As steel workers and their communities are asked to pay for yet another free market failure, we need to chase Tata's Tory apologists from power, says Richard Allday
When Tata bought the remains of the privatised British steel industry in 2006/7, for $4 billion, it was estimated to be bringing in around £800M profits annually, the Chinese economy was expanding exponentially, and Brazil and India were competing for second place in the ‘rates of growth’ table.
Everything was looking rosy for international capital, and domestically we were reveling in what a Mr. G Brown had described as ‘the end of boom and bust.
What a difference ten years (and a major financial crash, followed by international recession) makes. The apologists for free market capitalism don’t look quite so clever now.
Unfortunately, they still intend to make us pay for their mistakes, just as they did in 2008. In this case, it immediately affects the 19,000 workers dependent on Tata Steel, across 14 sites, and their families.
But it also affects the many tens of thousands more who depend on the steel industry – from the contractors on site, to the associated industries, to the local service sector (the newsagents, cafes, taxis, hairdressers - all the amenities where wage-earners spend their wages).
All these are expected to suffer, because the alternative is the bloated billionaires who gambled (with other peoples’ money) and lost, should bear the cost when their gamble turns sour. This is the one outcome Cameron and his class are not prepared to contemplate. All the guff they spout about “Entrepreneurs being entitled to the profits they make, because of the risks they take” evaporates when the ‘gamble’ goes wrong.
Now it’s all crocodile tears over the human tragedy of mass redundancies, and unemployment, but precious little in the way of constructive alternatives. None of them is suggesting that Tata’s board of directors takes part of the hit, and makes them repay the bonuses and directors fees they’ve raked in.
None of them is suggesting they sell up their homes (first, second, or third), or their private jets, or pawn their jewellery and Rolex watches. In fact none of them is suggesting they should personally suffer one iota. No. The profits were reserved for them, but the misery is reserved for us.
Nor are they even considering taking the same action that was taken to save the banks when they faced collapse in 2008; nationalisation in some cases, massive bailouts in others.
Only this time, the Tories have a problem: whereas in the past they could rely on a parliamentary opposition headed up by people who shared their world view, who were ‘intensely relaxed’ about the rich getting ever richer, this time its different.
The reforms that the Bliarites drove through the Labour Party, that were supposed to terminally weaken the influence of organized labour, were camouflaged under waffle about ‘democracy’ and ‘one member one vote’, and the collective voice of the trade union block vote was to be replaced by the individual votes of TU members ‘affiliated’ to the Labour Party through their unions. And those individuals, in their tens of thousands, heard the simple message of Jeremy Corbyn and thought, “He’s saying what I think”, and voted accordingly.
So now Cameron and Osborne are faced with a leader of the opposition who thinks his job is to oppose; who presents a different vision of society from the ‘dog eat dog’ free market; who believes the economy should be run in the interests of the wider society, not the other way round.
He shares the political leadership of his party with a Shadow Chancellor who quite reasonably argues that if a buyer for Tata Steel cannot be found, there is an economic, social, and moral imperative to consider nationalisation.
And that vision is shared by hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. All of which means that the People’s Assembly March for Jobs, Education, Health and Homes on April 16th now takes on an even greater significance.
Politically the Tories are not in a good place. The government has known for weeks that Tata’s board meeting this Wednesday was going to discuss the future of their UK operations. The steel workers’ union flew senior reps out to lobby the directors.
The Conservatives? Well the PM and the Chancellor were gallivanting around Europe. The Business Secretary found a ‘trade visit’ in the sunny clime of Australia more attractive – and felt his teenage daughter may benefit from accompanying him.
His junior ministry for Industry made all the right noises in interviews (so she thought), telling us the government was fully committed, not just to ensuring that the UK retained processing facilities for steel, but was ‘committed to ensuring the UK continued to making steel, not just processing it’.
She went further, and insisted that the government had not ruled out any form of intervention, up to and including ‘some form’ of nationalisation. Oops! That misperception of government policy was put right as soon as the Tory Trio returned from their overseas jollies. Nationalisation? No question of it. Not a starter. No way.
Then it turns out that far from helping fight the dumping of Chinese steel in the European market, the UK government had actually stymied attempts by the French, German and Italian governments to impose tariffs on steel imports being sold at below its production cost.
So there is the ‘No stone unturned’ policy of the Tories: tens of thousands of workers thrown on the scrap heap, or upset their new-found trade partners in China? No contest, old boy. Some of those Chinese are seriously rich, what?
The future for 19,000 steel workers is fundamentally a political question. Steel workers are already out in their communities, campaigning for support. There needs to be the biggest possible response locally and nationally to build the campaign and make the most of the Tories difficulties.
March for Health, Homes, Jobs and Education
The Peoples’ Assembly march on April 16th has suddenly acquired an even greater significance. The march for Health, Homes, Jobs and Education will be a demonstration of all those disgusted by the naked class-greed of the Conservative government who put individual enrichment above all else; but it will also be a demonstration of our belief that another world is possible; that it is time for Osborne – and the rest of them – to go.
It can be a demonstration that says we cannot wait until 2020 to throw these bastards out, because, if we let them carry on, there will be nothing left by 2020. They will have flogged off everything that is not nailed down, and what they cannot sell, they will destroy with their utter economic incompetence.
It will not be a demonstration that will bring the government down, but it could be the first demonstration of the British spring. We can lay down a marker, that enough is enough, and this lot have to go. And if it is big enough, if we get enough first-time marchers on it, they will carry back that energy, and solidarity, and confidence, into our communities and workplaces.
We can lay the foundation stone of a movement that can sweep this rabble out. The more we build this march, the more backing we provide Corbyn and McDonnell when they stare the Tories out – and the recalcitrants in their own ranks. And the greater the chance of forcing this government to intervene to save the jobs in the steel industry.
So: if you want to support the steel workers, if you want to support the doctors, and student nurses, the teachers and the firefighters, librarians and social workers, tubeworkers, the people fighting for a decent life with disability, single parents, the pensioners – our communities – then build all out for April 16th.
Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage. A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.
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