TATA Steel announced yesterday that it is getting out of Britain at once, threatening the jobs of 19,000 steelworkers in Port Talbot, Rotherham, Corby, Shotton and elsewhere along with many thousands more in servicing industries.
Tata Steel said it would not give an ‘open ended’ commitment to keep plants open while a buyer is sought, claiming that it is currently losing £1 million a day. Koushik Chatterjee, executive director of Tata Steel, said the company wants to move quickly to sell the plants and that anyone would do: ‘The view the board took finally was we can’t sustain this kind of exposure. So it’s not about the bid being low or high. It’s about someone being willing to buy the business.’
In January, the company announced over 1,000 UK job cuts, including 750 in Port Talbot, where it employs 4,000 staff plus 3,000 contractors and temporary workers. Last October Tata said 1,200 jobs would go at plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire.
Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said yesterday: ‘We are now in the grip of an industrial crisis. Decisions taken in the days to come will determine not just the futures of 19,000 workers and their families, across 14 sites, but the very success of this government’s own economic programme.
‘This is the time for the government to say categorically, without hesitation, that these assets will be taken into safe-keeping by the nation because without them our economy will not flourish. We are already seeing jobs going in the supply chain because of the uncertainty over Tata’s future – our fear is this will snowball if insecurity is allowed to swirl around our steel sector.
‘The unity of voices – from business to government – to say that temporary nationalisation is the way forward must not be ignored … Such is the scale of the matters before us that the Prime Minister must assume charge of the strategy from here on in. This will send the clear signal to the workforce, the industry and potential buyers that the government is serious and driven about saving this foundation industry … Unite extends a hand to the government to say that we will work with them on all serious efforts to keep our steel sector alive.’
Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of the steelworkers’ union Community said: ‘It is vital that adequate time is given for a new investor to be found. Tata has a moral and social responsibility to steel communities and families across the UK and must cooperate with the unions and the UK government.’
Dave Wiltshire, National Secretary of the All Trades Unions Alliance, said: ‘McCluskey’s statement calling for the Tories to step in and go hand-in-hand with Unite to save the steel industry defies belief.
‘McCluskey’s version of re-nationalisation of the steel industry is nothing more than begging the Tories to take the industry into the “safekeeping” of the government in what he calls “temporary nationalisation” until such time as it can be flogged off at a cut price to some other profit-hungry company prepared to asset-strip the plants and jobs to the bone.
‘In the likely event that no other company can be found, then Unite would presumably be happy for the Tories to close down every plant and sack every steelworker on the basis that they had done all that they could. In fact McCluskey is prepared to do nothing to fight for steel jobs.
‘In calling for the Tories to save steel, McCluskey is openly stating that he and the Unite leadership have absolutely no intention of fighting for a single job. Instead, these leaders are reduced to appeals to a government that is hell-bent on destroying trade unions through its anti-union laws – this is the government McCluskey wants to go hand-in-hand with.
‘There is only one way to save jobs and that is to mobilise the full strength of Unite members in a campaign of strikes and occupations to prevent any closures or redundancies. At the heart of this must be a campaign throughout Unite and every trade union to organise a general strike to kick out the Tories and bring in a workers government that will carry out a real nationalisation of steel and every major industry and banks, without compensation and under the control and management of the working class.’