The Workers Continue to Build their Resistance to the Anti-Social Offensive
On Wednesday, October 28, hundreds of steel workers from Redcar, Tata and Caparo steel plants marched on Parliament to confront the government over the steel industry closures and massive loss of employment. The lobby was organised by the steel unions Community, Unite and GMB. The steel lobby was also planned to coincide with an opposition-led debate on the steel industry in the House of Commons. The motion1 tabled for the debate called for the government to “publish a full Industrial Strategy, including what level of capacity the Government envisages is needed in the steel industry, so as to safeguard this vital strategic asset”. The motion was defeated by 307 to 280 even though only a very low number of Conservative MPs took part in the debate. Yet the fact that an opposition was launched to the wrecking of the national economy has highlighted that an alternative can and must be found, and has underlined that the workers need to continue to build their resistance to the anti-social offensive and to fight for the alternative.
Already, on Tuesday the government Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, Anna Soubry, had told the Commons’ Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee that “Redcar is not going to come back … the priority is securing Port Talbot
and making sure thatScunthorpe survives” but that the government could only act in “areas where government has some responsibility” and this was only “just a level playing field”. This latter comment was related to the visit of Savid Javid, the government’s Business Secretary, to Brussels on Tuesday to “lobby” European Commissioners to allow the UK to subsidise energy costs to energy intensive industries (EII) and call for an emergency EU council steel meeting.
During the debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Angela Eagle, Shadow Business Secretary, said that “the steel industry is in full scale crisis with a government unwilling before they were pushed to do anything practical to help”. She said that not only in the region of 6,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, are lost at Redcar but the “hard closure” of that site and the steel-making assets there, including what was the second largest blast furnace in Europe, has effectively ended 170 years of steel making in Redcar. Angela Eagle condemned the government for its refusal to intervene, thereby ensuring the destruction of specialist local skills and condemning the community there to a bleak future. Tata Steel’s announcement about the closure of its long products business in Scunthorpe, Dalzell and Clydebridge has cost 1,170 jobs, and effectively ended steel-making in Scotland. Also, she said, the news that Caparo Industries had filed for
administration means that 1,700 more jobs are at risk across the country. The Shadow Business Secretary said that the UK’s steel-making capacity “is being sacrificed on the altar of laissez-faire economics” and she drew the conclusion that the government does not have an industrial strategy with a coherent approach to the steel industry.
In spite of being dragged into the Parliament by the action of the workers and their representatives to save the steel industry, the government only recognises the need for a so-called “level playing field”. In other words, the government upholds that the steel monopolies must be free to engage in capitalist competition in world markets with a “level playing field”, creating the illusion that if only competition is “fair” nothing else can be done. As part of this logic, it is said that the problem facing the steel industry is one of “overproduction” of steel particularly by China which allegedly is causing the crisis by “dumping steel” in the European market. But the real reason is that the steel workers and people of Britain do not have sovereign control of their economy which enables the people to engage in mutually beneficial trade with other countries. Instead, the government on the one hand abandons its responsibility to ensure the development of a balanced national
economy, and on the other servesthe financial interests that demand a quick score at whatever expense to the public good. While speaking of a “golden era” opening up with China, in reality the government is presiding over an economy controlled by global monopolies engaged in aggressive competition for maximum profits and control of global steel production.
This is shown, for example, when in 2014 Britain’s steel monopolies exported 8.6 million tonnes of steel out of a national production of 12 million tonnes2. At the same time, British companies imported 7.4 million tonnes of steel. In other words, the monopoly capitalist economy is a structurally inefficient and unsustainable system with the majority of the steel produced in Britain exported and most of the steel used in Britain imported. In fact, in 2014 Britain imported 4.9 million tonnes of steel from Europe and only 792,000 tonnes from China, an increase on the previous year of 273,000 tonnes of steel from Europe and 391,000 from China. If there were any legitimate charge of dumping, it should be laid at the feet of the EU and not China.
It is the relations of production and the control by private monopoly capital interests that is the cause of the crisis in steel and the fact that the government has continued to wash its hands of responsibility for the steel industry and has allowed this situation to go from one crisis to another since it was privatised in the 1980s. With the present massive closures of steel production in Britain, the costs of closure will be much greater than the amount required to invest in the industry in the long term. By not taking up its responsibility the government will wipe out modern fixed assets of the steel
industry. It will cost the communities hundreds of millions of pounds sterling in lost productive capacity. Unemployment and redundancy further fuel the crisis in the British economy and further decimate whole towns and communities.
The necessity is for a change in this direction, for a sustainable economy where the steel industry supports and complements the social economy and develops mutually beneficial trade with peoples of other countries. This is the way forward. The working class has to be in the driving seat of this new direction to make this alternative happen. The working class movement must continue to assert that public right must prevail over monopoly right. In other words, the demand for investments in the steel industry must come from the perspective of the steelworkers and the people themselves gaining control over the industry and its direction and increasingly limiting the control of the monopoly elite. The steel workers must continue to make their voice heard for their alternative build the Workers’ Opposition in the space that has opened up with the anti-austerity opposition and demand a pro-social and anti-war government. The necessity of the time is to continue to build their resistance to the anti-social offensive, hold the government to account, and take up the fight for the alternative.
1 Motion for debate
The following motion had been tabled for debate:
“That this House believes that the UK steel industry is of national strategic importance and should be supported by the Government; notes that the UK steel industry is in crisis, and that the recent closure of SSI in Redcar has resulted in 2,000 direct job losses, with a further 1,000 contractors and 6,000 jobs in the local supply chain lost, the announcement by Tata Steel that they will no longer produce steel plate at Dalzell, Clydebridge and Scunthorpe has resulted in 1,170 job losses, and that 1,700 jobs are at risk as Caparo Industries has gone into administration; recognises that for every direct steel job lost a further three indirect job losses will follow; further notes the vital importance of the steel industry to those local communities it serves, the proud industrial heritage of Britain’s steel towns and the very real threat to these parts of the country should the steel industry disappear; and calls on the Government to take immediate action to protect the steel industry, including immediately implementing the Energy Intensive Industry Compensation Package, taking action with the EU Commission on anti-dumping measures, looking at temporary action on Business Rates, reviewing how regulatory frameworks impact the industry, and promoting local content and sustainability in procurement contacts, and for the Government to publish a full Industrial Strategy, including what level of capacity the Government envisages is needed in the steel industry, so as to safeguard this vital strategic asset.”
Of course, the way these debates go, the motion was turned into its opposite by means of a government “amendment”. This in itself shows the non-seriousness of the pro-austerity Conservatives in addressing the content of the problem.