Socialist Worker

Corus sacks 3,500 to boost its profits

Steel giant Corus has announced mass job losses this week – and the unions’ response contains some worrying signals, writes Simon Basketter

Issue No. 2136

For steelmaker Corus it seems the cost of 3,500 wrecked lives is £200 million.

Corus has confirmed that it is cutting 3,500 jobs worldwide, including 2,500 in Britain. The company announced that these “structural changes” would improve its profits by more than £200 million a year.

Despite some words of regret, the union leaders have so far failed to mount the sort of fight that could reverse this trend or hold the steel giant to account.

Unions at the steelmaker rejected a proposal last December for workers to take a 10 percent pay cut – but only after the plan was leaked to the press.

So management came up with other schemes to cut pay and conditions in order to “save jobs”. Corus then axed 1,000 workers while the discussions with the unions were ongoing.

Earlier this month the company told 500 people at its Llanwern plant in South Wales to stay at home on half their basic pay.

Another 500 at the plant got full basic pay but didn’t get paid the shift premiums that make up 30 percent of their wage.

The unions signed up to this deal. The mill at Llanwern is now going to be mothballed with 600 jobs set to go at the site. The sacrifices did nothing to save jobs.

Steelworks

Corus is also planning to sack up to an additional 1,000 across the firm’s other Welsh operations, including its main steelworks at Port Talbot. A further 1,400 jobs will go at other British sites, including 713 in Rotherham and 93 in Scunthorpe.

The bosses are also closing the final salary pension scheme, despite describing it as healthy.

A senior shop steward at the Corus Scunthorpe plant told Socialist Worker, “People are devastated but they are also really angry. Because the news of the cuts was leaked, we have been getting more information out of the radio than from management.

“The company has made enormous profits in recent years. Yet we have seen them changing shift patterns and allowances as a way of making cuts.

“As well as the job losses there is the attack on the pension scheme – that will lead to a fight.

“Everyone had been hoping that the government would put money in to keep the wages up but Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown have dumped manufacturing. So we have to pay the price.

“There are joint union meetings this week and we will see how this pans out – but people are bitter. The history of the destruction of the steel industry makes people nervous.

“But this is not only about the feeling on the shop floor – it is about the union acting.

“It matters whether the union is prepared to push the government and the bosses or not. That is what will give people confidence.”

Unite joint general secretary Derek Simpson has said the union would not accept any compulsory redundancies.

“We understand that Corus does face difficulties but before this recession Corus had been making extremely healthy profits,” he said.

But Unite union official Terry Pye was less forthright. “We are ready and willing to meet at any time to discuss measures to keep compulsory redundancies to an absolute minimum,” he said.

John Wilson, a senior officer of the GMB union, said that this is “a body blow” for manufacturing in Britain.

“Steel is the bedrock of our economy,” he added.

The lesson is becoming clearer every day. The unions must turn their disappointment into action.


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