‘They call it Corus. It ought to be Con Us. They con us into working harder and harder for them, they get our union leaders and the government to go along with them, and then they throw us on the scrap heap if they can’t make enough money,’ says Henry Williams.
He is a blast furnace operator at the Llanwern steel plant near Newport in South Wales and one of 1,340 workers whose jobs were wiped out last week. Across Britain 6,000 jobs went as Corus’s chairman Sir Brian Moffat announced plans to jack up profits and fatten shareholders’ dividends.
The company arrogantly dismissed alternative proposals from the unions. Further job losses are expected soon. Fearing the political fallout at the next election, Tony Blair was forced to criticise Corus.
But within a day he had changed his tune, and was offering no more than job clubs for redundant steel workers and tens of millions of pounds of subsidies for Corus.
Blair offers no hope that the jobs can be saved, and he totally rules out renationalising steel or getting rid of the anti-union laws that make it harder for workers to resist.
In the last few years Corus has made huge profits-£578 million in 1994-5, £1,102 million in 1995-6, £451 million in 1996-7, and £315 million in 1997-8. That money was thrown at shareholders. When British Steel merged with Corus in 1999 shareholders received nearly £700 million for doing absolutely nothing. Terrible
Corus workers have massively increased productivity. In the single year 1998-9, without any technical improvements, workers increased production from 533 tonnes a person to 571 tonnes.
Their reward is the dole and shattered communities. The job cuts can be stopped. But that will need a total change in the way the steel unions have behaved for the last decade.
The main union, the ISTC, has been a pioneer of ‘partnership’. At every plant workers were told they had to accept speed-ups and flexibility in order to keep their jobs.
Three years ago at Llanwern 12-hour shifts were suddenly introduced. Many workers say that health and safety was cut until it was close to the legal limits. ‘It became a terrible atmosphere,’ says Charlie, a Llanwern worker.
‘You are talking about processes involving molten steel where one small mistake could be fatal for yourself and your mates. But you didn’t dare complain because there was this feeling that we had to have higher productivity-management said it, the union said it, the government said it. That was the price of saving your job-and I feel bloody stupid for having ever believed them now.’
Thousands of steel jobs haemorrhaged away-100,000 were lost between 1982 and 1990. But at no point did the ISTC call action. The company has said it will not start implementing the job losses until 14 February.
The ISTC has to stop retreating and start fighting. At the very least there has to be a huge campaign of resistance, a national demo and a national steel strike on 14 February.
There are signs of anger and resistance.
Llanwern workers met on Monday to begin to organise a national ballot about blockading the entrances to Corus plants at Shotton and Port Talbot, where much of their work will be transferred.
Dutch steel unions have voted to not cooperate with management’s plans, and will not allow any steel production to be transferred to the IJmuiden plant in Holland.
It is not just Newport that has been hit hard by Corus.
EBBW VALE: Closure of Corus’s plant will mean 780 job losses in the area with the highest unemployment in Wales-12 percent officially. But the reality is much worse. In the Blaenau Gwent constituency centred on Ebbw Vale just 55 out of 100 adults of working age are actually in a job. Ebbw Vale has been in this dire situation before. The valley’s original steel plant closed in 1929 and unemployment rose to 53 percent. Thousands of people were forced to move to London for a job. People fought back and the government was forced to make sure that another steel works was built in Ebbw Vale. At one time it employed 12,000. It has been run down for years and is now closed totally.
BRYNGWYN (Gorseinon): 127 jobs go with the closure of the plant. A few days earlier 330 jobs went in the same area with the closure of the Valeo car components factory.
TEESSIDE/LACKENBY: 882 jobs to go.
SCUNTHORPE: 436 jobs to go.
SHOTTON: 319 jobs to go.
ROTHERHAM/ STOCKSBRIDGE: 132 jobs to go.
HARTLEPOOL/ STOCKTON: 143 jobs to go.
CORBY: 141 jobs to go.
‘I have worked at Llanwern for 20 years. We’ve sweated our guts out for British Steel and then Corus.
They made millions-no, hundreds of millions-from us. Now they’ve treated us like dogs. They have shown no respect for us.
Why can’t the government do something? Why do we have this bloody Welsh Assembly if it can’t lead a fight to save the livelihoods of so many Welsh people?’
DAI HERRITY, Llanwern steel worker
‘This devastation that will result from these job losses is the result of the market, of a company and a government that puts profit before anything else.
New Labour could take action to take power away from these businesses which wreck people’s lives, but they won’t because they are too committed to helping the rich and the powerful.’
STEVE BELL, Welsh Socialist Alliance prospective parliamentary candidate for Torfaen, a constituency near Newport which includes many steel workers
‘I admit that I am scared for the future of my children. We try to tell them to work hard and to apply themselves in class yet there is always this underlying feeling-am I lying to them?
Am I telling them the truth when there are no good jobs out there and their efforts might be in vain?’
ANDY CROKER, head of Somerton Primary School near Llanwern
‘I’m 39 with three kids and I suppose you’d think I was a bit of a hard man. You know, steel burns on the arms and Welsh rugby tattoos. And I was crying on Thursday because they might as well bulldoze this place.
My son is not going to get a job here. Nobody’s children are going to get jobs here. I’m never voting Labour again, never, because they’ve done nothing about the way these firms act.’
TERRY MATHERS, Gorseinon steel worker
‘There was plenty of fuss when our MP lost one of his jobs. How much fuss is there going to be about 6,000 of us losing everything?
I bet Peter Mandelson won’t be fighting to save our futures as hard as he’ll fight to protect his own.’
MIKE HARVEY, Hartlepool steel worker
‘As a steel worker I was proud to be selected this week as a Socialist Alliance candidate to fight against New Labour’s Richard Caborn, who is an ex steel worker but now supports Blair, in the week when Corus have slashed jobs.
Since 1980 we have lost over 50,000 steel jobs in the Sheffield area alone. There is one reason-the shareholders want to stuff their pockets at the expense of the rest of us.
New Labour politicians are doing nothing for us. The Socialist Alliance message is that as workers we will have to stand up and fight for ourselves.’
NICK RILEY, Socialist Alliance prospective parliamentary candidate for Sheffield Central
There was cheering in the stock market at the news of the job losses. As 6,000 people and their families had their futures wrecked, the Corus share price rose by 10 percent.
Jeremy Fletcher at finance house Credit Suisse First Boston said, ‘It’s a very precise, well targeted cut. I have upgraded Corus shares from ‘buy’ to ‘strong buy’.’
Richard Biggs, from another bunch of parasite sharedealers, ABN Amro, said, ‘This announcement has lifted a big black cloud that has been hanging over Corus. It is quite drastic but the company has not closed down enough. It still has too much capacity in the UK.’
The Financial Times’s main share dealing column agreed: ‘These cuts will not be the last.’
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