Renationalise the steel industry – the only way forward for steel workers

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ON Wednesday, it was announced that the lengthy negotiations between Tata Steel and the German steel conglomerate, Thyssen-Krupp, have been concluded and that a ‘memorandum of understanding’ between the two companies had been signed.

This tie-up between the Indian owned Tata Steel and Thyssen-Krupp was welcomed by Roy Rickhuss, chairman coordinating committee representing the three steel unions (Unite, GMB and Community), who said: ‘The steel trade unions cautiously welcome this news and recognise the industrial logic of such a partnership. This would create the second biggest steel business in Europe, which could deliver significant benefits for the UK.’

The fact that he places ‘significant benefits for the UK’ far above any benefits for steel workers tells us the whole story about the disgraceful position of the trade union leadership towards its members. Throughout the lengthy struggle with Tata these leaders have consistently sold steel workers down the river and caved in to every single demand from the Tata bosses.

Last year, Tata Steel announced that it was going to shut down all steel production in the UK. ather than fight this the unions leaders fell over themselves to agree to wage and pension cuts along with the loss of thousands of jobs in its Scunthorpe site and from the massive steel plant at Port Talbot.

Tata Steel, now the sole owner of what remains of the British steel industry, was on the verge of collapse as steel prices crashed as a result of the collapse of manufacturing industry in the face of the capitalist crisis.

However, determined to screw the last drop of profit out of steel workers, the Tata bosses embarked on a campaign to keep the company staggering on and making money, by demanding cuts to jobs, pay and pensions that the union leaders willingly signed up to, rather than lead a fight for the re-nationalisation of the industry.

Instead of a fight against Tory privatisation they accepted Tata’s position that their members would have to pay through agreeing their pension scheme, which Tata described as a ‘significant financial drag’ on the company, be destroyed. Last January, steel workers at Port Talbot voted on a deal agreed between Tata and the unions. This deal offered a commitment to keep the blast furnaces at Port Talbot open for five years after which they could be shut. Even this vague assurance was dependent on Tata off-loading its pension scheme with 130,000 members.

In March the unions agreed to Tata closing its pension scheme to future employees while the company is intent on putting the entire scheme into the government’s, Pension Protection Plan which will lead to a 10% cut in pension benefits.

Thyssen-Krupp has in the past flatly refused to join up with Tata unless it can off-load its pension liabilities, which means that a deal to smash steel workers’ pensions has been done to pave the way for the merger. In fact, not even this tie-up with the German company will do anything but put off the closure of the UK steel industry.

Already fears are being expressed that this ‘mega-merger’ will only be a temporary reprieve with the executive director in steel research at the UBS bank saying that: ‘What is needed to safeguard the European steel sector is taking out capacity and we have not heard much about that in the details of the merger.’

In short, steel workers in the UK and Europe will face massive job losses and plant closures as well as seeing their pensions destroyed and wages cut as a result of this new merger. The crucial issue for every steel worker is to reject the treachery of the union leaders, who have at every stage refused to fight for their members, and instead caved in to the demands of the bosses, and demand a campaign to occupy every plant to prevent job losses and closure.

They must demand that the TUC call a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government that will expropriate the Tata bosses and renationalise the steel industry under workers management as part of a planned socialist economy.

This is the only way forward.