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The crisis in the steel industry continues as Port Talbot and other plants face job losses:
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The crisis in the steel industry continues as Port Talbot and other plants face job losses:
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The crisis in the steel industry continues as Port Talbot and other plants face job losses:
Steel production in Britain suffered a further blow on January 20 with the announcement of the loss of 100 jobs at Sheffield Forgemasters.
Two days earlier, the monopoly Tata cut 1,050 jobs, three quarters in Port Talbot, south Wales, along with Trostre in Llanelli, Hartlepool in north east England and Corby, Northamptonshire. That comes on top of 1,200 redundancies made by Tata in October in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire.
That in turn came in wake of Caparo going into administration, and the previous month's closure of the SSI works at Redcar, with 2,200 jobs lost.
So far, 5,000 jobs in the industry have been destroyed over the past year out of 30,000. This will cost the communities affected dearly in lost productive capacity, removing vast sums of value in the form of wages from local economies, further decimating whole towns and communities, and deepening the crisis in the British economy in general.
Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Tony Burke said on January 12: "These figures are deeply worrying and show that George Osborne's promise to rebalance the economy is becoming an ever distant pipe-dream."
"As we saw with closure of the steel works in Redcar, the government's laissez faire approach damages communities and strips out decent well paid jobs from the economy," he said. "With steel communities across the UK facing uncertainty and as the storm clouds grow in the global economy we urge the government to adopt an active industrial strategy with steel at its heart."
A modern socialised economy, with its interconnected large-scale production, comes into contradiction with the private ownership of the means of production. When looked at with a human-centred perspective, with the aim of meeting the material and cultural needs of the population, these conditions pose as a matter of necessity the development of sovereign, self-reliant national economies that trade with each other for mutual benefit. This is the opposite of the motivation of the economy of Britain, taken as a whole, in which parasitism, the urge for a quick score, and competition in the global economy hold sway.
It is clear that an economy cannot be built to ensure the claims of society on it without a manufacturing base, which requires basic materials such as steel. There is still a huge requirement for steel and this will continue into the foreseeable future. Even where steel is being replaced by new materials, such as certain components in vehicle manufacture which are now made of carbon fibre, steel is still ubiquitous, not least in machinery and infrastructure. Steel remains a basic necessity for the functioning of the economy.
After writing off Redcar, Industry and Business Minister Anna Soubry said that "the priority is securing Port Talbot and making sure that Scunthorpe survives". Only recently, she led the Conservative counter-argument in the House of Commons debate of January 13 on trade, that there is too much steel on the market and that the opposition should "get real". The reasons put were that it would be loss-making, asking why anyone would invest. The whole point of steel's significance for the present and future economy was either missed or dismissed.
This narrow market-led view is promoted by media pundits. Reporting on the redundancies at Port Talbot, for example, the BBC claim that the British steel industry is struggling to be "competitive". "But it is fighting against global forces including cheap imports from China," wrote business correspondent Brian Meechan. "The steel industry has not really recovered from the financial crash in 2008 when at its height people stopped buying white goods, cars, and construction stopped."
These are markets dominated by the monopoles, and also under the sway of massive speculation and manipulation. They are experiencing all kinds of chaotic movements, particularly in this time of extended crisis. These problems in the prices of commodities and currencies are also used for various ends in world politics, to accuse and isolate particular countries, enact protectionist measures as part of trade wars and so on, further contributing to disequilibrium.
The European Union of the monopolies is also responsible, since its origins and preliminary organisations like the Common Market and Iron and Steel Trades Federation were based on control of strategic European steel production. The EU is against sovereign countries and economies from developing their self-reliant balanced economies. It prefers balancing to be carried out across the EU and dominated in a one-sided manner, in particular by the strongest economies like Germany, France and Britain. With this aim, EU regulations have long prevented governments from propping-up "ailing" or unprofitable industry, regardless of how vital they are.
