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Closure of the Mines

A Statistical Overview

The decision to close all of the 12 coal mines in the Netherlands meant the most to the people living in Limburg. Suddenly, miners and their families were faced with uncertainty. While it obviously triggered economical changes, it also affected people’s mental health. Why did the government decide to take such drastic measures? What happend to all of the employees of the mines? Even though it is a story influenced by many factors, the numbers below help to visualise the scale of the issue.

COAL PRODUCTION IN DUTCH MINES BETWEEN 1900 – 1974

  • Privately Owned
  • Publicly Owned
Coal production in the Netherlands. Langeweg, S. (2011). Mijnbouw en arbeidsmarkt in Nederlands-Limburg. Hilversum: Verloren.

Coal production in the Netherlands grew significantly from 1900 and peaked in between 1950-1961. Eight privately-owned companies, often of Belgian, French or German origin, were the pioneers of coal mining in the region and triggered four publicly owned mines to emerge. After World War II and because of introduction of oil and gas as coal substitutes, interest in coal dropped, which resulted in fluctuations in the production.

In the 1950s, The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) attempted to regulate production and prices. Some other countries than the Netherlands did not conform and cheap coal from Europe and US started flooding the country, taking away clients from local producers. At the same time, easily accessible layers of coal were slowly becoming smaller, forcing miners to dig deeper. This meant the difficulty of mining coal grew significantly, triggering a rise in prices. The Netherlands lost their competitive advantage and began importing coal. Later, it also became evident oil and gas would substitute coal. Even though at first  Koos Andriessen, the Christian Democrat Minister of Economic Affairs, and owners of private mines, which were still profitable, opposed the decision to close the mines. However, the Dutch government debated the situation and possible solutions since the end of the 50s and in 1965, the decision to close the mines was made, leaving miners uncertain about their future.

THE FATE OF EX-MINERS

One-third of jobs in Limburg were eliminated with the closing of the mines. Social structures, that underpinned mining culture, for instance constituted by faith, were at risk of collapsing. The closure of the mines put the entire region in jeopardy: both socially and economically. Moreover, the region’s identity seemed to be disappearing, along with identities of now unemployed ex-miners.

The uncertainty miners and their families were facing, was not only due to the loss of jobs, but also to a possible change in the social structures in the area. The mining culture had caused the Roman Catholic Church to have a strong influence in the south of the Netherlands, also on social events and yearly calendar. Many holidays, events and celebrations were dictated by this religious order, which accompanied mining, and was now at risk of collapsing without mines to support it. Furthermore, the entire country was becoming more secularized and the changes were alowly coming to the region as well. Loss of jobs and approaching change of social order constituted a drastic change of life for ex-miners and their families. With loss of careers, also came loss of status and confidence and many unemployed ex-miners found it difficult to discover their place in the society.

  • Privately Owned Mines
  • Publicly Owned Mines
Number of Employees in Dutch Mines. Langeweg, S. (2011). Mijnbouw en arbeidsmarkt in Nederlands-Limburg. Hilversum: Verloren.
17

New job or skill

37

Early pensioned or deceased

46

Unemployed or in Welfare Programs

The Fate of Ex-Miners. Langeweg, S. (2011). Mijnbouw en arbeidsmarkt in Nederlands-Limburg. Hilversum: Verloren.

The Dutch government believed it was its, and not local government’s duty to find replacement employment for the region. It made specific plans prior to the closure to re-industrialize the area. For instance, companies which fulfilled certain requirements, set at a rather low and just essential level, were guaranteed subsidies for opening their branches. Furthermore, the entire infrastructure was about to change – the region would be better connected with rail and highways, and the lands would now have touristic purposes. 

As the mines were scheduled to close gradually, many miners were reassigned to different locations or given other jobs from the state mines. However, it was mostly the young that were given these opportunities. Many of older miners were not suitable to work anymore because of their health problems, which resulted in mines closing earlier than expected. Some miners were re-trained and could find work in other industries, such as metal, textile, chemical and carpentry. However, the beginning of 1970s, the time of closure of the mines, overlapped with baby-boomer’s children reaching working age, causing ex-miners to face tremendous difficulties in finding new employment. Although the government invested in creating new jobs, the social aspects were overlooked. Many ex-miners, used to working in teams and being responsible for one another, were now in unfulfilling jobs, causing their morale to drop.

Find matching images to see in which industries many of ex-miners found employment!

UNEMPLOYMENT RATES

Even though it seemed the government handled the closure quite well from the employment point of view, the economic recession proved the solutions were not sustainable. Many ex-miners lost their new jobs and companies that had been established in the region did not survive the downturn. The unemployment rates grew high rapidly. During these times, as a big part of previous miners could not find their place in this new economic and social order, also the number of divorces and issues related to substance abuse rose. The government decided to reorganise their approach and delegate more responsibility to local institutions. Limburg established its first department for economic policy, which decided to create more jobs in short-time, but also to restructure the entire economy.  Furthermore, it finally tackled social problems, by introducing welfare programs. As no such programs had existed before, every municipality was responsible for the implementation. Local governments also offered help in finding jobs and educating the illiterate. By 1990, five years behind the initial plans, Limburg was able to reach the same unemployment levels as the rest of the Netherlands.

  • The Netherlands
  • Limburg
Unemployment Rates. Langeweg, S. (2011). Mijnbouw en arbeidsmarkt in Nederlands-Limburg. Hilversum: Verloren.

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