Demand public ownership to save steel jobs

Submitted by Matthew on 7 October, 2015 - 10:52 Author: Luke Hardy

On Friday 2 October a Department of Trade and Industry statement confirmed that the 1,700 workers who have lost their jobs at SSI UK steelworks in Redcar should prepare for even worse news.

As SSI’s parent company had filed for insolvency in the Thai courts, the workers’ redundancy payments were under threat. SSI had talked of keeping the plant “mothballed”, with the implication that the plant could re-open and workers be rehired if the price of steel increased to the point were a “healthy profit” could be made.

Mothballing would involve keeping the plant’s coke ovens burning — necessary if the ovens were to be retained.

The government’s promised bailout of £80 million would not keep the ovens/plant going. It is intended to help retrain workers and set up job finding schemes.

The unions have now dropped the argument against the job losses, and are pushing for for mothballing.

Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of the Community Union, said “Government must ensure that the industrial assets are protected and skills are retained to give steel making a chance of a future. We believe there are parties who could ensure that the industrial assets are mothballed safely, with reduced environmental impact, and we would encourage the liquidators to look favourably on this option as offering the best opportunity to secure a return to creditors.”

Whilst the safety and environmental impacts are important, the union leaders and the leaders of the Labour Party should be arguing for the plant to be in public ownership and workers’ control.

Steel is vital for construction and the engineering needed for infrastructure renewal, building and renovating vital new homes and the infrastructure and facilities that goes alongside new homes too. Steel is vital too for the renewal and updating of clapped out rail, energy and road infra-
structure.

There’s insufficient or no private profit in building social housing, and these social needs therefore go unmet. The relentless demand for profit is the same reason 1,700 steel workers are being forced out of their jobs.

Socialists should put pressure on the unions to make the arguments for public ownership.

In the case of Redcar steel jobs, it will take workers acting to make the decisive difference. Perhaps workers should occupy to keep the coke ovens going and stop SSI from selling off the equipment.

Such action would also highlight the political issue and the need for workers’ control.

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