Steel crisis: sold down the river by Tata

Alec Thraves
Lobby to save Steel jobs, October 2015, photo Scott Jones

Lobby to save Steel jobs, October 2015, photo Scott Jones   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

According to some commentators, the multinational Tata Group has a reputation of being a paternalistic and caring corporation that takes into consideration the wellbeing of its workforce. Try telling that to the 4,000 steelworkers in Port Talbot and the tens of thousands across the rest of England, Wales and Scotland who either work for Tata Steel or depend on it. They face the prospect of being sold down the river by Tata’s decision to sell off its UK steel operations.

Welsh trade union leaders, Assembly ministers and the local MP, Stephen Kinnock, have spent months grovelling at the feet of Tata’s directors. They were deluded in their hope that the Tata board would accept the continuing losses of £1 million a day from its Port Talbot plant on the basis of the unions’ ‘turnaround’ proposals. These would still have seen another 750 jobs lost in the steelworks.

Like all multinational companies, whether UK or foreign owned, Tata’s only concern is about making money, not steel. The company’s decision to sell off its UK steel assets reflects the cold, calculating brutality of these capitalist multinationals.

At the same time it exposes the weakness and naivety of those labour and trade union leaders who claimed ‘there are no differences between us and Tata’! This is also a warning to the thousands of car workers in Jaguar Land Rover who have also been taken over by Tata.

The demand for nationalisation, consistently put forward by the Socialist Party over the past few months as the only guarantee of saving jobs and communities, is now firmly back on the agenda. Even some of those who mocked the idea are becoming latter day advocates of at least partial or temporary nationalisation.

Alongside the numerous formats of nationalisation or part-public ownership there are suggestions of private sector buy-outs and even a management/worker takeover.

What private sector company will be prepared to buy out a £1 million a day loss-making steel plant? None. What type of management/worker takeover would be able to take on those losses as well as putting in an estimated £500 million needed investment? None.

Number 5 blast furnace at the Corus steel plant in Port Talbot, Wales, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

Number 5 blast furnace at the Corus steel plant in Port Talbot, Wales, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Yet it is an entirely feasible price for the government to bear when such a fundamental economic asset is on the line, as well as the social costs of massive job losses. That is why it has been reported that even the Tories haven’t ruled out nationalisation – albeit as a temporary measure.

If the fight to save Port Talbot and all their other steel plants across the country is to succeed, both the Westminster and Welsh governments need to nationalise Tata Steel now.

Trade unions across Tata Steel should urgently convene a national meeting of shop stewards to organise this campaign for nationalisation, with compensation only on the basis of proven need, linking up with the tens of thousands in the communities indirectly affected by these potential job losses. It should also demand the nationalisation of the steel distribution network and for the procurement of steel from a nationalised company for public sector projects like Crossrail, HS2, power projects etc.

We call on the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to join the call for permanent nationalisation of Tata’s steel plants. This would heap huge pressure on the Tories to act. Scandalously, Labour Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones continues to be non-committal about taking this step.

Our Socialist Party leaflet, which has been widely distributed in Port Talbot over the past few months, concluded with the statement: “We cannot rely on Tata’s board of directors in India to secure the future of the Port Talbot works. That task is down to the workforce and community campaigning for nationalisation of steel now!”

Now is the time to act and secure the future of steel in Port Talbot and across the UK.

The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) is calling a public rally on 2 April in Port Talbot to launch our campaign for nationalisation. It will be at 12pm outside the Post Office on Station Road, Port Talbot.