Tata Steel’s plans to slash almost 3,000 jobs across Britain—and to close the Port Talbot blast furnaces—spell devastation for large numbers of working class people.
Capitalist vultures are feasting on the destruction—Tata shares rose after the announcement.
Every part of Tata’s operation could be impacted. Tata has works in Wales at Trostre in Llanelli, Llanwern in Newport, Catnic in Caerphilly, Shotton in Deeside.
There are distribution centres elsewhere including in Swansea as well as works in Hartlepool, Corby and Wednesfield.
But Port Talbot is the biggest casualty. Workers there met the news with a bitter sense of betrayal, but it was hardly a surprise after months of threats of savage job cuts.
Ron, a Port Talbot worker, told the media, “It’s hard blow. It’s like when the mines closed before. At one time these were good jobs that you could hope your children would follow you into.
“Now that’s gone and the industries that were supposed to come in have failed too. Ford closed at Bridgend a few years ago—that was supposed to be new jobs.”
As well as the people whose jobs are directly going, tens of thousands more in the areas around the plants’ will be hit.
Incredibly, the Tories are handing out half a billion pounds to Tata bosses to finance the move.
There’s a lie that the cuts flow from “woke” green policies.
That’s because Tata is ending the current method of steel production, which involves making new steel in blast furnaces. It will change to a new type of “electric arc” furnace which uses renewable electricity rather than fossil fuels to power the melting of scrap steel.
But that doesn’t have to mean devastation for working class people.
It’s right to produce steel, using methods that harm the environment least. It’s right to move away from the polluting processes that presently dominate the industry.
But that ought to be done with workers at the centre of decision-making, and not with profits dominating.
The unions have to fight for every job and for steel to be nationalised under democratic control.
A joint statement from the Community and GMB unions on Friday said, “It’s unbelievable any government would give a company £500 million to throw 3,000 workers on the scrapheap.”
It added, “We will now consult our members on the next steps and all options to protect jobs are on the table, including industrial action.”
Gary Keogh from Community told BBC News, “We will ballot our people and we will do what we’ve got to do. Without any shadow of a doubt.”
It will take real action to win. Bosses have presided over a catastrophic fall in steel jobs, and union leaders have failed to challenge them effectively.
In the early 1970s, the industry employed around 320,000 people, excluding those employed in steel processing and in supply chains.
By 1978 this figure had fallen to 271,000, and by 1991 it had plummeted to just 44,000.
In 2020, the steel industry employed a workforce that was less than 10 percent of the size of its 1971 workforce.
Labour nationalised steel in 1951, Winston Churchill’s Tories reversed that in 1953, Harold Wilson’s Labour nationalised it again in 1967 and Margaret Thatcher privatised it again in 1988.
But the key issue was less the formal ownership but the fighting capacity of workers. The 13-week national strike over pay in 1980 was betrayed by union leaders and the wider union movement. Even before privatisation, the workforce fell from 142,000 in 1980 to 52,000 in 1988 .
As a stream of private firms grabbed sections of the steel industry and tried to make quick profits, the unions responded with nationalism about “national security” and demands for more state cash to keep the corporations running the industry on board.
Workers have to push for a complete break from that approach.
The Tata group
Tata Steel is part of the larger Tata Group, a multinational with revenues of £118 billion in 2022-23.
It has 29 listed businesses including tea, cars, IT, consumer products, heavy metals, property and aviation.
Tata Steel has an annual crude steel capacity of 35 million tonnes, with 77,000 employees globally and manufacturing plants in 26 countries.
Tata Steel moved into the British steel industry in 2007 by winning a bidding war for the Dutch steelmaker Corus, the previous owner of the steelworks in Port Talbot.