Steel workers in the Unite union demonstrate earlier this year at Port Talbot (Photo: Guy Smallman)

“It’s blackmail, and it’s bullying. And I don’t like either of those. I think we have to be even more determined and think how to go harder.”

That was Port Talbot steel worker Alun said in response to the news that Tata company bosses have threatened to shut down its two blast furnaces in south Wales immediately.

Tata says they could close as early as next week unless workers from the Unite union call off a strike. 

Jason, an electrical engineer at the Port Talbot hot mill, told Socialist Worker, “This is industrial vandalism. But it’s not really unexpected. It’s what Tata has been trying to do all along, trying to frighten people. We can’t give up now.”  

The strike is set to start on 8 July, just after a new government is elected. Tata has said it might begin closing both blast furnaces from Monday “for safety reasons”.

They would then be permanently shut no later than 7 July.

This is open intimidation, seeking to humiliate and crush resistance to Tata’s plans to destroy 2,800 jobs at the plant. It is an early test for a Labour government, Unite and the whole working class movement, particularly in south Wales.

It is more urgent than ever that all steel workers at Port Talbot and Llanwern, where strikes are due to take place, come out now and don’t wait. Whatever union they are in, and whatever their union leaders have said, there has to be action now.

There should be no agreement to any processes that lead to a shutdown, and workers must not perform them.

Workers should organise for an occupation of the threatened sites and demand nationalisation of the industry under democratic social control.

Tata also said it had started legal action against Unite, challenging the validity of the strike ballot. Unite said last week that about 1,500 workers would begin an indefinite strike from 8 July—but that might be too late if Tata carries out its threat.

It’s also outrageous that leaders of the Community and GMB unions, whose members have voted for action, have called no strikes and will tell workers to cross picket lines. This can only encourage Tata’s assaults.  

Rajesh Nair, chief executive of Tata Steel UK, told workers in a message on Thursday that the firm had proposed to Unite a set of exemptions from the strike. These would mean “minimum levels of service and support to enable ironmaking and steelmaking to continue to operate safely”.

Unite should reject that demand. It would mean a strike that isn’t a strike.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said Tata’s statement was the “latest in a long line of threats that won’t deter us”. Good, but action needs to be brought forward, whether it is against the anti-union laws or not.

And other plants should join in. Tata has works at Trostre in Wales, in Llanelli, Catnic, in Caerphilly and Shotton in Deeside. There are distribution centres including in Swansea as well as works in Hartlepool, Corby in Northamptonshire and Wednesfield in Wolverhampton.

There’s a lie that the job 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 is 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.

Extinction Rebellion UK, Extinction Rebellion Cymru and other climate justice groups have joined Tata workers’ protests and will do so now again.

Labour has previously urged Tata to reconsider a compromise plan backed by the Community and GMB unions to retain one of the blast furnaces until the electric arc furnace is operational. That’s too slow. Starmer could nationalise the plant virtually overnight if he has the political will to do so.

A Tory prime minister, Edward Heath, nationalised aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce in a few days in 1971.

The unions must fight for every job.

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