Socialist Worker

More tariffs won’t save steel jobs

Issue No. 2490

A crisis is gripping the steel industry worldwide, including this plant at Port Kembla in Australia

A crisis is gripping the steel industry worldwide, including this plant at Port Kembla in Australia (Pic: Flickr.com/Steven Young)


Steel giants Tata and ArcelorMittal posted losses last week for the last three months as low steel prices continue to eat into profits.

Tata cut 3,000 jobs at plants in Britain last year and plans more this year.

Bosses and unions have both blamed “dumping”—selling below cost—by subsidised Chinese producers. Now politicians are joining them.

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom announced three new dumping investigations on Chinese steel last week. The European Union (EU) also introduced a new levy—an import tax—on rebar steel used in construction.

This is far less than bosses demanded—the UK Steel lobby group even called it “a slap in the face”.

Unions also slammed the government for using foreign steel in major projects including new navy warships and the Hinkley Point nuclear plant.

But lining up with bosses won’t save jobs.

Before the industry’s current crisis Britain exported more steel than it imported. A drop in demand from China and other big developing countries has left an “overcapacity” in steel everywhere.

Fighting over import tariffs means accepting that some plants and jobs will go and trying to make sure the cuts are imposed elsewhere.

Steel production could be driven by public need, not market chaos, if it was nationalised. But that would take a fight against bosses that unions so far have been unwilling to lead.


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