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‘We want to work’: Tata Steel workers protest over proposed cuts

HUNDREDS of people have taken part demonstrations against the anticipated elimination of numerous positions within the steel sector.

Tata Steel has announced that 2,423 jobs throughout the United Kingdom are in jeopardy, with the largest impact felt in Port Talbot, where 1,929 jobs are threatened out of a workforce of 3,859.

A senior executive at Tata expressed that a significant portion of the operations at Port Talbot are nearing obsolescence, resulting in daily financial losses amounting to £1.7 million.

In anticipation of a rally in Port Talbot, employees from the Llanwern facility organised a march through the heart of Newport on Saturday (Feb 17)

Tata Steel’s Llanwern site employs 917 individuals, with 113 positions facing potential cuts. Approximately 500 participants joined the march, signaling widespread concern over the job losses.

Community General Secretary Roy Rickhuss said: “Today showed that Port Talbot, Newport and South Wales – steelworkers, politicians, local businesses and community groups – are united in opposing Tata’s bad deal for steel, which would be disastrous not just for communities here which have been built on steel, but for the UK as a whole. Make no mistake about it, what the company are proposing is bad for jobs, bad for our economy, bad for our environment and bad for national security. As the steelworkers’ union, we’ll do everything we can in our power to stand up against Tata and the UK Government’s plan, including the last resort of industrial action as we set out yesterday. 

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“This could all be avoided if the company showed some willingness to get back around the table, and to look again at the credible Multi Union Plan which is supported by industry experts, the Labour Party and MSs across the political divide in the Senedd. It sets out a pathway to decarbonise our industry in a just, sustainable way – not just opting for the cheapest option on the table and offshoring carbon emissions as the Tata plan does. It also avoids compulsory redundancies, and ensures the UK keeps its primary steelmaking capacity which, in an increasingly uncertain world, has never been more important.”

“Today’s rallies in Port Talbot and Newport showed that the people of South Wales value and support our steelworkers. Now we need the government and Tata to show the same commitment before it is too late. There is so much at stake here, and the weeks and months ahead are absolutely critical for our industry, our steel communities, and the country as a whole. We need our steel.”

Alan Coombs, Chair of the Multi-Union Committee at Port Talbot steelworks, said: “Steelworkers at Port Talbot are proud of our industry, and we are proud of our community which has come out in such a strong show of support for us today. These are uncertain times, and many of us are anxious about what lies ahead for Port Talbot. One thing is certain though – steelworkers will fight tooth and nail for the future of our industry and our livelihoods. 

“And when we fight, it isn’t just for workers like myself who have enjoyed long careers at the works: we are thinking just as much about the many apprentices and young workers who are just starting out on their own path and learning a skilled trade in a sector which should be at the cutting edge of innovation. Tata’s half-baked plan is taking away their futures, and completely undermining the future of an industry which will be absolutely essential if we want to transition to a greener economy. 

“Today was a reminder to the company that we won’t stand for it, and neither will our steel communities. This is just the beginning for us, and all options are on the table going forward as set out by Community steel reps yesterday. Tata need to change course now and get behind the Multi-Union Plan to save our industry before it is too late.”

Reg Gutteridge, Chair of the Multi-Union Committee at Llanwern steelworks, said: “Wherever you go in Gwent you will meet someone with a connection to the steel industry – from those who worked or had loved ones employed at sites like Pontymister, Ebbw Vale, Tredegar or Orb which are sadly no longer with us, or those with a connection to the proud workforce at Llanwern today. Llanwern has always been a hub for skilled and well-paid local employment in our area, and is still at the cutting edge of steel technology. 

“For example our Zodiac line is one of the best processors of high-quality automotive steel anywhere in the world. Under Tata’s bad deal for steel, the Zodiac line – and ultimately, our entire steel industry – would be reliant on imports from heavy-polluting countries overseas. That shows clearly that the company aren’t thinking about the environment at all. This is all about cutting costs and opting for the cheapest possible option available to them, and it’s shameful that the Conservative Government are propping up this agenda with taxpayer money.

“Today’s march in Newport was our way of sending a message to Tata and the government – we won’t back down when it comes to protecting our jobs, our industry, and our steel communities. It was great to have so much support and encouragement from the public today, and we know that the people of South Wales will stand with us in these challenging times. We need our steel, and it’s high-time that Tata reconsidered their destructive, discredited plans and backed the Multi-Union Plan.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We recognise that this is a concerning time for Tata’s employees at Port Talbot and we will continue to support staff affected by the transition.

“The UK Government has put in place one of the biggest support packages in history, with a £500 million grant as part of the £1.25 billion commitment by Tata to secure the future of the Welsh steel industry.

“Additionally, £100 million has been put towards the creation of a Transition Board – £80 million from the UK government and £20 million from Tata Steel. The Board is chaired by the Secretary of State for Wales, to directly support those affected.

