A whole town united on Saturday in a fight for jobs. Around 5,000 people marched through Redcar in the north east of England in bitter anger at Corus’s threat to axe their steel plant.
Over 2,500 jobs are threatened immediately, and thousands more from the knock-on effects. A community is in peril, people’s livelihoods on the line.
If the government wanted to help working people it is precisely in this sort of situation that it would act. If the unions want to head up a fight, it is precisely this sort of battle that needs to be fought by every means necessary.
The march was filled with flags and placards from the Unite, Community and GMB unions. But one home-made banner above all summed up the feeling on the march. It read “Mr Brown you have helped the banks, your MPs helped themselves to public money, now help us to Save Our Steel.”
Redcar steel worker Mike Wilson said, “The bankers got billions, we get the dole. If there’s money for bowler hats, why not for hard hats? If the government can take over the banks, why can’t it do the same at Corus?”
The future of Redcar, a seaside town with a population 35,000, is utterly dependent on the steel works. There is hardly a family in the area that does not have someone working at the plant or one of its associated employers.
The only other major employer is the nearby Wilton chemical works – where multinationals Dow and Croda have just announced another 200 job cuts.
People packed the pavements to cheer the march as it passed through the town. Alice Holt, who is 86 years old, told Socialist Worker, “I have lived in Redcar all my life. It used to be a really popular spot for holidays and day trips. But now that is almost all gone. If they close the steel it’s the end for Redcar. It will be a ghost town. I can’t march today, but I’m with everyone who wants to fight.”
Almost every shop in the town, even national firms such as Boots and Marks & Spencer, had posters backing the Save Our Steel campaign.
Everyone is worried about the young people in the area and whether they will be pitched into a life of damaging unemployment or forced to move away.
Alan, one of the 90 apprentices presently at the plant, told Socialist Worker, “I was so pleased when I got a start at Corus. But now my future looks in doubt. This is the only place for young people to get a decent local job.”
Redcar steelworkers are expected to pay the price for the global economic crisis. Earlier this year four steel producers that were responsible for buying nearly 80 percent of steel from the plant announced they were tearing up their ten year contract with immediate effect. They had made over £500 million profit from the first four years of the deal, but world prices have now slumped and they can make more money if they switch to other suppliers.
The march on Saturday was a brilliant show of solidarity and unity. But the missing ingredient was a programme of resistance.
There are desperate hopes that a meeting scheduled for Thursday of this week between Corus and the companies that used to have the contracts to buy the products might produce some results. But many fear that the best that could result is a delay in the closure or a small reduction in the redundancies.
Political backing is limited to manoeuvres around a “commercial solution”, not encouragement to resist.
Vera Baird, Redcar’s Labour MP, was booed by a big section of the audience when she spoke at the rally. Baird, the solicitor general on £126,000 a year, gained notoriety for claiming expenses for her Christmas tree decorations. Workers are also angry that not one of the local MPs turned up at a recent packed “Question Time” meeting.
Unite joint general secretary Derek Simpson offered platitudes about supporting the workers, but not a breath or real resistance.
Steel workers need more protests, strikes and occupations to force Corus to guarantee their jobs and to demand that the government takes over the industry if it won’t.
On Saturday delegations of steelworkers came from plants across Britain. Several of these sites are also facing job cuts. Rank and file workers need to demand a fight, and organise themselves so that Redcar does not go quietly.
Unite has called a demonstration against 900 job cuts in the Johnnie Walker bottling plant in Kilmarnock and its distillery at Port Dundas in Glasgow on Sunday 26 July, leaves 1pm from Howard Park, Kilmarnock. March to rally at the Kay Park