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Tata steel crisis: 100% nationalisation now!
Alec Thraves, Socialist Party Wales
With the government's announcement that it is prepared to take a 25% stake in a Tata Steel buyout there has inevitably been a flurry of reaction with hopes understandably raised that such a deal could offer a lifeline to steel workers and their communities.
Even the partial nationalisation offered by this Tory government, a complete anathema to its ideological stance of privatising anything that moves, shows the enormous political pressure Cameron is facing in trying to retain the UK's power and prestige in this critical area of manufacturing.
When Tata announced plans to cut 1,050 jobs in the UK last January, including 750 at its Port Talbot plant, Socialist Party members, alongside the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN), launched a campaign for the democratic nationalisation of Tata Steel as the only guarantee of keeping the plants open.
Unlike some of the Welsh steel trade union leaders and Aberavon MP, Stephen Kinnock, we had no confidence that the Tata board of directors in Mumbai would protect the jobs of steel workers and unfortunately we were proven correct.
At the start of our campaign for full nationalisation the Welsh government's First Minister, Carwyn Jones, dismissed outright the call for nationalisation, calling it a 'red herring' and a 'non-starter', as did the so-called leaders of the steel workers' union Community, when one of their Welsh representatives told BBC Wales news that they were actually opposing nationalisation!
These very same people are now ecstatic at the government's announcement of 25% nationalisation, which of course is a big step forward. But because it still comes with reliance on private sector intervention from investment companies and vulture capitalists there remains great uncertainty over the future of the plants.
A united struggle involving Tata Steel workers from across the company to demand full nationalisation remains the best way to save jobs and defend steel communities. This is what the steel unions should be urgently organising instead of going cap in hand, begging the ruthless private sector to invest!
Welsh billionaire Sir Terry Matthews, the self-proclaimed Knight in Shining Armour, is in the process of pulling together a consortium of interested business partners, steel managers and even the chief executive of Neath Port Talbot council, who himself has had a great deal of experience in implementing massive cuts over the past few years.
Little wonder then that as well as a desperate hope of success there is also a big dose of cynicism towards this proposed consortium buyout.
Many older steel workers remember the Phoenix Consortium which bought out the Longbridge car plant in Birmingham in 2000 for £10 and was effectively given £500 million by the then owner, BMW, plus £16 million from the New Labour government. Five years later, the five executives put the company into administration, sacking 6,000 workers on statutory redundancy terms and walked away with £42 million in pay and pensions!
It's reported that this proposed management buyout would also involve steel workers putting up to £10,000 each into the pot. This has been met with amazement by steelworkers who not only blame the present management for part of the problems in the plant but say they have absolutely no chance of finding £10,000 to invest in a project that was rejected as too risky by Tata itself. As one steel worker commented: "It would be like me withdrawing £10,000 from my bank account, driving down to the plant and throwing it into the blast furnace! .... Why should we risk money we haven't got when bankers took no risks and were 100% bailed out by the government?"
There is even a suggestion that the 130,000 workers in the pension scheme should also 'invest' their money into the project. Even the jovial, uncle-type figure of Sir Terry Matthews, head of the consortium, is reluctant to invest any of his own money into the management buyout and neither will the trade union leaders and politicians advocating such a position do so.
Full nationalisation under democratic workers' control and management, financed by the Westminster and the Welsh governments, would avoid any financial risk to workers and would ensure the funds are available to reinvest in and then develop a plan of production to save jobs and communities.
The steel industry is a multi-billion pound organisation that can only be financially secured by government funds and full nationalisation. It bears no comparison to those who misguidedly point to the management and workers' buyout of Tower colliery, a few miles up the valleys, as a way forward. Tower colliery was a tiny project in comparison to Tata, which had a short term profitable future but inevitably as a small island cooperative, working in a sea of capitalism, has now closed.
The fight for the future of Port Talbot and the other Tata plants lies not in the hands of the investment bankers or vulture capitalists but in a united struggle of the steel unions to demand 100% nationalisation now!
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 22 April 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.