Alice Hooker-Stroud calls for a move away from the current economic system.
“I’ve just come off the phone to Tata’s head office in Mumbai … reminding them of their responsibility to the workers and the areas they operate in.” Thanks Carwyn. I’m sure all steelworkers in Port Talbot and elsewhere in Wales and around the UK can now sleep easy, knowing that the better nature of the CEO of this multi-national corporation has now been appealed to by our Welsh Labour First Minister.
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Unfortunately, as far as I’m aware Tata don’t have any real responsibility to the workers, especially when they cease to be their employees, which could happen relatively soon; and I’m not sure large companies have ever held any responsibility for the areas they operate in, particularly in the socio-economic context Carwyn Jones was talking.
This is one of the Wales Green Party’s biggest issues with multi-national corporations, and the economic system that dominates today: they only really have legal responsibility to maximise profit to their shareholders. That is, quite literally, the bottom line. Whilst they must adhere to decent pay, working regulations, health and safety legislation, and usually some fairly-flimsy environmental standards, really their focus is on making cash. And cash for those at the top, not cash for those who put the hours in on the shop floor.
Picking out some elements that did come from the shop floor, so to speak, recently Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the steelworkers’ union Community, said on the BBC: “What we don’t want to do is to just sit back and wait … for someone to come and tell us what they are going to do to save our industry. Because it is our industry. Governments come and go, and to some extent employers come and go, and what stays the same is the workforce and the communities in which they live.”
It is precisely those workforces, and those communities – those that rallied outside the Senedd recently, that the Wales Green Party believes to be most important, and that I think we should listen to, and work with to make a sustainable future for steelworkers, and for us all here in Wales. And that is why I question the concept of trying to get in another multi-national company to buy Tata steelworks in the UK.
There are calls for re-nationalisation of steelworks as an essential building block of our infrastructure: we need steel, for houses, for railroads and, the Wales Green Party would argue, for all the clean-energy generating renewables we should be supporting around the country. But most people, including Labour – both Corbyn- and Carwyn-flavoured, are using nationalisation as a ‘stop-gap,’ which in my eyes is just using the state to save the system that put jobs at risk in the first place.
Isn’t waiting for another multi-national buyer just ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ for the steelworkers and their communities? Should a whole community be held to ransom by global markets and the fancies of one single employer?
I think we need to shake up the Senedd and get out of this way of thinking.
There are other options. Real options that truly represent the “sustainable future for our steel communities here in Wales” that Carwyn talked about. Not this idiotic ‘rinse and repeat’ mentality to saving our steel by selling out to large multi-nationals that it feels like he is – alongside almost everyone else in a position of political power, essentially, crossing his fingers for.
Real sustainability means looking in the long-term. It might mean diversifying so that ups and downs don’t hit as hard and can’t sweep everything out from under you. It might also mean self-regulating, or self-governing – so that those involved and impacted can adjust and react to make sure they are protected, with support from government.
I’m not completely sold on outright re-nationalisation of our steelworks, and certainly not just as a short-term measure ready to re-sell on the global market. ‘Governments come and go, and to some extent employers come and go’ as Rickhuss said. What remains are the workforces and their communities. We mustn’t let the steelworks close, because any break in employment will be devastating for those workers and their communities – skills and connections will be lost as people are forced to move or take up other employment, even over a short period of time of closure.
But I bet the steelworkers themselves have a tonne of ideas about what would make their work sustainable in the long-term. I think they know their skills and their strengths, they know what they want in their communities, and I think they are very well-placed to weigh up the balance between what is a risky strategy and what is a decent strategy that will keep work sustainable into the future in their communities.
‘Our industry’. That’s what Rickhuss said, and I think I agree: it should be theirs.
There is, I believe, a role that government can play in this, and perhaps taking on the plants while sustainable business models and strategies that benefit the workers and their communities are developed. And we should be supporting the transition to whatever that future looks like in their communities – be it re-nationalised or worker-owned co-operative steelworks, other businesses that use the very same skills to create multiple smaller organisations and enterprises with a diverse base of revenue, or something else entirely.
But we do need to start building more things that need steel like wind turbines and railroads – not to artificially save jobs, but because these are also key parts of a sustainable future. If steelmakers like those in Port Talbot are able and willing to supply that steel, then we should support them to do so. We should also provide subsidies to increase energy efficiency, perhaps to help the steelworks change the focus or method of manufacturing, perhaps to recycle steel. We should use our power to allow buyers in the UK to measure the socio-economic impact as well as price to determine contract bidding – because, after all ‘socio-economic impacts’ is just another word for the effects on workforces and communities, and that is what we should be focusing on.
This is how the Wales Green Party would get out of the current crisis.