Our community is not for sale! 

Port Talbot residents join Unite’s fight to save steel

Reading time: 7 min

A community gathered together in solidarity to say no to job cuts at Tata Steel in Port Talbot today (February 1) placing hundreds of signs of support saying “UK Steel Jobs Not For Sale” in gardens and outside houses across the town.

The estate agent-style boards spread across the Westlands Estate, Windsor Village and Village Gardens areas of Port Talbot in a forest of solidarity, and showed the strength of the town’s opposition to the plans put forward by Tata and the government.

Speaking to UNITElive, Unite lead organiser Joe Rollin (pictured below) praised the community for coming together and showing their support for steel workers in the town.

Joe Rollin said, “The events today went very well, and bought together communities in Port Talbot and other steel towns in show of solidarity with the UKs steel workers.

“What Unites campaign highlights is the total hypocrisy of the current government. It talks about being patriotic while at the same time throwing highly skilled UK workers on the scrap heap and causing damage to the UKs manufacturing industry.”

“It’s absolute madness!”

Paul Williams, a retired Electrical Technician was keen to show his support for the campaign. Paul said his father-in-law used to work at the steel plant and his grandson works there now.

Paul said, “The town will be devastated by the jobs cuts, lots of things here rely on the people employed at Tata Steel.”

This view was echoed by everybody that UNITElive spoke to.

Paul McGrath (pictured below) has worked at the company for 45 years – starting as an apprentice and building up the skills he needs to help produce high quality UK steel.

“Shutting both blast furnaces will resulting ion putting all your eggs in one basket. And the quality of the steel will mean we will lose existing customers who depend on a high-grade product.”

Paul looked around and nodded at the Unite signs: “You see the campaign signs on the houses? They will be real signs soon – this will have a massive impact.”

Local resident and steel worker Dale Fischer was outside his house with his wife Helen (pictured below). Dale said, “These cuts are devastating for my family. My grandfather and my uncles worked in the steelworks until they retired. In this area, a job at the steelworks was a job for life.

“Me, my wife and my two younger brothers also work at Tata. We are a long way from retirement and there just isn’t enough skilled jobs out there for us all, so who knows how we’re going to make a living after this. We won’t take Tata’s plans lying down, we are ready to fight.”

Helen added her concern about the impact on families, saying, “There could be a huge impact on families with children. I work part-time and our daughter is at school know, but for families with younger children they may lose the 30 hours childcare costs they receive, as you need to work at least 16 hours a week to get this benefit.”

Helen added that they are already cutting back due to uncertainty. They have cancelled their daughter’s gymnastics classes as they can’t justify the expense and lots of people she talks to are also cutting back – having a knock on effect on other businesses in the town.

Wider impact

This wider impact is something that concerns hot mill worker Ross Mainwaring (pictured below), another worker who started as an apprentice and has spent all his working life at the plant and was at the demo with his young son.

Ross said, “I’ve 19 years left on my mortgage and a 2 year old son, this is so worrying.  I dread to think will happen if these cuts go ahead, and not just for steel workers, but for the contractor, the local suppliers, the businesses Tata workers spend their money in.”

Showing her solidarity with workers was local councillor Stephanie Grimshaw. “I wanted to be here today to stand with the workers and our community. This will have a huge impact on residents, not just financially but also culturally.

“Port Talbot is a steel town. I see the blast furnaces as I drive past and I know I’m home. What really upsets me is the stupidity of the rush to get this all done. The selfless of Tata is awful – and once again it’s working-class families who will be the ones to suffer.”

One thing no one argued with was the need to green the process, but the way it’s being done makes little sense to the workers and their supporters. The new process will import the slabs and coils, that are currently produced in Port Talbot, to be processed.

Ross said, “We are all agreed we need to go green – but it is the route that is being taken that is wrong. It seems ludicrous for us that most of what will be produced will be shipped across the world, making it far more carbon intensive on the whole. We need to go green globally.”

Paul McGrath added that, “We need a proper transition to the process. Maybe initially going down to one furnace and protecting more jobs. We currently use waste gas to produce electricity, even exporting some of this to the grid at times.”

Unite bringing people together

The other thing everyone agreed with was how supportive the community was and how the Unite campaign has bought people together across Port Talbot.

Michael Hook works at Tata Steel and lives on one of the streets where Unite was campaigning. Holding his 6 month old son Ronnie as he joined the protest Michael thanked Unite organisers for everything, saying, “The campaign has been excellent and I’m really impressed with the organisation and how we are all sticking together. The local community has been brilliant.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Unite has secured a commitment from Labour that it will invest £3bn in UK steel and provide serious investment in Port Talbot. The current government must act in the national interest and provide similar guarantees to save jobs and maintain capacity at Port Talbot to allow for the industry’s future growth.

“Tata must also listen to Labour’s call not to make any ‘irreversible decisions’ until after the general election later this year.

“Steel demand is growing and the UK is ideally placed to be a global leader in green steel if the right decisions are made, as Unite has clearly shown. The fight for the future of UK steel is now. Unite will be relentless in its campaigning until the right choices are made.”

For more on Unite’s steel campaign stay tuned to UNITElive

By Keith Hatch

Pics by Mark Thomas