“This record level of support shows just how much the UK Government values the Welsh steel industry and the people and communities whose livelihoods depend on it.”

Unite leader’s speech

Speaking at the Port Talbot steel rally, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Friends, make no mistake we stand here today in this proud town of Port Talbot – a town drenched in workers’ history – making the very last stand for UK steel.

“The hand of history is truly on our shoulders. And friends, how have we arrived at this point? Because of a programme of job cuts and unrelenting industrial vandalism.

“For years and years, politicians and profiteers have delivered cut after cut to UK steel.

“In 2023: Newport Liberty Steel and Scunthorpe British Steel – nearly 1,000 steel jobs gone.

“In 2020: Newport, Tata – nearly 400 jobs gone.

“In 2015 and 2016: Rotherham, Scunthorpe and Port Talbot Tata, nearly 3,000 jobs gone.

“In 2015: Redcar, Teesside SSI – over 2,000 steel jobs gone.

“And on and on it went. Job cut after job cut. The long hard march of years of decline.

“Friends, together our politicians have sat by and watched our steel industry be decimated. They have handed our steel to overseas corporations, undermined our economy and our national security.

“They have let communities wither on the vine. They have failed us all.

“Well, we say here together – no more! The time for begging is over. Now is the time for action. Now is the time for us to fight with everything we have. Fight for our communities and fight for UK steel.

“Friends, Tata is a giant conglomerate, which has reserves of £1.6 billion, and has paid to shareholders £1.4 billion since 2019. Their cries of poverty do not stand up.

“The government presides over an economy worth £2.5 trillion and squandered over £4billion on dodgy PPE we never used. Their cries of poverty do not stand up.

“Make no mistake, the money is there to protect our steel industry!

“Friends, decline is not inevitable. It is a choice. Another future for steel is possible – it is already happening in other countries.

“For the Tata Dutch workers, where Tata has chosen both to invest and build an electric arc and not run down the site.

“For the German and French workers, whose governments have chosen to invest and not run down their sites.

“Friends, these are sites where blast furnaces remain open while electric arcs are being built. Where DRI capacity is being brought in. Where jobs are being protected.

“Why are workers in Britain expected to swallow lie after lie and be treated like dirt?

“We will not allow it. Friends, we will expose their collective lies.

“They say that it is unrealistic to protect jobs. That it is unrealistic for capacity to be saved. That mass steel making has no future here.

“Lies, Lies, Lies. Shame on you. Shame on you.

“Friends, if what they are saying is true, how is it happening in Germany, where they can make more steel on one site, than we do in the whole of Britain?

“If Germany can have investment for that to happen, why can’t we even save the jobs we have in Britain? If the German government can protect German workers – why can’t our government protect us?

“Friends, we can only win the future if we chose to fight now. Because be in no doubt, no politician will just give more. No global corporation will change their plans free of charge.

“The truth is, they won’t give us anything if we don’t rise up and fight together.

“Friends, we don’t have to accept what we are being told. We don’t have to pretend that begging is negotiating. And we don’t have to accept more cuts as a given.

“We can fight. And yes, we can win!

“Friends – there should be a bright future for UK steel. The steel market is there. A tenfold increase in demand is predicted. Politicians keep talking about the need for growth – there is your growth.

“Invest in UK Steel. Invest in the future. For Port Talbot, Llanwern and all the others throughout Britain.

“A future where these towns are once again global capitals of steel making. Where instead of cuts to jobs, there are new jobs made. Where instead of reducing our steelmaking capacity, we build production to match demand. That future is possible.

“Already we have shown that we can make moves. Moving Labour to commit three billion for UK steel in the next parliament. And their statement to Tata – don’t do anything before an election that can’t be reversed. Commitment to DRI investment.

“It’s a good start – but they must do more. Tinkering around the edges is not enough. Labour is the party for workers. Our party.

“Of course, we want a Labour government. But we want one that is going to make real change! Stick up for workers – be by our side.

“Labour – this is the time to decide whose side you are on!

“Friends, let no one tell you that there is not a future worth fighting for – that it’s too hard or too late – that it is fanciful. That this town is not worth the fight. That centuries of steel and iron making are not worth the fight.

“We have to make a stand for capacity and jobs. It’s simple: If we fight, no one can say that we will get all we want. But if we don’t fight then we will watch thousands of steel jobs fall.

“Unite’s ballot for industrial action starts on 1 March. And I know that other unions are beginning to prepare for a ballot. Vote yes in the ballot. Vote yes for a future for you and your families. Vote yes for a future for your community. For those that came before and all those that will follow you.

“And friends when you give us that vote, I promise you we will back you. Unite members will be backed by our £20 million strike fund. And we will work night and day to save jobs.

“Friends, let’s stand together, let’s fight together, let’s win together. Victory to our steel workers! I’ll see you on the picket line – solidarity!”