Corus steel workers on the Unite jobs demonstration in Birmingham, photo Paul Mattsson

Corus steel workers on the Unite jobs demonstration in Birmingham, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The recent sale by Corus of the steel plant on Teesside to the Thai company SSI is welcome news but in reality the situation should never have got to this stage.

A socialist steel worker

The whole sorry saga began back in January 2009 when Corus announced it was to sell its share of Teesside Cast Products. This announcement was buried within a general communication that included 2,500 job losses throughout Corus.

The sale never went through due to the prospective buyer pulling out of the deal three months later.

This placed the survival of the plant in jeopardy and a Save Our Steel Campaign was launched that concentrated on persuading Corus and the New Labour government to secure the future of steelmaking in the North East.

There were threats of legal action by Corus and false hopes emerged when the participants agreed to talks but these efforts did not bear fruit.

In July 2009 the campaign staged a march through Redcar attended by thousands of workers, including delegations from South Wales, Scunthorpe and South Yorkshire.

Corus workers protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Corus workers protest, photo Paul Mattsson

The campaign should have harnessed the support shown by the community and other areas to turn it into a national campaign for the whole of the UK steel industry, which by then was in danger of collapsing due to declining orders. But the campaign remained local, with further marches and fringe meetings at TUC and Labour Party conferences. The campaign still clung to the forlorn hope of a government bailout.

In December 2009 the announcement came that the plant was to be mothballed with around 2,000 jobs lost.

During February 2010 it emerged that there was a buyer interested in the plant but Corus was showing no interest in negotiating. Community union (the ex-iron and steel union) arranged meetings with reps from other plants with support for industrial action being sought. This resulted in the spectacle of Community needing to get support from reps of the other steel unions because their own reps felt that their members would not fight.

Thanks to arguments advanced by militant elements of the steel stewards, the threat of industrial action was made in March 2010. But by then it was an empty gesture and one that the company ignored.

The mothballing came and thousands lost their jobs. Vera Baird, the local Labour MP, lost her seat to a Liberal.

Pressure continued to be put on Corus to listen to offers from prospective buyers, resulting in the recent announcement of the sale of the plant. This gives the local area some hope but the plant should have been given a lifeline by the government with nationalisation an obvious option.

The sale is proof that there is a demand for the goods produced at the plant. New Labour found billions to bail out the banks, but a few million was too much for them to find to protect jobs and skills in the steel industry.