The bosses of the last steel plant in Redcar, Teesside, announced they were “mothballing” it on Monday of this week, with the loss of 1,700 jobs. Production was “paused” earlier this month.
But as working class people across the region joined calls to save jobs, politicians and union leaders quietly refused to do anything about it.
The plant—still the second largest in Europe—faces permanent damage as its furnaces stop burning. Coal and iron ore supplies are waiting on ships a few miles away but they won’t unload as SSI can’t pay.
Around 2,000 workers and supporters rallied outside on Thursday of last week. They held up torches and phones to “keep the light burning” at the furnaces that have lit the town up for decades.
The plant has 2,000 employees and around 1,000 contractors. Its closure would be a bitter blow—and the calls to save it have caught the imagination of the region.
At Middlesbrough FC’s match on Saturday players warmed up in “Save Our Steel” T-shirts and sections of the crowd spelled out “SOS”.
But for all the talk of creating a Northern Powerhouse, the government insists it can do nothing to stop the closure.
And the Unite and GMB trade unions, which talk so much about saving manufacturing jobs when there’s a debate on getting rid of Trident, aren’t doing much more. GMB hailed the fact that workers even got paid last Friday as proof that its “pressure” is “paying off”.
Campaigning did save the plant after it was mothballed by previous owner Tata Steel in 2010. But with profits in steel manufacture running low there is no new owner waiting in the wings now.
It will take serious action to save it. The government could nationalise it, and build infrastructure for human need not profit.
The unions could picket and occupy to keep the liquidators’ hands off. Instead workers, their families and their whole community are paying the price for the crisis in the bosses’ system.