Port Talbot and the future of steel

The recent decision by TATA to close down its two blast furnaces at Port Talbot steel works over the coming year, with loss of around 2,800 jobs, is a devastating blow to both the workers and to their wider community. 

What is happening in Port Tabot is precisely the “cliff edge” of sudden mass redundancies, the threat of which is often ruthlessly weaponised to create opposition to climate action 

But despite the rhetoric about decarbonisation, TATA’s decision to shut down the blast furnaces ahead of starting production with an electric arc furnace is based purely on financial not climate considerations. 

Their decision not to install the additional technologies needed for low carbon primary steel production (as opposed to recycling) is not a decarbonisation plan, but a business plan.

In contrast to this disaster, a worker-led, socially just transition plan would determine the most effective way to decarbonise across the economy, whilst meeting the immense labour needs of new or growing sectors vital to the transition. 

It would do this whilst fully protecting the pay and conditions of all workers affected by technological transitions, whether work is currently available for them or not, as well as during any re-training.

The level of coordination and planning required across numerous sectors is not possible within the context of private companies vying for markets, but implies a need for public ownership of key industries, with full worker participation in planning, and delivery overseen by a public National Climate Service.

Below is a motion of support for the TATA steelworkers written for urgent adoption by union branches, regions and trades councils. 

Find out more

Background briefing - A summary of the technological issues for steel decarbonisation, the TATA plan and a brief discussion of the alternative plans put forward by the relevant unions (Unite, Community and GMB). Intended as background information for people wanting to propose the motion at their branch or other TU forum.

Also see this piece on the blog/debate section of the Greener Jobs Alliance newsletter.

Port Talbot motion

This Branch/Trades Council believes that the 2,800 redundancies at Port Talbot are a warning of what can happen without a planned transition away from fossil fuels that protects workers impacted by the introduction of new technologies, including providing them with alternative jobs where necessary with no loss of pay and conditions.

The transition away from fossil fuels is urgent and inevitable, but the form it takes is not yet determined. Without trade union and Government intervention, employers' decisions on transition will, like Tata Steel, be guided purely by commercial considerations regardless of its impact on workers.

Transition from fossil fuels does not need to lead redundancies or worse pay and conditions for workers. The IPPR Report From Missed Chances To Green Advances – The Case For A Green Industrial Strategy points out that transition could create another 1.6 million jobs and the UK is falling behind other countries in creating jobs in green industries. There is already a critical shortage of skilled electrical engineers and welders, and there will be a need for many more trained technical, engineering, and construction workers. These are skills that redundant steel workers could be re-trained for, but the jobs need to be created for them to take when they have re-trained.

There is an urgent need for a mass programme to insulate homes, upgrade the National Grid and build the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles. That would create thousands of jobs but this is not happening

As trade unionists we cannot wait for employers and the Government to decide how and when transition takes place. Trade unions need to take the initiative and:

i. Demand that Government and employers provide the investment to create these jobs

ii. Campaign for a national plan to transition away from fossil fuels with a National Climate Service that takes control of key strategic industries. This must be drawn up with Government, employers and trade unions so that the interests of workers are fully protected.

iii. Demand the Government guarantee the wages and conditions of workers during any periods of closure/shutdown caused by transition.