Bosses at Tata Steel and trade union leaders have agreed a deal over the closure of the Port Talbort steelworks in south Wales.
The deal will prevent the immediate threat to 8,000 jobs and keep open the Port Talbot steelworks in South Wales. But it comes at a very heavy price—and does not rule out job cuts or future closures.
Tata announced in March that it was putting its British business up for sale, with the alternative of closure.
Everyone will recognise the stress that steel workers have suffered for months as they waited to hear their fate.
The Tories have insisted that although there might be some help for the firm, in the end the market must rule.
Many workers will be tempted to grab any agreement that seems to offer a bit of security for them and their families.
But this is not a good deal.
If it goes through, the company will close the present “final salary” pension scheme, based on a proportion of what workers earn to new entrants.
It will be replaced by a pension where the company’s inputs are fixed and payments are based on the performance of investments and stocks.
It all depends on the ups and downs of the capitalist casino.
Workers who presently receive a payment will continue to do so but the fund is frozen and its fate is unclear.
Alun Davies, a Port Talbot steel worker, told Socialist Worker, “It’s coming up to Christmas and we’d all like to have some good news and to have the burden of fear lifted from us.
“I hope this is going to be okay, but I’m very worried about the details and what will happen to pensions. Is this just another bit of hope that comes to nothing?”
The company said its commitment to Port Talbot’s two blast furnaces was subject to “de-risking and de-linking” the pension scheme from the business.
That almost certainly means further attacks.
Pension experts told the Financial Times newspaper that there will have to be further cuts or payments from the company into the scheme or it will go under. And none of them expects the company to pay more.
Tata has not guaranteed jobs. It has said it will “seek to avoid any compulsory redundancies over a five year period”.
There can be voluntary redundancies at any time and there are no guarantees at all beyond 2021.
Tata has also said there will be reductions in other “employment conditions”.
Tata is pursuing talks with another steel giant, Thyssen Krupp, over a possible merger. Ifit goes through Port Talbot could be the target of cutbacks in an enlarged firm.
Thyssen Krupp has more technically advanced plants in other parts of Europe that produce more cheaply.
Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon, which includes Port Talbot, said the deal “represents a historic victory for pragmatic trade unionism, and for the power of united and concerted campaigning by steelworkers, steel communities, and steel MPs”.
In fact there has not even been a national demonstration, no threat of strikes, no attempt to discuss the potential for occupation of threatened plants.
The campaign has centred on denouncing Chinese imports and begging the government to shovel money to Tata.
Workers will vote on the deal in January. It is a disgrace that union leaders are pushing it without mass meetings or a chance for workers to look at it.
Workers should reject it and demand real action from the unions and Labour.
Jobs will never be safe unless steel is re-nationalised and broken away from the profiteers.