British steel is in crisis. While cheap Chinese is steel being “dumped” on world markets, three body blows have been inflicted on steel production. The SSI steelworks in Redcar is going into liquidation, with the government refusing to offer any lifeline. A mothballing operation will now see 2,200 jobs go, in a devastating blow to a Teesside already suffering from Tory austerity and long term manufacturing decline.
Next up is the partial liquidation of Caparo steel in Oldbury with 1,700 jobs at risk, and knock-on effects for a further 34,000 manufacturing jobs across the Black Country.
Finally, Tata has announced job losses of 1,200 at plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire.
Insults and empty rhetoric
The Tories have offered a measly £80 million for retraining in Teesside, and a pathetic £9 million to support Scunthorpe’s local economy, while still talking about a service-based “Northern Powerhouse”. Unite’s Tony Burke has slammed the Tories for their “woefully inadequate response”, while steelworkers’ union Community says the government should defend jobs.
But what are the unions actually doing? After a 2,000-strong protest in Teesside shortly after the announcement, and a Save Our Steel protest at Middlesbrough’s Riverside stadium, union leaders have put their efforts into pleas and petitions, with Community reps joining MPs to launch a campaign of sending postcards to David Cameron.
Community’s general secretary Roy Rickhuss has asked the government to “ensure that the industrial assets are protected and skills are retained to give steelmaking a chance for the future”. Middlesbrough’s Labour MP Andy McDonald wants the Redcar plant safely “mothballed”, presumably until production can be restarted on a profitable, private basis.
But how does a “safe” mothballing operation help save jobs? Instead of urging the government to make British steel more competitive, Community should organise national action immediately.
Union leaders and Labour MPs are covering up their inaction with “Buy British” protectionism. But import controls won't save jobs. Cut throat competition and excess capacity are features of a capitalism in crisis across the world. Expropriating the steel industry here would be one step towards ending this system. Time for steelworkers to act!
Occupy, strike and nationalise
All threatened plants including their furnaces should be occupied, with unions mounting nationwide solidarity strikes to defend the industry. If the leaders stall on this, as they will, then the rank and file must seize the initiative.
Action committees of steelworkers not prepared to lie down should call mass meetings at affected plants to organise direct action. A grassroots rebellion could act as a beacon to steelworkers nationally.
Jeremy Corbyn has called for state intervention, including “joint enterprise with the company concerned or taking it into ownership”. He should be clearer.
Only full nationalisation of all the threatened plants – with no compensation to the owners and under the control of the workforce – will do. This in turn poses the nationalisation of the whole industry, not just individual plants. The current owners have lost their right to have any say in running the industry.
If Labour called for this there can be no doubt that steelworkers and their communities would rally and leap into action.