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14 November 2020

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Fight Tata Steel jobs threat - nationalise now!

Port Talbot steelworks, photo Grubb (Creative Commons)

Port Talbot steelworks, photo Grubb (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge)

Alec Thraves, Swansea and West Wales Socialist Party

Once again, just before Christmas, the jobs of thousands of Tata UK steelworkers are threatened by the announcement that Tata Steel intends to make its UK business "self-sustaining" whilst at the same time off-loading its Netherlands based operations, making the UK, with approximately 8,000 workers, its sole European steel operation.

Around 4,000 of those jobs are based in the massive Port Talbot steel making plant with several smaller sites around Wales and the rest of the UK.

As well as seeking a further 500 million bailout, Tata expects its UK business to run without any financial support from the parent company in India.

Over the past five years steel union leaders, and national, Welsh and local politicians, have succumbed to the pressure and threats from the directors of Tata Steel. Jobs have been shed, terms and conditions have been allowed to deteriorate, and they have agreed to the winding up of the hard-won pension scheme.

Weakness always invites aggression from ruthless multi-national corporations like Tata and despite all the promises, the reward for all the concession bargaining over the years is another threat to end steelmaking in Port Talbot and the closure of the other plants!

As expected, there has been another flood of crocodile tears from 'concerned' politicians and unfortunately a complete absence of a clear fighting strategy from the steel trade union leaders.

Wales Economy Minister, Ken Skates, said the news was "extremely worrying" for Tata's 8,000 UK workers - a blatantly obvious observation but with no sign of any concrete strategy being put forward by the Welsh Government except for putting their faith in Tata "to find a sustainable future for operations in the UK"!

Mark Drakeford tweeted: "The steel industry has a strong future in Wales and the UK - we will do all we can to protect it." Steelworkers will be asking the First Minister exactly what he will be doing to protect their jobs, livelihoods and communities? The silence is deafening!

It really is a pointless exercise for the steel trade union leaders to once again plead to a profit-driven, multi-national like Tata to "reaffirm their commitment to the UK".

It makes no difference whatsoever to the Tata directors if trade union leaders continuously point out to them that they "take confidence from the fact that our steelworkers are the best in the world. Under the right leadership, given the right tools, and the chance to compete on a level playing field, we back ourselves to compete with the world's best".

Unfortunately, in the real world of brutal capitalist competition, the only loyalty Tata directors have is to their millionaire shareholders. For them, its UK operations are loss-makers which have to be sidelined, with future funding stopped.

Socialist Party Wales and the Welsh Shop Stewards Network have consistently opposed the concession bargaining tactics of Welsh politicians and trade union leaders and have vociferously campaigned for Tata Steel UK to be taken into public ownership, nationalised under democratic workers' control and management, in order to guarantee the survival of this vital industry and the communities which depend on it.

The BBC reports that Tom Hoyles, of the GMB Wales union, said that public ownership and UK government support "should be on the table" if necessary. But it is absolutely necessary and must be to the forefront of the steel union's campaign, alongside preparing for militant industrial action, including occupations to keep the plants open.

Over the past several months even a right-wing Tory government has been forced to recognise that in an emergency situation state intervention on a massive scale is necessary to protect livelihoods and jobs.

The potential closure of the Port Talbot plant and others around the country should also be treated as a jobs and community emergency, with both the national and Welsh governments intervening to reassure steelworkers that their jobs will be secured through state funding.

As a top priority, steel unions should immediately convene an emergency zoom conference of shop stewards from across Tata UK to ensure that a plan is put into place for a united campaign to implement the nationalisation of Tata UK.

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