Furthermore, it should be remembered that the destruction of the coal and steel industries began in earnest with the rise of neo-liberalism in the days of Margaret Thatcher. The so-called “laissez-faire” of neo-liberalism meant the unbridled rule of the monopolies. Under Thatcher, in fact, the interests of the national economy were over-ruled, despite all the chauvinism associated with her and her ideology.
Osborne promised a “balanced” economy. What would this mean? First of all, a “balanced” economy would have to be human-centred. There must be planned control of market prices and planning over all aspects of international trade. This means restricting the monopolies who already exert such power for their private empire-building interests.
A harmonious economy cannot come about if the economy is fragmented into mutually antagonistic, competing parts. Association has to supersede competition. In other words, instead of anarchy, competition and being subject to the market, human, conscious control over the economy is required, meaning planning, with the aim of meeting the needs of the population. Instead a completely different direction is evident in the monopoly-controlled economy which bears all the hall-marks of the domination of private interests, of irrationality and the demand that everything must serve to counter the falling rate of profit.
This is summed up in the need for a change in direction, for an economy where the steel industry is an integral part of the social economy. In the immediate present, the government must be held to account for its wilful failure to safeguard the steel industry. The proletarian front, led by the Workers' Opposition, must fight to safeguard the future of the steel industry and the whole manufacturing base. It must do this by strengthening its organised resistance to the wrecking of the economy by the ruling elite. This organised resistance gives rise to a glimpse of the future in which the people themselves gain sovereign control of their economy in general and the steel industry in particular.
The government must be held to account over its refusal to accept its responsibility to safeguard the future of the industry. The crisis in manufacturing underlines the necessity for the working class to develop its independent programme and action to bring about a sovereign economy under its control and end the parasitism of the monopolies and financial oligarchy. To take steps in this direction, monopoly right must be restricted and a fight take place for a new direction for the economy.
The government and media are making the claim that British steel production is facing a combined hit of weak demand, a strong pound, high energy prices and, in particular, dumping of cheap steel from China, which, it is claimed, is overproducing as its economy slows down. Nothing is mentioned of the situation whereby Britain exports 8.6 million while simultaneously importing 7.4 million tonnes of steel1.
While it is true that Britain imported 687,000 tonnes of steel from China in 2014, more than double the 303,000 tonnes in 2013, Britain imported nearly seven times as much steel, 4.7 million tonnes, from Europe. Prices in 2014 averaged at 897 euros a tonne for EU steel imports, one and a half times more than the 583 euros a tonne for Chinese steel2.
In response, Shen Danyang, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, said that it makes no sense to accuse Chinese steel producers of dumping in the global market, citing falling world iron prices as an underlying cause. He pointed out that the import price into China for iron ore in the first eight months of 2014 had dropped sharply from $110 to $63 per tonne3.
Far less media attention has been given to other accusations of steel dumping made in recent years.
Russia and Ukraine increased exports 46.4 million tonnes in 2014, nearly half China's exports of 93.78 million tonnes. Furthermore, in January last year, the export price of Russian and Ukrainian hot-rolled coil was reported cheaper than Chinese prices4.
In 2012, the European steel group Eurofer accusing subsidised Indian steel of wire being sold below market price5.
In the same year, Europe itself was under the spotlight. Mexican steel industry association Canacero, voiced its concerned of rising imports to Mexico from Europe, which were predicted at that time to increase by nearly half on the previous year to 1 million tonnes6.
The reality is that steel production in Britain has been wound down for many years. In the 1980s, the steelworkers fought a bitter battle against the dismantling of the industry in a 13-week national strike. Margaret Thatcher brought in the "butcher of coal, steel and cars", the infamous American magnate, Ian MacGregor, to oversee this destruction, which more than halved the workforce from 268,500 to 130,000.
The famous steel town of Corby was attacked, Ebbw Vale in South Wales closed, the Steel town of Sheffield was wrecked, the famous "Round Oak Steelworks" of the Black Country destroyed and numerous others in Birmingham where the then British Steel, Pressed Steel Fisher and GKN rolling mills were wound down or taken over in and around 1979 and the eighties.
