Renationalise British steel

by Caroline Colebrook

LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn and union leaders last week called on the Government to come back from its Easter recess early and act quickly to renationalise steel production in Britain, after the Indian-based multinational said it was about to sell off all its steel plants in Britain.

Tata’s announcement last Tuesday was good and bad news. Union leaders had travelled to Mumbai to meet with Tata directors at a board meeting to try to persuade them to keep the steel plants rolling — without success.

But they did manage to persuade Tata not to close the plants down while seeking a buyer. Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, whose Aberavon constituency includes the Port Talbot plant, accompanied the union delegation to Mumbai. He said: “The fact that Tata Steel is committed to continuing and to moving forward with the plant whilst looking for a buyer... is absolutely critical.

“There were various scenarios before we came out here... We are now a little bit clearer on which scenario we now have and it isn’t certainly the worst case scenario.”

Tata said trading conditions had “rapidly deteriorated” in Britain and Europe due to a global oversupply of steel, imports into Europe, high costs and currency volatility. “These factors are likely to continue into the future and have significantly impacted the long-term competitive position of the UK operation.”

The news was not unexpected, Tata had already cut back on its production in January, when the company announced more than 1,000 job cuts in Britain, including 750 in Port Talbot, where it employs 4,000 staff and a further 3,000 contractors and temporary workers. And last October Tata Steel said nearly 1,200 jobs would go at plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire.

Jeremy Corbyn wrote to David Cameron as Cameron was returning from his Easter holiday in Lanzarote, urging him to cut the Parliamentary recess short.

Corbyn said: “The news that Tata is preparing to pull out of steelmaking in Britain puts thousands of jobs across the country and a strategic UK-wide industry at risk.

“MPs must have the chance now to debate the future of steel and hold ministers to account for their failure to intervene. Steelworkers and their families will be desperately worried about the uncertainty. The Government is in disarray over what action to take.

“Ministers must act now to protect the steel industry, which is at the heart of manufacturing in Britain and vital to its future.”

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of steelworkers’ union Community, said the “worst fear” that Tata would announce plant closures had not been realised. It was, he added, “vitally important” the company acted as a “responsible seller of its businesses and provides sufficient time to find new ownership”.

He said: “There is also a crucial role for both the Welsh and UK governments to do all they can to ensure a future for Tata’s remaining UK steel businesses and to provide every assistance to secure a buyer that will continue steel making.” And he called for an urgent meeting with the Government to discuss the issue.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, described Tata’s decision as a “very dark day for the proud communities and a proud industry which is now on the verge of extinction in this country”. He said that the growing chorus of calls for renationalisation cannot be ignored by the Conservative government.

McCluskey said: “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.”