'Future-proofing for the next generation'

Unite's Workers Plan for Steel campaign brings young and older members together in fight for steel's future

Reading time: 6 min

Unite’s Workers’ Plan for Steel campaign has lit a fire in people from all walks of life — and all ages.

Last week, the campaign held a day of action in the UK’s major steel towns including Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Sheffield. The campaign has only just begun but it’s already making major waves. And its urgency has never been more apparent after both Tata Steel in Port Talbot and British Steel in Scunthorpe announced recently that thousands of jobs may now be at risk.

Unite members Lucy Lee and Malcolm Gullam – one a university student and the other a retired steelworker – are both ardent advocates of the campaign.

 Lucy, 26,(pictured above) decided to get involved with the campaign because she is passionate about her adopted hometown of Sheffield. Lucy is currently a student at Sheffield Hallam University and wanted to give back to her local community.

“I first joined Unite because I had an issue with a previous employer,” she explained. “But I’ve since remained a member and wanted to become more active.”

Lucy said she saw information about the steel campaign in the reception area of Unite’s Sheffield office and immediately wanted to get involved.

“I read through the leaflets and thought – this is something I can really get behind. I did more research on the steel industry in Sheffield and spoke to steelworkers, and realised how central the industry is to this area. The demands that Unite’s steel campaign has made of the government – like changing procurement rules so that public contracts can exclusively use British steel — will make a massive difference for places like Sheffield. It will bring in jobs and money for local economies that desperately need it.”

Lucy attended last week’s steel day of action and saw for herself how Unite’s steel campaign is quickly gaining traction among the public.

“We spoke to many people – taxi drivers, chaplains, students and others – and there was a huge amount of enthusiasm for the campaign. People from Sheffield, even if they’re not originally from here, are really proud to be Sheffielders. We spoke to people who weren’t necessarily informed about all the issues but they were naturally passionate about their community and wanted to find out more. So now it’s about getting that message across and educating people.”

Unite member and retired Port Talbot steelworker Malcolm Gullam has likewise enthusiastically embraced Unite’s Workers’ Plan for Steel campaign.

Last month, Malcolm gave an impassioned speech at Port Talbot’s music and culture festival ShunkFest on behalf of Unite’s campaign.

Malcolm (pictured below) spoke to UniteLive from Unite’s steel day of action in Port Talbot last week and like Lucy, was thrilled by support from the local community.

“The level of support we’ve had is absolutely fantastic,” he said.

Malcolm, 61, worked at the steelworks for over 25 years and said workers there are crying out for investment.

“Since 2000, there’s hardly been any investment,” he noted. “If something breaks, they’ll fix it but other than that, they’re only just barely keeping the plant going. The infrastructure itself is falling to pieces.”

Malcolm said it was vital that the steelworks in Port Talbot keeps its blast furnaces – a key component of steel production — which he called “the heart and soul of the plant”.

“They need to remain in some shape or form,” he told UniteLive. “Keeping the blast furnaces will keep jobs and will give the steelworks a future.”

Both Lucy and Malcolm highlighted how central steel is to their respective communities.

“Sheffield is known for its steel industry and it’s a crucial part of its culture,” Lucy said. “Even though the steel industry is not dominant as it used to be, it’s still ingrained in the very fabric of the city and there’s a huge collective desire to maintain that part of the community’s identity. What direction would Sheffield go in without steel? What is at the heart of Sheffield if not steel?”

Malcolm likewise explained why steel is at the heart of Port Talbot.

“It would be devastating if the steelworks left Port Talbot,” he said. “Pubs, shops and other local business would go, and people would have to move away to look for other jobs. There’ve always been redundancies at the steelworks year in and year out — the community has taken a hit over the years.

“But the scale of job losses that may happen at Port Talbot now is different – they’re talking about 6,000 jobs. It would affect not just Port Talbot but the whole of south Wales. People come from all over to work for the steelworks – down from Ebbw Wale, and from as far as Newport and Ammanford. It would be a big shock for all of these communities.”

Ultimately, Malcolm and Lucy said that they’re getting behind Unite’s campaign because they’re fighting for the future.

“I’m 61 and I’ve had my time,” Malcolm noted. “But what about the youngsters? What will they do? Where will they go? I left for London in the 80s and lived there for 10 years. A young person living in Port Talbot could never afford to do that now.”

For Lucy, supporting Unite’s steel campaign is all about “future-proofing not just for ourselves, but for the next generation” And it’s why she believes more young people should get on board with the campaign.  

“If we don’t take an interest now, then by the time we get around to realising why it’s so important, it won’t be there anymore,” she said. “We’re at a crucial point right now to make change and pave the way for a future for steel.”

By Hajera Blagg

Lucy Lee photo by Mark Harvey

Malcolm Gullam photo by Paul Clarke