'Step up to the plate' on steel

Unite mobilises steel day of action to call on government for immediate investment in steel

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Unite campaigners held a day of action this week on Thursday (November 2) in the UK’s major steel towns to raise public support for Unite’s plan to save the steel industry.

The actions, held in Sheffield, Port Talbot, and Scunthorpe drew scores of people from their local communities. They sent a unified message to the government that the steel sector – a vital foundation industry in the UK’s economy and a lifeline for communities across the UK – urgently needs support.

A key part of the campaign is Unite’s Workers’ Plan for Steel, which is set to be officially launched later this month. The Plan makes four key demands, including changing procurement rules to let UK public contracts use 100% UK steel — a measure that would alone create 8,000 jobs – as well as public investment for a phased steelworkers’ transition plan to green steel with no loss of jobs.

The Workers’ Plan for Steel also calls on the government to tackle energy prices by bringing in electricity price caps and public ownership of the grid to make the steel industry even more competitive. Crucially, any public investment in steel must come with solid job guarantees.

Unite organisers mobilised the day of action, and we caught up with Unite organiser Claire Peden (pictured below), who spoke to us from the event in Sheffield.

“It’s been clear from our action today that people are crying out for investment for the steel industry,” Claire noted. “We’ve been joined by community activists, steel workers and people from the local community who all want their politicians to back steel workers and secure investment in the transition to green steel.”

Claire highlighted the various strands to Unite’s campaign, which includes working with local businesses and community organisations to demand local politicians back Unite’s pledge to steel workers and their industry.

“This is a grassroots, community-led initiative – it’s not a top-down approach,” she said.

Meanwhile Unite organiser Mick Duncan spoke to UniteLive from the action in Port Talbot, whose steelworks stands on the dark precipice of thousands of new job losses.

“Our day of action has happened just twenty-four hours after Tata Steel made their announcement of the potential of thousands of redundancies,” Mick said. “Our Workers’ Plan for Steel shows that these redundancies are totally unnecessary – with sustained investment and the government taking a stake in steel, we can not only protect these jobs and the whole industry but we can become a European leader in green steel.”

Mick called on the government and politicians from all parties to “step up to the plate – we at Unite will show you how it can be done”.

“We just need them to stand up and make a commitment to the industry,” he said. “In towns like Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Sheffield, if their steelworks go, then that has a huge impact on these communities. We need politicians to listen and we need serious, sustained investment now.”

Unite convenor for British Steel Martin Foster, who spoke to UniteLive from the action in Scunthorpe, agreed.

“People in our community – steel workers themselves, their families, local businesses are all very frightened that what’s happening in Port Talbot may very well happen here,” he said. “Everyone is worried about the future of their local community because it revolves in many ways around the steelworks.”

Martin hailed Unite’s latest campaign, which he called “one of the biggest campaigns we’ve ever had for steel”.

“It’s really grabbing the public’s attention and people are beginning to understand why steel is so important,” he said. “It’s not only for our steel communities – steel is a foundation industry. So many other industries across the UK rely on steel like the rail industry. We are a key provider of UK rail after all.”

Martin said the government time and again has offered only “quick-fix” solutions to the crisis in steel and he urged it to take a new approach.

“The government offered £500m to Port Talbot but it came with no job guarantees and it’s only a drop in the bucket of what the steel industry needs,” he noted. “Support is always welcome but it never goes far enough. The government has to think hard and come up with long-term solutions, not short-term sticking plasters.”

Stay tuned on UniteLive for more coverage of Unite’s Workers’ Plan for Steel campaign.

By Hajera Blagg

Pics by Mark Harvey at Sheffield day of action