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Calling off steel strike will speed up Tata jobs carnage

The Unite union has called off the strike, bending to intimidation from Tata Steel bosses
Issue 2912
Port Talbot where Unite called off steel worker strike

Port Talbot is one of the largest steelworks in Britain (Picture: Phil Beard)

The Unite union crumbled in the face of bosses’ threats on Monday and called off a strike by 1,500 steel workers in south Wales. The union claimed that Tata Steel company bosses had offered new talks.

But the key issue was that the firm had threatened to start shutting down two blast furnaces immediately at the Port Talbot site unless Unite called off an indefinite strike set to begin at the Port Talbot and Llanwern sites next Monday. Unconvinced by what a new Labour government would do, and unwilling to escalate action, Unite suspended both the strike call and an overtime ban that began in the middle of June.

Disgracefully , the Community union that had not called strikes—despite its members voting for them— revelled in Unite’s backing off. Alun Davies, Community national officer, said, “There are no fresh talks.”

He said the bosses’ letter “simply reaffirms the position agreed by Community, GMB, Unite and the company, at our last meeting of 22 May. “It’s welcome if Unite is re-establishing its commitment to the position it previously agreed.

“This position is that all unions will seek to conclude the negotiations on a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) and then put this to their members to decide whether it’s good enough.” Tata has for now achieved its objective of seeking to humiliate and crush resistance to its plans to destroy 2,800 jobs in south Wales.

Jason, an electrical engineer at the Port Talbot hot mill, had earlier told Socialist Worker that Tata’s closure threats were “industrial vandalism”.

“But it’s not really unexpected. “It’s what Tata has been trying to do all along, trying to frighten people,” he said. The BBC reported, “Officials from other unions say that Unite has achieved ‘nothing but chaos and have cost their members money’.”

This is a “reference to an earlier overtime ban that Unite called without the agreement of the other unions,” wrote the BBC.

Unite was absolutely right to schedule the strike. Instead of cancelling it, Unite should have called out steel workers at Port Talbot and Llanwern and made an appeal to the whole working class movement to revolt against intimidation.

It should also have demanded that one of the first actions of a Labour government would be to nationalise steel and guarantee all the jobs. Nationalised Tory prime minister Edward Heath nationalised aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce in a few days in 1971.

Labour has previously urged Tata to reconsider a compromise plan backed by the Community and GMB unions. The plan would retain one of the blast furnaces until the proposed electric arc furnace that is replacing the blast furnaces is operational in 2027.

But that plan won’t save all the jobs at the plant and those at Tata’s contractors. The BBC says, “Union officials acknowledge that there is no guarantee that Tata will agree to extending the life of one furnace beyond its scheduled shutdown in September.”

That is an argument for surrender. The unions must fight for every job.


Support renewables

There’s a lie that the job cuts flow from “woke” green policies. That’s because Tata is ending the current method of steel production, which involves making new steel in blast furnaces.

It will change to a new type of “electric arc” furnace that uses renewable electricity rather than fossil fuels to power the melting of scrap steel. But that doesn’t have to mean devastation for working class people.

It is right to produce steel, using methods that harm the environment least. It’s right to move away from the polluting processes that presently dominate the industry.

But that ought to be done with workers at the centre of decision-making and not with profits dominating. It’s good that Extinction Rebellion UK, Extinction Rebellion Cymru and other climate justice groups have joined Tata workers’ Newport protests.

They have said they would do so again.

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