Around one sixth of Britain’s remaining steel industry workers have lost their jobs this year, with no sign of any slowing in the decay of the industry. Indeed, it shows every sign of being in terminal decline.
Thousands of steel workers’ jobs have been axed across the country. First, the liquidation of Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) UK led to the closure of the company’s site in Redcar, Teeside, with the devastating loss of 2,200 jobs. The Redcar plant had been operating for 98 years. (See SSI Redcar steelworks to be shut, BBC News, 12 October 2015)
Soon after, Caparo went into administration, announcing over 300 job losses in the West Midlands in addition to more cuts in Hartlepool and at its Welsh sites. (See Caparo steel goes into partial administration, BBC News, 19 October 2015)
Then Tata Steel announced 1,200 job cuts in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire. (See Tata Steel announces 1,200 job cuts, BBC News, 20 October 2015)
The current prospect of the complete demise of steel production in Britain threatens the livelihood of some 30,000 families, most of whom live in areas of already high unemployment.
The Labour party and the trade-union misleaders, along with the imperialist mass media, are seeking to pin the blame for this on China, citing the low cost of Chinese steel exports. However, the real cause of the collapse of Britain’s steel industry, along with mining and other former economic mainstays, lies in the policies pursued by successive British governments, both Conservative and Labour, over decades.
In 1965, the number of workers in the plants of the then British Steel Corporation (BSC) stood at 817,000. In January 1980, steelworkers began a bitter 13-week strike as the privatisation and wage-cutting agenda of the Thatcher government, elected the previous year, started to kick in.
This strike was, predictably, betrayed by the Labour and trade-union leaderships. Mass steel production in Scotland effectively ended with the closure of the Ravenscraig plant in 1992, despite a protracted struggle by the workers and their local communities. So vital had the plant been to local life that the town of Motherwell had been popularly nicknamed Steelopolis.
This wilful destruction of a once-thriving steel industry by a parasitic imperialist ruling class occurred long before China, or any other developing country, was a significant steel exporter. When the likes of Jeremy Corbyn attempt to outflank the Tories from the right, demanding that the government “stand up to China” on the steel issue, they not only fuel reactionary and social-chauvinist attacks on a developing socialist country that was once the plaything of British imperialism; they also prevent the class struggle of the British working class from even getting off the ground by presenting friends (the socialist countries and workers in other countries generally) as enemies and enemies (the British ruling class, the EU and imperialism generally) as friends.
Such indeed has been the time-dishonoured role of social democracy – at the very least since its respective parties led the working classes of Europe into the charnel houses of the trenches under the deceptive slogan of “defence of the fatherland”.
The only way to save the steel industry in Britain is to fight class against class with the strategic objective of establishing the rule of working people. We will then be able to create a planned socialist economy geared to serving the interests of all workers – not only in this country, but throughout the world.