoming events’ lists upcoming commemorative occasions, ‘Miners’ chest claims’ offers advice on compensation for an array of industrial diseases, and finally the ‘Vacancies’ link is self-explanatory.

The second grouping of material is gathered under ‘What you’ll find on the Miners Advice website’. In addition to NUM regional contact details, you can read a short biography of Dave. Fashion-conscious comrades will be relieved that Dave has opted not to use a bemulletted photo from the time of the strike here, but sadly we are not so lucky in the ‘Further reading’ section. The links page is probably unsurpassed for the sheer variety of mining-related links, and would require an article in its own right to do it justice - readers looking for miners’ material on the web should bypass the mainstream search engines and head straight here.

The ‘Mining 2000’ page also deserves a special mention. This ambitious project aims to “tell the history of each colliery, from the days the shafts were sunk to the present day … and the outlook for the future of these mines which are struggling to compete in today’s market”. At present 22 mines have entries, with a further five on which the website has no information. Again this is work in progress, so perhaps some point in the future will see it expanded to include significant pits that have been closed down over the last 20 or so years. Furthermore submissions to the project are encouraged. At this point we are invited to submit feedback to the guest book, the content of which is on topic and free of the ‘yah-boo-sucks’ posts that clutter up most left discussion lists.

‘Our view’ is an opinion page that covers a broad range of issues. So expect a collection of Dave’s Weekly Worker pieces, and musings on everything from the Eurovision song contest to King Arthur’s Socialist Labour Party. The ‘Your view’ page caters for readers’ submissions. In the main these are concerned with mining matters, such as the well-publicised rescue of nine Pennsylvanian miners two years back, but a few other issues are addressed too. The ‘Reviews’ section is interesting as well, looking at “books, films, magazines and other publications which explore working class issues”. Finally, the page for Hatfield Colliery’s NUM office and community advice gives a brief run-down of some of the services available at the centre.

Overall Dave and his comrades deserve a hearty slap on the back for producing a website that skilfully balances information and entertainment. It may not all be there yet, but even so it stands peerless among internet mining sites. Bookmark it now .

Phil Hamilton

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