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24 January 2017
Steely opposition growing to Tata pension offer
Alec Thraves , Socialist Party Wales
Steelworkers in Port Talbot and across other Tata Steel plants in the UK will be voting at the end of January on a potential agreement that would see the final salary British Steel pension scheme closed down. It could be replaced by an inferior 'defined contribution' scheme which could result in tens of thousands of pounds being lost from workers. It could also force those in this dangerous and physically demanding industry to work until 65.
The 'carrot' being dangled in front of steelworkers in order to support this draconian measure is the so-called promise by Tata to invest £1 billion over the next ten years, a commitment to keep the two blast furnaces operating for five years and 'seeking' to avoid compulsory redundancies.
As steelworkers have studied the small print over the past month the opposition to the deal has grown. Tata's guarantee of investment is dependent on the company making £200 million profit a year (most believe it has to be at least £300 million) while 'seeking' to avoid compulsory redundancies paves the way for further job cuts down the road.
Despite the steel unions providing no leadership to their members by making no recommendation on the deal, in practice at the series of roadshows across the Port Talbot plant, management, the union and the pension trustees have been stressing that this deal is the only option on the table. They have implied members should vote for acceptance or will see the plant close!
Carwyn Jones, Labour's Welsh first minister, has enthusiastically supported the proposals in the Welsh Assembly. But then alongside Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon, he has attacked other politicians who have questioned the deal and told them not to interfere but let the steelworkers decide themselves!
Plaid Cymru's demand for rejection of the deal and temporary nationalisation falls short of a long-term solution. Steelworkers obviously want to both protect their pension scheme and secure a long term future for the steelworks. That is not possible by handing a 'temporarily nationalised' industry back to the financial vultures and speculators of the private sector.
The only real chance of securing the hard-won British Steel pension scheme and guaranteeing the long-term future of Port Talbot and the UK steel industry is by demanding the complete nationalisation of steel under democratic workers' control and management. That should be the recommendation of the steel unions to the threat of Tata's dismantling of the pensions scheme.
NSSN public meeting: Nationalise Tata to save pensions and jobs, Thursday 26 January, 7.30pm at Taibach Rugby Club, Port Talbot, SA13 1LN. Speakers include: Rob Williams, NSSN national chair, a steelworker and other trade unionists.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 24 January 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
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