From the TUC

Tata steel crisis needs real action – not confusion and mixed messages

31 Mar 2016, by Guest in Economics

Tata Steel’s plans to sell its UK assets have plunged our steel industry into uncertainty. It’s not just the 4,000 steelworkers in Port Talbot who risk losing their jobs but also thousands more workers in Tata’s businesses elsewhere in the UK, and people working in Tata’s supply chains – which think tank IPPR reckon could total as many as 40,000 jobs.

I have just returned from Mumbai where I have been with Port Talbot steelworkers and the local MP, meeting Tata, only to hear an underwhelming statement from the Prime Minister. The PM had the gall to state that his intervention with Tata was responsible for securing a ‘sales process’ but the sad truth is that BIS ministers didn’t take the opportunity to join us in Mumbai and the government was nowhere to be seen.

I am disappointed that the government still has no plan for the industry but instead seems to be adding to the confusion and mixed messages that have been the state of play for the last 36 hours.

It started with steel minister Anna Soubry telling us on Tuesday morning that the government would “leave nothing off the table” in finding a way out of this crisis. However, by the afternoon her boss, business secretary Sajid Javid, had already said that one of the practical options available to the government – nationalisation – was “not a solution”.

The Prime Minister, who has previously promised to do all he could to safeguard UK steel has ruled out a recall of Parliament. The industry is standing on the brink of a national industrial crisis, and it’s profoundly disappointing the Prime Minister doesn’t see this as a sufficient priority for a recall that would give MPs from worried steel communities across the UK the opportunity to debate the issue and hold the government to account.

Seeing confusion and mixed messages from our government will only increase the worry of steelworkers and their communities across the UK. At the steelworkers’ union Community, we have always been willing to work constructively with government to secure a future for steelmaking.

But we’re worried that the fact they are saying they will do all they can, yet still being unclear on any potential positive government intervention shows a government divided and without the political will to take the tough action that will be necessary to save our industry. We don’t want Sajid Javid rushing back from Australia, just to repeat the mistakes he and his colleagues made over Redcar.

It is also too soon to be talking about measures to mitigate job losses. People still have jobs now and the government should be focused on ensuring that their employment and steel making continues.

Steel is an industry of strategic importance for the UK, but at a time when we need clarity on a response in the national interest, the government seems mired in confusion. This is not just the third day of a steel crisis; we have been dealing with the consequences of the current global steel market for months if not years. It is astonishing that the government was so unprepared for Tata’s announcement.

I would like to see evidence of the Prime Minister’s claims that they have increased procurement of British steel or tackled Chinese dumping of steel in Europe as it’s not what I hear from steel producers. The UK is one of the member states opposing the end of the lesser duty rule in Europe, which currently prevents higher tariffs being imposed.

Steelworkers need a government that will protect their jobs and ensure a long term future for British steel making. We simply will not accept a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to protecting our members’ livelihoods and families. Rather than the Prime Minister sitting down with his ministers, perhaps he should heed our call to meet us. Our members and I can help set him and his government back on the right path.

2 Responses to Tata steel crisis needs real action – not confusion and mixed messages

  1. Ken Toulson
    Mar 31st 2016, 5:20 pm

    Talk about mixed messages the TUC takes some beating.

    The problems we are now facing is that over the last 30 years the TUC and the trade union movement have allowed working class gains to be gradually eroded.

    It’s now time to ditch the rhetoric and start a fightback. No one can be so misguided now as to believe that this vicious government will back down on this Trade Union Bill in the face of petitions, pathetic appealing, soliciting and kowtowing to self-interested politicians. After all the damage this government has done, and will continue to do, to the NHS, public services and welfare state when given full rein, the only thing that is going to stop them is a full-blown general strike, but there’s not even a whiff of this coming from the TUC or our trade union leaders.

    Only when the TUC and trade union leaders stop wringing their hands and start leading a serious fightback against this vicious Tory government will we have chance to defeat their barbaric policies.

    Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws were never repealed despite 13 years of a New Labour government’s opportunity to do so. The TUC and most of the trade unions’ leaders’ complacency and Labour’s neglect to repeal these laws when it had the chance clearly emboldened this vicious Tory government and laid the foundations for them to further build on and escalate the attacks.

    It need never have got to the stage of this vicious Tory government’s all-out attack on unions’ right to strike if the TUC and most trade union leaders had not squandered multiple opportunities to take them on.

    Organising hundreds of thousands protesters in rallies, protests and short-lived ineffective strikes is futile if the actions are not meaningfully followed up. Pleading for concessions serves only to betray its weakness.

    Millions marched and took strike action over March, June and November 2011 over the pensions dispute only to be betrayed by the climb down of the Unison and GMB unions signing the ‘heads of agreement’, and in doing so, isolated the PCS union, the only union willing to fight on. Encouraged by this, Danny Alexander, in Parliament at the end of December 2011 gloated that the ‘heads of agreement’ deliver the government’s key objectives in full, and do so with no new money since our November offer.”

    And then, among other failures to rise to the occasion, health unions suspended the further NHS strikes planned for the 29 January and 25 February 2015 leading to acceptance of an inadequate offer.

    Similarly with the local government workers in 2013.

    For the TUC and trade union leaders to keep leading people, who have over the years invested so much time and effort in strikes, rallies and protests, into action only to repeatedly retreat, not only betrays their trust but serves to sap any confidence in a fightback.

    So inevitably, after years of unfulfilled action, facing such little opposition and emboldened by their previous unchecked successive vicious attacks on working people’s lives it’s hardly surprising that these cold, hostile, callous, calculating Tory spivs have the confidence to mount, the biggest ever attack on trade unions rights in the Trade Union Reform Bill.

    The Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon now shows graphically that there is a massive appetite for sustained, purposeful, undiluted action and it is now time for the trade union movement to get behind this mounting rank and file pressure and show its mettle.

    However, only when the whole trade union leadership stands for election as a workers’ representative on a worker’s wage will they find the incentive to fight back meaningfully.

  2. Alan Beackon
    Apr 2nd 2016, 4:45 pm

    I agree with Ken Toulson 100% in what he has written, and the fact that in 1997, Tony Blair and the Labour Party had the biggest mandate that they could ever have wished for, and still did not repeal Thatchers anti union laws. Which have paved the way for this Governments, Trade Union Reform Bill.

    Trade Unions (most of them) did not want to rock the Labour Party boat, but at what great cost, look where we are now.

    This can and has got to be changed if not, god help us we will be back in Dickens
    19th Century because the Tory’s and this Government think Nothing about people, only the Rich, Super Rich and Powerful. We must get them out of office and long before 2020!!!