BRITISH capitalism is bankrupt. The ruling class, abetted by the trade union leaders, are letting the historic steel industry go to the wall.
Five months ago, Tata steel announced that they were selling the massive steel works in Port Talbot, Wales. That announcement was a death sentence to Port Talbot. The entire town of Port Talbot in Wales faces closure, because if they shut the steel plant down, they rip the heart out of the community.
Back in May, when a thousand angry Tata steel workers marched on parliament, Unite rep Darren Webster, from Speciality Steels, south Yorkshire, told News Line:
‘Renationalising wouldn’t be a bad idea, but that means investing in the industry and bringing it back up to a decent standard. I’d support an occupation to defend every job. The unions should be fighting for that. We joined the union to defend our jobs.
‘We want to be able to carry on as we are, producing world quality steel, without any reductions in our terms and conditions.
‘I’d support a general strike to at least make the government sit up and realise there’s feelings across the country. We should take action with the doctors, all stand together.’ However, since that initial march neither the Unite leaders, GMB or Community have called any action to save the plants, and have allowed a separate deal for the steel works in the north, guaranteeing work for just one year, in return for wage cuts and more efficiency measures.
In fact, they cheered when venture capitalists Greybull Capital purchased Tata’s steel works in Scunthorpe for £1. The union leaders then pressured the 4,000-plus-strong workforce into agreeing to both wage and pension cuts all to keep the plant open for just one year, after which Greybull Capital will either demand another pound of flesh off the workforce or strip the business down and sell it off piece by piece.
Not only has the union leadership refused to act to defend all steel jobs, they are now about to allow the pension fund to be plundered by the government. The British Steel Pension Scheme has 130,000 members and a black hole deficit of £485m.
Unite, GMB and Community unions met with Tata Steel management in London last week when, as Unite reported: ‘Tata made it clear that the previous proposals to amend scheme benefits in order to avoid entering the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) now appeared as if they would be difficult to deliver.’ Unite said: ‘This leaves the BSPS facing the very real possibility of being dumped entirely into the PPF as part of Tata’s plan to divest its UK assets.’
During a debate in parliament in May, Labour MP for Bolsover, Dennis Skinner, warned: ‘Is the minister aware that the last Tory government to deal with a major occupational pension fund was the Major government way back in 1994 when they privatised all the pits?
‘They then did a deal with the detested UDM in order to get the thing on the pension fund settled. The result was chaos. The net result was even worse after that because it meant that the government was able to get its hands on billions of pounds from the miners’ pension fund. Then at the end when me and my honourable friend were calling for a little bit of state aid to save the last remaining pits, this lousy rotten Tory government wouldn’t find a penny.’
The steel workers’ pensions are being set up for the same treatment. The Tories want to legislate to cut pensions by 10% by moving them to the CPI inflation rate. Then by putting the entire pension fund into the government’s Pension Protection Fund, it will mean pension cuts on a massive scale.
The only way to secure a future at the steel plants is through struggle. Workers must occupy the Port Talbot plant and demand a general strike to bring down the Tories and to bring in a workers’ government that will renationalise steel and put it under workers’ management.
That is why steel workers must join the Young Socialists lobby of the TUC on Monday September 12 to demand that the entire strength of the working class is mobilised by the TUC in a general strike to defend the steel industry and the NHS by bringing down the Tory government.