Anger and fear are spreading through steel towns as the Tata Steel giant prepares to sell off or shut down its 14 British-based plants.
Peter Ross, a Unite union member and engineer at Port Talbot steel works in South Wales, spoke to Socialist Worker.
He said, “The Tories don’t give a shit about us—we’re just cannon fodder to them.”
The Tories’ latest “rescue plan” involves investment tycoon Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty House UK buying Port Talbot.
It will stop steel production and use the blast furnaces to melt scrap metal.
This depends on the Tories’ bankrolling his plans and doesn’t include all the other Tata plants.
Port Talbot steel works could still shut within six weeks with the immediate loss of 4,000 jobs.
Bosses claimed last year that 750 job cuts would save the works.
Janice told Socialist Worker, “My son had a letter eight months ago about 750 jobs going, but was told he wouldn’t be affected.
“Now they’ve gone and done this and stabbed us in the back.”
The closure would devastate the area.
Stephen said, “It’s already going downhill and if the works close it will just be a ghost town.”
There is growing support for nationalisation—a poll last week suggested that 62 percent of people support it. And a fight for steel would come at the same time as junior doctors, teachers and others are fighting back.
Bev Wilson, the UCU union branch secretary at Neath Port Talbot College, told Socialist Worker, “I’m going to raise nationalisation in my union branch and then argue that the region should also support the campaign. Everyone can do something.”
Up to 200 people rallied in Port Talbot last Saturday and 100 protested outside a Welsh Assembly meeting on Monday of this week.
But a real fight from the union leaders is needed to force nationalisation—not cosying up to the bosses and negotiating plant closures and job losses.
The Labour Party should also mobilise support and call demonstrations instead of making rhetorical noises and half-baked proposals.
Only militant action can save the steel workers’ jobs.
This forced Edward Heath’s Tory government into a humiliating retreat.
Workers could do the same to David Cameron’s Tory government. The Tories are weak and have been wracked by repeated crises.
But the unions have to fight for every job and full nationalisation, without any compensation, under democratic workers’ control.
Chinese workers are not to blame for a global steel crisis
Bosses, unions and politicians all say Britain’s steel works are struggling due to cheap steel from China. They say this is being illegally “dumped”—sold at a loss—and demand import controls and tariffs to keep it out.
But workers there are under attack too. The Chinese government announced1.8 million layoffs—about15 percent of the workforce—in coal and steel this year.
Workers at Ansteel factory in Guangzhou fought back with a strike over jobs and pay in February.
Capitalist stagnation means there is “too much” steel. This means as much as a third of global steel capacity is surplus to the bosses’ requirements.
When the Chinese economy was growing quickly it needed steel and production was increased.
Now it is slowing down it has less demand for steel becausethere are fewer opportunities toprofit from it.
But the world is crying out for public transport, housing and renewable energy—all of which requires steel.
The workers’ movement can fight for the right to produce the useful goods the market ignores. It shouldn’t allow itself to be divided by fighting over scraps the market leaves.
The Tories have blocked attempts to impose tariffs through the European Union because they are afraid of losing Chinese investment.
Almost 30 percent of Britain’s gross domestic product is exported. Higher tariffs on imports could see retaliation and further job cuts.
Some on the left see the Tories’ relationship with China as a weak spot worth exploiting. But this lets the Tories off the hook when we should be putting pressure on them to nationalise steel.
Workers need to take on the system that exploits and divides them—not each other.
Militancy and unity can win this battle
Fights against mass job losses can be among the hardest and most bitter.
Workers have industrial muscle when they withdraw their labour by striking—but this doesn’t always work against bosses who want to sack everyone.
But it’s a terrible mistake to think they can never be won. Three things can give workers’ action against sackings more weight. One is to spread it beyond those workers directly affected.
The current anti-union laws make it difficult to do this officially. But there are others in dispute who could coordinate with steel workers and call strikes together. And there’s nothing to stop workers walking out unofficially.
Another is to take control of the bosses’ assets by occupying. If even a small group of workers started sitting in at a small part of Port Talbot it would win huge support and disrupt bosses’ plans.
The third thing is political pressure on the government with real leverage to back it up.
Unions can call thousands out on the streets against job cuts and for nationalisation.A start can be made this Saturday with a demonstration in Sheffield. Originally called to oppose the closure of the Business, Innovation and Skills office, it’s now been extended to the issue of steel jobs.
Sharks eye up Scunthorpe
Greybull Capital is in talks to buy Tata’s Scunthorpe steelworks. In return for “saving” the works it wants workers to take a 3 percent pay cut.
That could cost some workers up to £150 a month.
Other attacks include, crucially, the end of their final salary pension scheme.
Workers in four unions began a ten-day ballot on the proposed deal on Tuesday. Martin Foster of the multi-union committee said it was “the best deal possible”—and would save bosses £9 million a year at workers’ expense.
But accepting bosses’ blackmail only encourages them to come back for more.
The bosses’ logic is that costs are too high to compete with cheaper producers abroad.
This will continue to be true as long as there’s still someone somewhere with a worse deal.
And it doesn’t save jobs. Promises that each new sacrifice will be the last are hollow—as Tata workers know all too