Figures from across the labour movement have today piled pressure on the Government to protect jobs in the British steel industry, with the livelihoods of thousands of workers on the line.
As many as 40,000 jobs could be lost if no buyers can be found for the Tata Steel plants, according to analysis from think tank IPPR. Labour politicians and trade union leaders are now demanding co-operation to keep the furnaces open.
Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister for Wales, said his Government will support “any viable option” to protect the future of the steel industry.
“If there’s a management buyer on the table, we will look to support that, we will work with the UK government to support that, because we want to make sure the Welsh steel industry continues and looks towards the future.”
The UK’s biggest steel plant at Port Talbot is at risk, and local MP Stephen Kinnock was in India yesterday, to discuss plans for the future with Tata Steel. He has praised workers at the plant, which has been making steel for 100 years, and has called on Tata to “hold its nerve” until a new buyer can be found.
“The workforce in Port Talbot has always delivered,” Kinnock said. “They have always broken production records. They make the best steel that money can buy. What we need now is for Tata Steel to hold its nerve, to back the plan, and we can move forward, get the steelworks back to break even and then, over a longer period, getting it really operating in surplus again.”
Kinnock travelled to India with Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community union, which represents many of the steelworkers affected. He also called for enough time to be left for a buyer to be found: “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 co-operate with the unions and the UK government.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, whose union also represents thousands of steel and manufacturing workers, said that the events meant “we are now in the grip of an industrial crisis.”
He raised the concern that the loss of jobs in the steel plants could have a knock on effect, causing even more redundancies.
“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,” he said. “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.”
And McCluskey added his voice to the demands for the Government to carry out temporary nationalisation in order to save jobs: “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.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who this afternoon demanded Parliament be recalled from Easter recess so that ministers could be held to account for the crisis, also said that the Government must be prepared to consider nationalisation.
“It is essential that the Government intervenes to maintain steel production in Port Talbot, both for the workforce and the wider economy, if necessary by taking a public stake in the industry,” he said.
“If necessary ministers must be prepared to use their powers to take a public stake in steelmaking to protect the industry and British manufacturing. The Government must do whatever it takes to save this strategic industry.”