The UK steel industry has again been plunged into further crisis following the latest announcement of an expected 1,200 jobs to be cut at Tata Steel in Scunthorpe and Scotland. This comes just weeks after the sudden shutdown of the SSI plants in Redcar, Teesside, with a further 2,200 associated redundancies, as well as the risk of 1,700 job losses at Caparo Industries, which entered into administration on Monday this week.
Gareth Stace, director of UK Steel, says the industry is now “in crisis” and needs “life-saving surgery”. Tata is expected to cut between 800 and 1000 jobs at their Scunthorpe sites, about a quarter of the total workforce based there, with more job cuts expected in Scotland at the Clydebridge, Cumberland and Motherwell sites.
Workers in Scunthorpe have described the knock-on effects of these job losses as being “devastating” and many, according to reports in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, are calling for the plants to be renationalised to avert what they see as a disaster both to the industry and the area.
With the blast furnace and coke oven sites at Redcar having already gone dark, steel production in the UK is facing total collapse. The latest announcement by Tata Steel brings the figure of recent job losses in the British steel industry to over 5,100 - an eye-watering one-in-six of the country’s total.
In 1967, when British Steel was established as a nationalised company, 268,500 people worked in the industry. In 1998, after the Tories privatised British Steel, these workers were transferred to a new company, Corus. In turn, production was again transferred in 2007 to the Indian-based conglomerate, Tata. This firm has continued to run production down so that by this year just 17,000 workers remained in the industry.
Earlier this year, TATA attempted to close the steelworkers’ pension scheme, deeming it a drain on their profits. After strike action was threatened, this plan was partially withdrawn. Now Tata have turned their cost-cutting eyes elsewhere as they try and push the steel industry into an early grave.
These new job losses, as with the shutdowns in Teesside, are a blow both to the industry and local communities.
What response have they got to all this from the establishment in Westminster and in Holyrood? Just meaningless platitudes it seems. The Tories, who think that “industry” means speculation in the financial and housing markets, have said they will do “everything we can” – that is, nothing.
For the SNP in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish administration will leave “no stone unturned” to try and save matters; and, if that fails, the Scottish government will establish “a task force”. Again, this represents nothing but words. The SNP are happy to pontificate on about fighting austerity and Tory attacks on the working class, as long as they don’t actually have to do anything. However, here they do. They had already renationalised the Prestwick airport and the toll bridge to the Isle of Skye because these decisions were seen as politically expedient. What will they do with regards to the threatened sites in Scotland?
The unions should be demanding that Holyrood acts and nationalises these works without delay to save jobs and communities. In England, Labour should make it clear: steel production must be saved and that should mean a clear commitment to renationalise all steel production, without a penny of compensation to the asset strippers of Tata, who have taken a once-mighty industry and run it into the ground for cheap profits.
The unions and local communities must mobilise to fight these job losses and cut across the empty words of these rotten politicians. Site occupations should be considered by unions to stop asset-stripping and furnaces becoming unusable through going cold. If this is not done, then clearly further job losses will inevitably follow. The message is clear: fighting action is needed.
Letter from a former steel worker
When Tata bought Corus using debt, the writing was already on the wall. How can British and European workers compete with imports from India and China that are based on super-exploitation?
Trade union “leaders” and MPs in steel producing areas have spent years merely whinging about unfair competition, energy prices, and “green” costs. Having a massive mandate this year to stop the attack on pensions, they hurried through a deal that was considered rotten by many members, in order to avoid action. But Tata still came back for more.
It´s common knowledge that the now sole plant in Scunthrope is under threat; a U.S. millionaire turned down the opportunity of a buyout, as capitalists such as this are only interested in profits.
It´s still not too late, however, for ordinary workers to occupy closing plants, to stop asset-stripping, keep blasts and coke ovens in shape, and to demand (re-)renationalisation. Leaders of unions such as Community, Unite, and GMB, as well as local MPs, need reminding there wouldn’t be a UK steel industry, if Labour had not twice nationalised it to save it, in 1951 and in the 60’s.
This is exactly the kind of policy that Corbyn and the new Momentum movement, the trade unions, councillors and MPs must seize on. Talks about talks, petitions, fines are fine; but the bosses never listen to such things – they only care about their profit lines.
Where have the billions of profits from the boom gone? Doesn’t Tata Jaguar continue making millions profit? How can an island nation with strategic aerospace, car and shipping, and construction industries, etc. not have iron-steel plants?
Socialist Appeal supporters here proudly voted for a steelworker candidate in the re-selection, who is now vocal in the campaign, as a fourth-generation steelworker. We also backed Corbyn, as did the local constituency Labour Party. Now we expect support and leadership across the labour movement. The SNP response has been no different to the Tory’s crocodile tears.
- Open Tata´s accounts to the unions! Not a single closure or job loss!
- Re-re-nationalise the British steel industry, under workers control-management, with compensation only on the basis of proven need! Full retirement at 55 for plant workers.
- Re-tool the industry as part of a socialist plan of production!
Miles Todd, Scunthorpe