Hundreds of angry steelworkers and their families demonstrated outside the Corus steel plant in Redcar on Teesside yesterday, as the GMB and Community unions announced strike ballots against the company.
Linda Robinson, wife, daughter and mother of steelworkers carried a placard stating: ‘Steelworkers have dignity – Corus, Tata and Brown have Shame!’
She demanded action to defend the plant, saying: ‘There’s a hidden agenda here. We have the best steel in the world, so what’s going on?’
Forty-six-year-old steelworker David said: ‘This is our future. We can’t just lay down and die. It’s devastating. It’s ripping the heart out of Teesside.’
Corus, owned by India’s Tata Steel, said on Thursday that it would begin the ‘mothballing’ of the plant straight away.
The GMB union announced yesterday that thousands of steel workers across the country are to be balloted for strike action against the closure, while Community, the majority union in the Redcar plant, also confirmed a strike ballot.
Keith Hazelwood, GMB national secretary, said yesterday: ‘Corus have gone back on their word to delay mothballing the plant until the end of the month.
‘With bringing forward the date to the 19th February Corus seem to be demonstrating that they are not interested in finding alternative buyers or customers for the output of the plant.
‘Today, I’ve been given authority by the Central Executive Council to conduct a strike ballot of all GMB members in Corus in the UK.’
He continued: ‘The decision to mothball the plant suggests that Corus did not really want to keep it open or sell it to another steel company.
‘The decision is bad for Britain and for our manufacturing industry and our members will now be asked to respond.’
Michael J. Leahy, general secretary of Community, the majority union at the Redcar plant, said: Tata Corus have shied away from any option short of mothballing.
‘They are washing their hands of their loyal and skilled workforce.
‘This morning they have had the audacity to tell the trade unions and the government to look away and just focus on rebuilding British industry.
‘It is clear their desire is that we turn our backs as they make 1,600 people redundant. This we cannot, and will not, do.
‘Until Tata Corus are willing to speak straight, not make people redundant, and provide concrete assurances for reopening Teesside Cast Products, Community will continue with our plans to seek our members’ support for industrial action.’
Community said it will ballot Corus staff across the UK, including those at Port Talbot, Scunthorpe, Teesside and Rotherham.
Terry Pye, Unite’s national officer for the steel industry, claimed that Corus wanted to shut its steel works so it can turn over more of the site to boost the production of coke, which is more profitable.
He said that the reason Corus did not want to sell the steel works was to prevent competition with the company’s other plant at Port Talbot in Wales.
Unite branded the mothballing process a ‘disgraceful charade’ and said it will meet other unions next week to discuss what action to take.
Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said he could understand why ‘people are very saddened and very disappointed by the decision to mothball the plant’.
‘Horn if your government has betrayed you!’ read one of the placards outside the Redcar plant yesterday – and every passing car complied.