‘OCCUPY the Port Talbot plant and demand that the government renationalise the steel industry immediately,’ Robbie Wheatley, Community union Branch Secretary at Lackenby Bos plant in Teesside, said yesterday.
He was speaking to News Line after privateer Tata Steel announced the sack for 1,050 steelworkers in the UK, including 750 at Port Talbot, the UK’s biggest steelworks, 100 across mills in Trostre, Corby and Hartlepool, plus 200 support jobs.
Tata management, the Tory government and the trade union bureaucracy all lined up yesterday to claim that competition from China was to blame for the sackings. But Wheatley demanded that the unions must act now to save the jobs and the industry.
‘We had meetings between the Community union and the relevant government ministers last year and were told they’d reached an agreement to save steel in the British Isles, but now with this announcement it’s been shown to have been nothing but talk.
‘Whatever we thought was agreed has been shown to be just pie in the sky. Now we’re going to be left with just Scunthorpe and that’s under threat anyway, so we’ll be left with no steel industry at all. I call for the works to be occupied and for the industry to be nationalised.’
Karl Koehler, chief executive of Tata Steel’s European operations, claimed the job cuts were ‘caused by a flood of cheap imports, particularly from China’. Tory Business Minister Anna Soubry said the steel industry is having to ‘take tough decisions in the face of extremely challenging conditions. No government can change that, but it is working to help staff find new jobs as quickly as possible,’ she claimed.
Urging protectionism, Gareth Stace, director of UK Steel, said: ‘We have been dealing for some time with a toxic cocktail of conditions, from Chinese dumping of steel to the high cost of energy.’
Dave Hulse, GMB National Officer, agreed with the boss, saying: ‘GMB once again ask this government and the EU Commission to wake up and stop talking about the problems and intervene with some positive action that gives assistance to the UK steel industry. GMB is calling for a protest in Brussels on 15th February to get the Commission to deal with dumping of Chinese steel.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady also went along with the protectionist line: ‘Cheap Chinese steel imports are wrecking the steel industry. The government must take measures to prevent China from dumping cheap steel on the world market.’
However, Alan Coombs, President Community, who works at Tata Steel, Port Talbot, said: ‘Everybody can see what’s going on with the economy and everybody is worried about the future of the steel industry. It’s fundamental to what we should be doing for the UK manufacturing in general, this isn’t just about the steel industry. We might be talking about steel today, but this is affecting all industries, the lack of support, the lack of a joined-up industrial strategy.’
Robbie Wheatley concluded: ‘I’ve been in the industry for 30 years, working at British Steel, which became Corus and then became Tata and then ultimately SSI, which took over our plant in Redcar, Teesside in 2010 and then shut it down in October last year.
‘There will be no steel industry left in the UK if Tata is allowed to close. If we don’t renationalise the industry soon then we will lose it altogether.’