Number 5 blast furnace at the Corus steel plant in Port Talbot, Wales, credit: Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons) (uploaded 22/10/2015)
Number 5 blast furnace at the Corus steel plant in Port Talbot, Wales, credit: Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons) (uploaded 22/10/2015)

Socialist Party Wales

The proposal by the Tory government and Tata Steel for the Port Talbot plant to shut down its two blast furnaces and replace them with ‘greener’ electric arc furnaces, requiring thousands fewer workers, have provoked anger and panic amongst the workforce, steel unions and the local community.

The electric arc furnaces would basically turn the works into a steel recycling plant rather than the primary steel-making operation (using basic raw materials and converting iron ore and coking coal into steel) as now exists, with high demand for its specialised steel.

Thousands of jobs are directly under threat, alongside thousands more subsidiary jobs if this cost-saving project is given the green light. It would devastate the already battered economies of Port Talbot, the Valleys and surrounding areas.

As is to be expected, the damage of big job losses to one of the poorest communities in the UK is of secondary importance to Tata and the Tories!

This proposal has nothing to do with Tata’s so-called ‘green’ credentials but is all about retaining profits for their shareholders.

There have been no consultations with steel unions to consider other methods of de-carbonisation, such as hydrogen-based blast furnaces, which could maintain primary steelmaking alongside electric arc production.

Moving to electric arc furnaces will of course drastically cut Tata’s wage bill by throwing steelworkers onto the unemployment scrapheap, with next to no chance of finding alternative employment.

The Tory government is claiming that their £500 million state aid is “an historic package of support” but it is really subsidising slashing jobs and devastating working-class communities.

Since the battle to save jobs and pensions in 2016-17, steelworkers have been served further job cuts as well as attacks on pensions and conditions. The promises back then to ‘keep the furnaces firing’ and further investment have been shown as a lie!

In assisting the successful struggles of the steelworkers seven years ago, the Socialist Party and the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) pointed out that “the only secure future for the plant is nationalisation of steel under democratic workers’ control and management.”

That central demand in 2016-17 to ’Nationalise Tata to Save Steel’ must be urgently put back on the agenda by steel unions, Wales Trades Union Congress, the Welsh Labour government and community campaigners in preparation for the struggle ahead!