25,000 workers are set to lose their jobs - the handiwork of vulture capitalists and their Tory government enablers, writes Susan Ram
On May 22, the High Court in London forced the Scunthorpe-based UK steelmaker British Steel into compulsory liquidation. This followed the Theresa May government’s refusal to advance it £30 million to cover short-term financing needs.
The bearer of an iconic name, British Steel is the sad remnant of a once giant industry that at its height employed close to 300,000 workers, ran a network of overseas subsidiaries and constituted 90% of the UK’s steel-making capacity. A nationalised company from 1967-88, BS was privatised under Thatcher. Efforts to squeeze profits out of it would fail repeatedly as protective tariff walls tumbled in the context of globalisation and the rapidly growing Chinese steel sector sent global steel prices tumbling.
On top of this, tough EU rules made it hard for member states like Britain to ride to the rescue of their steel industries. Instead of being salvaged by renationalisation, British Steel was fed to a sequence of private sector operators, none of them able to stem its loss-making. Then, in 2016, the Cameron government made the catastrophic decision to allow BS’s Scunthorpe operation to be gobbled up by Greybull Capital, a private equity firm and serial asset-stripper.
Greybull, which bought the Scunthorpe plant for £1, has made a practice of acting ‘saviour’, buying up companies on the cheap, and then stripping them clean. Its other victims include M Local convenience stores and Monarch Airlines, whose bankruptcy led to the emergency repatriation of 110,000 stranded tourists (at public expense, naturally).
Now thousands more scalps have fallen to the spiv operation and its government enablers. At Scunthorpe, 5,000 workers are now staring into the abyss, along with 20,000 more in the supply chain.
Together with union leaders, Jeremy Corbyn is demanding the immediate nationalisation of BS, whose core industry status he grasps, along with its vital role in “ushering in a future Green Industrial Revolution, securing British manufacturing for a sustainable, green future.”
If Britain is to retain and rebuild its foundational, irreplaceable steel industry, there is only one way forward: immediate nationalisation - in the face of EU rules - by a Corbyn-led Labour Government.
Susan Ram is a writer, editor and journalist based in south-west France. She's currently at work on a book about the French Left, for publication in India, where she lived for many years.