Governments must step up for steel

Andy Richards says the UK and Welsh Governments must stop dithering over the way forward for steel.

Last night’s news from Mumbai was devastating for Wales and the rest of the UK. This is an extremely difficult time for steel workers, particularly for those employed here in Wales. Communities across the Country have a proud industrial history and it is shocking that after decades of production, the steel industry is on the verge of extinction.

We have called on the National Assembly for Wales, along with the UK Parliament, to reconvene and discuss the implications of last nights decision. All parties must come together and plan for a future that has steel manufacturing at the heart of the British economy. Decisions taken in the days to come will determine not just the futures of 19,000 workers and their families, across 14 UK sites, but the very success of the UK government’s own economic programme.

Welsh workers within the industry make some of the best steel in the world and have worked hard to deliver for Tata, through thick and thin times. They now, alongside their families and the wider community, deserve the respect and support of the company in return. Workers will feel a grim sense of betrayal by this decision, because they know that given half a chance, the company can make Port Talbot and sites across the UK profitable and successful.

We were extremely disappointed to learn that no UK Government Minister attended the meeting with members of the TATA Board in Mumbai. Steelworkers cannot afford the Government to keep dithering over intervention in this vital UK industry. Ministers must honour their promises to keep the lights over the UK’s steel communities burning.

TATA, as well as the UK and Welsh Government, must also do all in their power to have these vital assets handed back to this country in a shape that allows a serious buyer and a future to emerge. 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.  This helped save the Scottish plants.  It has ensured that the Ilva plant in Italy survived – it must be deployed for the rest of the Tata operation.

These plants are profitable, with the best workers producing some of the best quality products in the world.  Every single one of these plants and its workers should be regarded as a national asset and as such it is government’s duty to safeguard them for the nation.

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.

In addition, the government must act now where the Budget stood silent.  We need energy costs reduced.  Tariffs on cheap imports must rise to the level where they do make an impact – the UK government could do this today.

We have campaigned tirelessly to save our steel alongside our own members and other trade unions. We pledge to continue that fight and leave no stone unturned in our fight for the future of Welsh jobs and the industry as a whole.

Andy Richards is Unite Wales' Regional Secretary.

7 thoughts on “Governments must step up for steel

  1. The campaign by the unions has been poor. There has not been a single protest march in Port Talbot, for example, to mobilise communities and unions since the news in January. If there are mass job losses union leaderships will have to share some of the blame.

  2. Clearly, following in Thatchers doctrinal footsteps, Westminster does not give a toss! Only paying lip service and Kinnock the younger knows he is powerless to help, even if UK Labour wants to. Welsh Labour should care but they seem frozen by doubt and inadequacy! It seems only Plaid has the confidence in its own people and our abilitiy to develop a strategy going forward that will keep this plant moving forward!

  3. Richard I have missed Plaid`s unique solution. Yesterday Plaid`s Leader called for the Westminster government and the Assembly government to work together to find a solution. All very sensible but not original and apparently believing that they do indeed give a toss.
    Plaid have also called for nationalisation. I assume that would be funded from Westminster. Again difficult if you believe you alone have the answer but others have to pay for it.

  4. As an ex steel worker who saw the steel industry betrayed in the 1970s when a labour government lied along with the unions to the steel workers. The current betrayal by the Westminster and cardiff bay dictators who so love the eu that they have been almost moribund in their response to the steel workers. It’s only now that the labour party have reacted as this is their heartland. I expect betrayal from the tories and if it was a bank they would have acted to save it. The eu are not at all concerned about cheap Chinese dumping or if tata go and we lose a vital industry. Remember socialist parties including labour who love the eu have supported cheap dumping. Labour are liars. Lee waters has nothing to offer the people of Llanelli or the steel workers he should resign the iwa as he has used it purely for a springboard for his career.

  5. Jeff, I’ve kept my political activity and my work at the IWA entirely separate, and I am now on leave from the IWA until after the election.

  6. Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions fell 3.3 percent in 2015 – government

    But they killed the steel industry! Steel industry’s main problem is energy price primarily caused by carbon mitigation – it was arguably Miliband who started the rot and the Tories just carried it on ‘cos the UN and the EU says so while India and China have governments which govern in their national interests.

    There will be a great deal of hand-waving as there was when EU policies destroyed Anglesey Aluminium but very little, maybe no, basic steel production can survive UK energy prices. We may retain some specialised steel production (e.g. Rotherham, Stocksbridge…) as long as we keep on doing it very well.

    RIP = Rust in Peace!

  7. The big question that everyone wants answers to here is did UK ministers oppose proposals by the EU commision to raise the cap on the “lesser duty rule” which would allow tougher tariffs to be imposed. If so isn’t this a case of the UK government working against our best interests here in Wales and for the whole of the UK really – while the EU commision was offering us a potential solution.

    This is madness and should be a scandal. It is a shocking example of how the UK government has acted in a way that positively damages our economy and prospects for future prosperity. Did Wales, Scotland or the North of England get a say in those decisions – hardly I expect.

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