Steel industry 'pushed closer to the brink'

Unite delegate Terry Mills speaks out on future of UK steel industry

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Unite delegate Terry Mills seconded a motion on the steel industry and national security on the second day of TUC Congress on Monday (September 11).

He called on the government to commit to our steel industry, through investment and procurement, which he called “long overdue”.

“It is an indictment that when steelworkers are fighting for the future of their industry government support through procurement is so paltry,” Terry said. “Publicly-supported projects account for only 10 per cent. of the steel produced in the UK.

“That leaves us lagging behind similar nations,” he added. “Public procurement accounts for 18% of steel in the US and 32% in Germany.”

Terry highlighted the “countless opportunities” for publicly-backed projects to use UK-made steel, from fleet support ships to the green revolution.

“There’s a strange logic that part of the green revolution is to transport steel half-way around the world – that doesn’t seem very green to me,” Terry noted.

He went on to remark that “we cannot leave support for the steel industry to a broken market or the whims of Whitehall”.

Terry explained Unite’s addition to the composite, which “demands legally binding commitments to use domestic steel for every major public-funded infrastructure project”.

“By changing procurement rules to focus on job guarantees and domestic suppliers we can significantly increase public sector demand for domestic steel – growing to an estimated additional 700,000 tonnes per year by 2025,” he said. “This in turn could create over 8,000 jobs in the sector and wider supply chain.

“Besides sustaining and even growing the industry – this could be a vital lever to protect jobs and wages,” Terry added. “Public contracts and all public funds awarded to steel employers must come with ironclad guarantees for jobs and union-recognised rates of pay and conditions.”

Terry went on to say that it was “bizarre” that we “need look no further than the United States where procurement comes with pro-union obligations”.

“If it can happen there, it can happen everywhere — but it must happen here,” he told Congress. “We will accept no more excuses.”

Adding that the “steel industry has been pushed closer and closer to the very brink”, he warned that we cannot “let our steel communities go the same way of our coalmining communities”.

“Steelworkers make no apologies for an ambitious vision – an alternative to decline, negligence and despair,” he concluded. “Our members are committed to winning that future for themselves.”

Urging support of the motion, Terry called on Congress to show steel workers that “you back them all the way”.

The composite was carried.

By Hajera Blagg

Photo by Mark Thomas