'Our future depends on steel'

Momentum builds for Unite's steel campaign in Scunthorpe

Reading time: 6 min

Unite ramped up its steel campaign on Thursday (February 1) when it hosted a national day of action in British steel towns, including Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Sheffield, among others.

‘UK Steel Jobs Not for Sale’ signs were erected in front gardens in streets throughout the towns to demonstrate the united stand steel communities have taken against plans to cut jobs.

Tata Steel’s announcement earlier this month that it would close both blast furnaces at its steel plant in Port Talbot and cut more than 2800 jobs has sent shockwaves throughout the town. Likewise, in Scunthorpe, residents have steeled themselves against a similar fate — British Steel said in November that it is poised to also close its blast furnaces in Scunthorpe and slash up to 2000 jobs.

But like the local community in Port Talbot, Scunthorpe residents aren’t ready to give up without a fight.

Local Labour councillors Lorraine Yeadon, Max Bell and Judith Matthews, (pictured below L-R), who came out to support Unite’s day of action, explained just what was at stake.

“The steelworks is embedded in the very DNA of Scunthorpe,” Cllr Matthews said. “Without the steelworks there would be no Scunthorpe – it would be a ghost town. It’s not just steel jobs that are on the line – small business and shops rely on the steelworks. The knock-on effect would be massive.”

Cllr Yeadon agreed.

“If the 2000 jobs were to go, it would be absolutely disastrous for our economy locally,” she said. “Everybody knows somebody who works at the steelworks, and we’ve got so many businesses dependent on the works as well.”

She added that the steel industry is also more than just a local consideration.

“Steel supply is absolutely crucial for our national security – we really do have to think again and do everything we can to fight for this industry.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Bell praised Unite for bringing the community together in support of steel.

“Everyone has really got behind Unite’s rallies and events,” he said. “From flags to signs to the turnout at these events – the community is resplendent with its support of steel. There’s clearly a very strong community feeling here and it’s great to see.”

UniteLive also caught up with former steelworker Rodney Penaluna, 80, (pictured below) who worked at the steelworks in Scunthorpe for nearly 40 years as a crane driver.

“I was really lucky to have a job I loved,” he said. “Everyone was really friendly, too – it was like being part of a big family.”

Rodney told UniteLive he was worried about his local community.

“It’s a very worrying time – people have families and mortgages to pay,” he said. “People just don’t realise what families are going through right now.”

Rodney highlighted the importance of steel to Scunthorpe’s future.

“I was very fortunate. If the steelworks goes, what future does this town have for the next generation? There are jobs out there, but they aren’t skilled, they don’t pay well – there’s just no comparison. If we scrap the steelworks, we’d be scrapping everything Scunthorpe stands for.”

UniteLive later spoke to Paul Kirby Smith (pictured below), manager of a community centre in Scunthorpe, which includes a food bank and other services to support local families.

Paul said the demand for the centre’s services is huge.

“As things stand now, demand is already massive,” he said. “Families are struggling all the time. Scunthorpe as a whole doesn’t have a fantastic reputation – it’s seen as a place that people just want to leave because of the lack of opportunity. The steelworks is really the only opportunity here left.”

Paul added that if the steelworks were to go, the situation would only get worse.

“Over the years, the steelworks has faced many job cuts – a few years back we almost lost the steelworks altogether. Everyone knows someone who’s lost their job in steel. Further cuts on the scale they’re predicting would have not just a huge financial impact on families but a deep psychological one as well. It would be very traumatic for our town. We can’t afford to lose any more opportunity.”

Paul went on to say that it was vital that steel communities keep fighting for their industry.

“We need to build our economy,” he explained. “Here in Scunthorpe we produce some of the highest quality steel in the world. We need to be exporting, not only importing. Otherwise we’re just consuming and not bringing money, jobs and skills into the country to grow our economy. Our future –- not just locally but nationally — depends on it.”

Later in the afternoon, an unlikely face was spotted in Scunthorpe – Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Rees-Mogg (pictured above) highlighted his support for the steelworks in Scunthorpe in a segment on GB News on the very same day as Unite’s event. Unite lead organiser Joe Rollin commented that this just showed the far-reaching impact of Unite’s campaign.

“It appears even Jacob Rees-Mogg has travelled to Scunthorpe to back Unite’s campaign,” Joe told UniteLive. “If a character like this can understand why we need to protect the UK’s steel industry, and in turn our national security, then why can’t the prime minister Rishi Sunak? It is apparent that politicians of ALL stripes and colours are backing Unite’s campaign, so it’s high time for the government to get behind us and intervene before it’s too late.”

You can read full coverage of Unite’s steel campaign event in Port Talbot here. Find out more about campaign, and how you can get involved, on our webpage here. Stay tuned on UniteLive for more coverage of Unite’s steel campaign.

By Hajera Blagg

Photos by Mark Harvey