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From The Socialist newspaper, 6 January 2016

Steel: public ownership needed as private buyers threaten pay and pensions

Matt Dobson, Socialist Party Scotland

According to press reports, the SNP Scottish government will provide a 195,000 short term subsidy package in early 2016, to threatened Lanarkshire Tata steel plants in Motherwell and Clydebridge.

This will pay short time working (65% pay) to those who remain employed at the two plants, but only a minority of jobs will be saved - around 75 staff in Lanarkshire already lost their jobs before Christmas.

The SNP government continues to orientate its taskforce towards finding a private buyer rather than using the option of nationalisation.

This is despite not being able to find a buyer during the period of consultation since Tata Steel announced the closure of the plants in October.

Taskforce

Head of the taskforce, SNP minister Fergus Ewing, has stated: "It is critical for any new commercial operator intending on restarting production at Motherwell and Clydebridge to be able to get the mothballed plants quickly up and running again after a period of inactivity."

While the immediate threat of redundancy has been removed for some Tata staff, it will not be lost on the workforce and wider community that the SNP government is presiding over job losses and a significant pay cut for the remaining workforce.

All this in the hope a private buyer will be found - instead of securing all the jobs and maintaining terms and conditions of the workforce and the plants as an industrial asset, through taking the plants under public ownership.

It appears Tata may have found a buyer, US firm Greybull Capital, for the long product division at Scunthorpe.

However, this will mean the majority of the threatened 1,200 redundancies will still take place even if the sale is completed. Also it seems Greybull is not willing to buy the Lanarkshire plants despite the efforts of Fergus Ewing.

Socialist Party Scotland has consistently warned from the beginning of the steel crisis that there was a risk of private buyers immediately threatening the hard won terms and conditions of the workforce.

This has happened already with the unions accepting short time working and news that Greybull wants immediate "reform" - the scrapping of the final-salary pension scheme and to introduce changes to overtime pay and bonuses at Scunthorpe - as a condition of buying the plant.

In May 2015, Tata were forced to back down from these very measures by an overwhelming vote for industrial action by the workforce.

The steel trade unions must fight every attempt to undermine these terms and conditions, but Paul McBean, the chairman of the works multi-union committe on 5 January said: "By law Greybull will have to offer us a new pension scheme. But we cannot expect thm to contribute to the British Steel Pension Scheme as Tata Steel have done." This resignation to losing the pension scheme is unacceptable.

They would be in a lot stronger position to avoid these attacks if they had taken a fighting approach from the start, mobilising the workforce and the wider community for a mass campaign for nationalisation.

Meeting

Trade unions at all Tata plants, and in the steel industry beyond, should convene an emergency meeting of shop stewards to organise a mass campaign drawing in support from communities for nationalisation.

The trade unions cannot rely on taskforces involving the bosses who have mismanaged the industry, to protect their interests.

A discussion needs to take place among shop stewards and steel workers about tactics, including occupations and industrial action to force the issue of nationalisation and a fightback to protect terms and conditions.

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