Trade unionists, campaigners and residents rallied in Port Talbot, South Wales, demanding that the town’s steel works is nationalised to save jobs, today, Saturday. The protest came after a Tata Steel company insider told the bosses’ Financial Times newspaper that bosses “are now going to shut it down.” One press report estimated that up to 200 people joined the march.
The steel works could shut in as little as six weeks with the immediate loss of 4,000 jobs and a huge knock-on effect.
This news has come as a kick in the teeth after bosses claimed that 750 job cuts last year 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 an area that’s never fully recovered since Margaret Thatcher’s assault in the 1980s. Stephen said, “It’s already going downhill and if the works close it will just be a ghost town. There are no other big employers in the area – what’s going to replace these jobs?”
Aubrey added, “It would destroy Port Talbot. It’s not just about the steel jobs, but all the suppliers down to the cafes where the workers go for breakfast.”
Campaigners rallied outside the post office in the town centre and held a short march to the nearby civic centre. It was called by the National Shop Steward Network and supported by Unite the Resistance.
As Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, argued that the Tories’ crisis was an opportunity to be seized. She told the crowd, “The Tories are in bits – if we give them one final push we could see some good results.”
Many people blamed the “dumping” of cheap steel from China. Aubrey said, “It’s disgraceful how China is being allowed to saturate the market. Why aren’t the Tories doing something about that?”
But Alan Kenny from Unite the Resistance said, “Hundreds of thousands of steel workers are also being laid off in China as well. What an irony that the business secretary was making a speech about the merits of the free market as the announcement came. We have to take on the Tories and the logic of the system that makes steel workers lose their jobs across the world.”
Tata wants to close Port Talbot rather than sell it, as it doesn’t want it to continue as a competitor to its steel works elsewhere. But there is a growing mood for nationalisation.
People who were out shopping joined the protest and agreed with the demand. As Janice said, “Nationalisation is the only option, they should definitely do it.”
But a real fight from the union leaders is needed to force nationalisation. This has largely been lacking throughout the steel crisis, ever since Redcar steel works was allowed to close without resistance. Now the Community union has even ruled out nationalisation after meeting with business secretary Sajid Javid in Port Talbot on Friday.
Action to defend steel jobs could link up with junior doctors in England – and inspire solidarity from other unions. As Owen Herbert, an RMT rail union rep, told Socialist Worker, “We’re standing shoulder to shoulder with the steel workers. Anything the RMT can do, we’ll do.”
A lobby has been called outside the Welsh National Assembly on Monday, when it has been recalled for a Welsh Government statement on the closure. It needs to be a show of strength from the unions.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been down to Port Talbot and called for a recall of parliament, but Welsh Labour was nowhere to be seen on the protest. It should throw itself into the resistance – it could build a protest tens of thousands strong.
Bethan Jenkins, the local Plaid Cymru Assembly Member, told Socialist Worker, “First minister Carwyn Jones can’t just keep blaming the Tories and needs to take responsibility. We are calling for nationalisation or a part takeover.”
Bev Wilson, the UCU union branch secretary at Neath Port Talbot College, added, “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.”
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