Another threat by the Tata Group to close Port Talbot steelworks

Alec Thraves, Socialist Party Wales

Storm clouds are a common feature in this part of South Wales but there has been a permanent economic dark cloud over Port Talbot for several years because of the constant threat of the closure of the Tata Steel plant which employs around 4,000 workers and is the beating heart of the town and its surrounding communities.

Breaking news from the chairman of the Tata Group, without any consultation with the trade unions, that ‘action to close UK operations would be taken in 12 months if a £1.5 billion financial support package from Westminster is not forthcoming’ is just another devastating blow for this punch-drunk workforce and their families.

There is a widespread recognition that the UK steel industry needs to drastically reduce its carbon emissions, which accounted for 11.1% of Britain’s industrial emissions and 2.6% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, and steel unions have been discussing with Tata the potential options to decarbonise the industry whilst retaining much needed skilled jobs, terms and conditions.

Tata’s unilateral decision to opt for the closure of the two blast furnaces, ending specialised, primary steelmaking and introducing electric arc furnaces to recycle scrap steel would not only see a reduction in carbon emissions but also a massive reduction of the workforce.

Socialist Party members working in the Port Talbot plant during previous threats of closure treated with scepticism Tata’s denial at the time that the furnaces would be shut down and replaced as a recycling plant.

We demanded the nationalisation of Tata Steel as the only guarantee of securing a long-term future for primary steel making. In 2016, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) organised a protest in Port Talbot to demand that the plant be taken into public ownership to save the steelworks. Unfortunately, we have been proven right!

The Community union, which represents the majority of steelworkers at Tata Steel, along with Unite and the GMB, were still in discussions and exploring a series of alternative options for a decarbonisation roadmap before this recent bombshell was dropped on the workforce.

What is clear from Tata’s blatant blackmail threat is that the interests of shareholders remain dominant in its decision making.

Instead of public money being blindly thrown into Tata’s bottomless pit, the steel unions should be demanding the nationalisation of the UK steel industry under democratic workers’ control and management to ensure a green steel industry, job security and a future for Port Talbot. Unions must prepare their members for serious industrial action to build the pressure on the weak Tory government in Westminster and to call on the Welsh Labour government to intervene to save the works and defend jobs and working-class communities.