The Crisis in Britain’s Steel Industry::

Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 45 Number 30, October 24, 2015 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE


The Working Class Must Force the
Government to Make the Alternative Happen

The closure of Britain’s second largest steel producer, Redcar Blast Furnace and coke ovens, which was shut down as a result of the liquidation of the UK subsidiary of Thailand’s biggest steel maker Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) on October 1, has been followed by further announcements of massive job losses and closures further wrecking Britain’s steel industry and ending all steel production in Scotland. On October 20, Tata Steel announced that 900 jobs will be lost with the closure of the plant in Scunthorpe and 400 jobs with the closure of the last remaining steel producers in Scotland which are the Clydebridge plant in Cambuslang and the Dalzell plate rolling works in Motherwell. At the same time, Caparo Industries steel manufacturers and distributors has threatened 1,700 workers across 20 sites, as it was also put into administration in declaring bankruptcy. Following these announcements, the Prime Minister and government ministers have been vigorously challenged by the workers and their representatives lobbying Parliament and forcing debates on the government in Parliament that it did not want to have. However, the issue facing the working class is to force the government to make the alternative happen.

Introducing the backbench debate on the steel industry that she initiated on September 17, Anna Turley, Labour/Co-op MP for Redcar, said: “UK steel is at breaking point. This is a crisis for one of the most important foundation industries in the British economy. It employs 30,000 people across the country in highly skilled jobs, often in industrial heartlands with high unemployment. The UK steel industry supports the automotive, construction and aerospace sectors, as well as a raft of

Tata Steel, Scunthorpe

supply chains, and it is vital that there is a future for steel making at the heart of industry in this country.” She concluded by saying that if the government does not act, “we will know that their words are hollow”. She said that in 2011 the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised “a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers” and she put a demand to the Minister: ”Will she act now to enable the sector to weather this storm? Can she tell the House whether the Chancellor’s ‘march of the makers’ includes the proud makers of steel on Teesside?”

The MP was joined by many other MPs contributing to the debate from different parties. For example, Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP), pointed out that Tata Steel’s Clydebridge plant was in her constituency, and its sister plant, Dalzell, is in the neighbouring constituency of Motherwell and Wishaw. These two plants are part of the Tata Steel long products business and she declared that Parliament needs to ensure that the plants in Scotland remain open and remain sustainable, adding jobs to the communities. After speaking about the whole history of the Scottish steel industry and its impending loss she declared: “The UK Government’s flippant ‘leave it to the market’ attitude will destroy this industry. Action needs to be taken, and it needs to be taken now.”

Caparo Merchant Bar in the shadow of Tata Steel, Scunthorpe

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn also confronted the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s Questions on the government’s refusal to intervene to save the steel industry, saying that “the real problem is that the government doesn’t actually have an industrial strategy to protect the most important industries we have in this country”. He pointed out that if they had they would not have had to be “dragged kicking and screaming to Parliament three times in the last eight days”. He said that there “should be concrete action today so that there is government intervention, there is support for the industry and we do have a viable steel industry for the long term”.

The present crisis of Britain’s steel industry today is the culmination of years of closing of plants and selling off the remaining assets of what was previously the state owned British Steel Corporation by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s. At that time, some 265,000 worked in an industry which now employs around 30,000. The British Steel Corporation was a state owned global monopoly made up of companies which had previously driven British colonial trade, with some 200 factories of wholly or partly owned subsidiaries based in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Africa, South Asia and South America. Instead of the Thatcher government addressing the need to end the unequal trade with former colonial countries and develop mutually beneficial trade relations in steel production it pursued its neo-liberal, foreign domination agenda and


Redcar Blast Furnace, Teesside

entered into massive steel plant closures and privatisation of the industry at home and abroad. Such wanton destruction of Consett, Corby, Ravenscraig and Shotton in the 1980s devastated whole steel communities before the remaining steel assets were sold off at knock down prices to the private sector. The new US Chief Executive, Ian MacGregor, was brought in by Margaret Thatcher to implement this mass destruction, before the company was privatised as British Steel plc in 1988. This company then merged with the Dutch steel company Koninklijke Hoogovens to form Corus in 1999. Corus was taken over by the Indian Steel monopoly Tata in 2007.

Since the 1980s, successive governments have continued to wash their hands of responsibility for the steel industry, have allowed the profiteering of the various private monopoly owners, sanctioning the closures and asset stripping, and leaving the steel industry to the profiteering of finance capital, consultancy firms, energy monopolies and so on. They have refused to make the investment required to maintain a modern steel industry on which the social economy relies.

David Cameron reflected this abrogation of responsibility for such a vital industry during Prime Minister’s Questions when he could only shout down the opposition with a comment that Parliament “can’t set the steel price” and that the problem was cheap Chinese steel and that China was “overproducing steel” and this cheap steel was allegedly being “dumped” on the world steel market. But the fact is that not only does the government refuse to accept responsibility for a steel industry which the cartel parties of government have abandoned since the 1980s but they also refuse to develop proper trade relations with other countries. Their whole orientation is to get behind the competition of their monopolies on the global market. They actively support the domination of the financial and other markets by their financial oligarchy which has led to the most severe impoverishment in many countries of the world. They have also actively promoted the export of arms all over the world to war zones and are behind the mayhem, death and

Dalzell plate rolling mill, Motherwell, Scotland

destruction in Iraq, Libya, Syria and in many other parts of the world. This is quite opposite to the way that China has conducted itself. As it is, the trade deals being made are perfectly proper for the Chinese and the British government has no right to complain and try to divert attention from their own failure to safeguard the British steel industry and to sell off the country’s assets with no concern for the consequences.

Today the steel industry has been left without being part of an alternative industrial strategy to meet the needs of a modern socialised economy but has been abandoned to go from one crisis to another. This is leading the steel industry down the road to its complete destruction under the neo-liberal agenda of the present government. Only the working class with its programme that serves its interests has a human-centred programme for the national economy which would safeguard the vital manufacturing base and ensure that trade deals enhance the life of the people. The British government has a responsibility to ensure that Britain has a steel industry not only for the long term but a modern steel industry on which the social economy relies and which mutually benefits the people of other countries. But the challenge today for the steel workers and the whole working class is to build the Workers Opposition and fight for this alternative direction for the economy so that the government is forced make the alternative happen. Only the working class can save the day!

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One Response to The Crisis in Britain’s Steel Industry::

  1. david craven says:

    I think the government should intervene, if base material costs are subsidisied in other countries then its not a level playing field….its also not consistent with a green policy you only have to look at the piles of coal imported at Humberside on boats that use fuel and the decimation of local communities.Its also cutting off a lifeline…. imagine how we would have coped in 1939 with no local steel manufacturing we would have been snookered.

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