YESTERDAY the Tory business secretary, Sajid Javid, convened an emergency summit meeting in Rotherham on the dramatic collapse of the UK steel industry.
From the outset Javid was at pains to tell those attending the summit – including steel unions, bosses and ministers – that the Tories are helpless in the face of the destruction of the once-mighty British steel industry and will do absolutely nothing about the thousands of workers who face being slung out of work.
In his words there is no ‘magic bullet’ to solve what is becoming the complete closure of the steel industry in Britain. This summit was called by the Tories in an effort to try and prove they had concern over the fate of workers employed in the second largest steel company, SSI UK, which closed down its Redcar steel plant earlier in the week with the loss of 2,200 jobs following its failure to pay massive debt repayments to the banks, forcing the company into liquidation.
Now, on the very eve of this summit, it has been revealed that the country’s largest steel maker, Tata Steel, is also poised to announce a ‘restructuring’ of its plant in Scunthorpe which employs 3,000 staff – restructuring is the polite term for closure. Scottish Tata plants are also in the frame for similar closure plans.
30,000 people are employed in the British steel industry which last year contributed £9.5bn to the country’s economy with exports of £4.9bn. In the 1970s over 200,000 workers were employed in the then nationalised steel industry. What changed so dramatically was the determined drive by the Tories under Margaret Thatcher to smash up the nationalised industries like coal and steel as part of her war against the ‘enemy within’, the powerful trade unions like the NUM and the Iron and Steel unions.
It fitted in with the Thatcherite belief that British capitalism did not need to have a manufacturing base and it certainly didn’t need nationalised industries and trade unions. Her closest advisor, Sir Keith Joseph, articulated this belief in the 1970s when he wrote: ‘The working population must choose between narrow illusory job security in one place propped up by public funds or the real job security based on a prosperous dynamic economy.’
When Thatcher came to power in 1979 this was put into practice with an all out attack on every sector of manufacturing industry – in Thatcher’s first term of office as prime minister a quarter of all manufacturing jobs were destroyed, as entire manufacturing industries were closed down and privatised.
All this was carried out under the fantastical claim of Thatcher and the Tories, one that was accepted as an article of faith by Tony Blair, that British capitalism could grow rich and survive through just the service sector, banking and the ‘knowledge economy’ without the need to actually produce anything of value.
Industries like steel were flogged off and have today ended up being owned by Asian multi-national corporations who have been piling up mountains of debt that has now become unsustainable. The banks, that were supposed to form the bedrock of a new booming British capitalist system, are themselves bankrupt and only surviving thanks to the state assuming their trillions of pounds worth of debt – a debt that Osborne and the Tories are determined will be paid out of the austerity cuts to workers and youth.
The carnage caused by the world economic crisis of capitalism has had a catastrophic effect on a British economy that has seen its only real source of value, the manufacture of commodities, destroyed. The unions attending Friday’s summit are demanding that the government ‘do something’ to aid steel workers.
The only way to defend a single job or stop any closure is by the union leaders stopping begging the Tories for help and starting immediately organising a campaign to occupy every plant threatened with closure and demanding that the TUC call an immediate general strike to bring down the Tories and advance to a workers government that will nationalise all industry along with the banks as part of a socialist planned economy.
This is the only way forward.