Photo: Lewis Clarke/CC
Photo: Lewis Clarke/CC

Alec Thraves, Swansea Socialist Party and Swansea Trades Council.

Seven months of fruitless ‘negotiations’ between the steel unions and Tata’s deaf, brutal and intransigent bosses have resulted in the widely expected rejection of both the Unite and the Community/GMB alternative proposals to retain primary steel making at Port Talbot.

With a shrug of his shoulders, Tata Steel’s billionaire managing director, TV Narendran, claimed the unions’ proposals were ‘unaffordable’ and that Tata would proceed with its original plans to close both furnaces and the ‘heavy end’ of production by September, with the loss of at least 2,000 jobs, resulting in the social and economic devastation of the local communities.

Unite members have already voted in support of industrial action, to save all jobs at the plant, and Community, the largest steel union, is in the process of balloting its members, alongside the smaller GMB union, with the ballots closing on 7 May.

Tata is attempting to further increase pressure on the workforce by announcing the opening of a voluntary redundancy scheme from 15 May, with enhanced payments offered to those who do not participate in any industrial action.

A report in ‘Mint’, an Indian business and financial newspaper, highlighted the contempt Tata has for the steel unions. They commented that discussions will continue with the unions over the next two weeks to try and reach a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ over the future ambitions of the business and the impact of the restructuring on employees!

This type of deliberate misinformation has been regularly used by Tata to try and sow confusion and demoralisation amongst steelworkers.

In reality, the urgent task over the next two weeks will be the preparation, plans and strategy by the three steel unions for united industrial action to save the plant!

Unite General Secretary, Sharon Graham, has responded to Tata’s dogmatic proposals by warning that Unite “will be using every power at its disposal and will not be so easily defeated. Its plans will be answered with industrial action”.

After Keir Starmer announced the effective renationalisation of passenger rail when Labour comes into office, this was immediately taken up by steelworkers and their supporters as the only realistic option to save the plant and all the jobs at Port Talbot!

Comments on our campaign stall included: “We have voted for industrial action, which is great, but industrial action for what outcome? To put more pressure on Tata to change their minds? That’s a sick joke! To get other private/public investors to take over? No chance! Our union leaders should demand that Starmer commits to nationalise Tata immediately on taking office, and that’s our only hope of giving confidence to members to reject the redundancy bribe and guarantee our jobs for the future!”

Another said: “Remember that the last Labour government in 2007-8 bailed out the billionaire bankers, which cost working-class people a whopping £127 billion of our taxes. So why can’t we spend £12 billion to save our steelworkers’?

Those comments highlight the willingness to fight to save steel but also the demand for a political intervention by a Welsh-led Labour government and a ‘soon-to-be’ Labour government in Westminster.

The most serious industrial action is now necessary to combat Tata’s ultimatum of primary steel destruction and job losses which must be supported by the whole trade union movement, including mass mobilisations on the first day of strike action.

This industrial action has to go hand-in-hand with the political pressure that will be necessary to demand nationalisation of this ‘critical’ manufacturing industry!

The Tata announcement means this really is crunch time to save steel and the demand for ‘Nationalisation not Devastation’ can unite steel workers and communities for an historic victory!

Cardiff May Day rally and march in support of steel workers, organised by Cardiff Trades Council 12 noon, Saturday 4 May, top of Churchill Way at Queen Street, CF10 2GR

Swansea May Day rally 12 noon, Saturday 4 May, Castle Square, Swansea