Corus was formed in October 1999 through the merger of British Steel and the Dutch monopoly Koninklijke Hoogovens. In April 2007, Corus itself was taken over and became a subsidiary of Tata Steel, as Tata Steel Europe.
More recently, steel workers have been in action again to save the industry and oppose job losses. The people of Teesside and the Blast Furnace steel workers fought to re-open their steel plant in Redcar after its closure in 2010; it re-opened in 2012 under the ownership of Thai steel company SSI.
The argument that an alternative can be found has not receded and the resistance deepens. Last October steel workers from Redcar, Tata and Caparo steel plants marched on parliament to confront the government over the steel industry closures and massive loss of employment.
The lobby coincided with an opposition-led debate on the steel industry in the House of Commons. The motion tabled for the debate, which was defeated by 307 to 280, called for the Government to "publish a full Industrial Strategy, including what level of capacity the government envisages is needed in the steel industry, so as to safeguard this vital strategic asset".
2. Tim Bowler,
"Britain's steel industry: What's going wrong?", BBC News, 19 Jan
"Chinese steel firms 'not dumping'", Global Times, 17 Sep 2015,
4. Manolo Serapio
Jr and Maytaal Angel, "Cheap is king: Russia, Ukraine add to China steel
export flood", Reuters, 27 Feb 2015,
"EU launches probe into dumping of Indian steel wire", Reuters, 11
group fears dumping of European steel", Metal Bulletin, 9 June 2012,
The death of David Bowie gave rise to a quite unprecedented outpouring in the media, including postings in the social media. Indeed, his figure was imbued with an almost god-like status, with even the suggestion that constellations in the heavens should be named after him. It was suggested that he used his voice for others who were ignored.
What was glossed over was his overt fascism during the 1970s. “Alternative” media tended to term this as a “brief flirtation”, to be transcended by his later transformations, that he was always a misfit and beloved for it.
In fact, the 1970s were marked in Britain by the anti-fascist movement, which mobilised so many against the attempts by the state to launch a fascist party as respectable. This attempt was smashed by the strength of the people organised around the slogans, “fascists have no right to speak” and “fascists have no right to organise”.
It was in this context that Bowie took the side of fascism. He is on record as saying: “Britain is ready for a fascist leader… I think Britain could benefit from a fascist leader. … I believe very strongly in fascism. People have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership. Rock stars are fascists, too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars…You’ve got to have an extreme right front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up.” (Playboy, 1976).
On his return from abroad in the same year, he gave a Nazi salute to his fans at Victoria Station. These words and actions cannot be explained away. In a sense, Bowie's later recantation that he was “out of my mind, completely crazed”, only compounds the situation.
In The Musicians' Union: A Social History, an account is given of the stand taken by Cornelius Cardew and others to have those who support fascism expelled from the MU:
“At a meeting on the 14th September 1976 Cardew moved that any members of the Union expressing fascist sympathies be expelled from the Union – though this was not carried, the Branch meeting vote resulting in a 12-12 tie.
“This branch deplores the publicity recently given to the activities and Nazi style gimmickry of a certain artiste [referring to Bowie – WWIE] and his idea that this country needs a right wing dictatorship. Such ideas prepare the way for political situations in which the Trade Union movement can be destroyed, as it was in Nazi Germany. The spreading of such ideas must be considered as detrimental to the interests of the Union and any necessary steps should be taken to prevent such ideas from gaining credence in the community. We propose, therefore, that any member who openly promotes fascism or fascist ideas in his/her act or recorded performance should be expelled from the Union.”
“A further motion, however, was passed by 15 votes to 2, at the next meeting of the branch on the 18th November 1976, stating that:
“When a pop star declares that he is ‘very interested in fascism’ and that ‘Britain could benefit from a fascist leader’ he is influencing public opinion through the massive audiences of young people that such pop stars have access to. Such behaviour is detrimental to the interests of the Union, since it prepares the ground for a political system in which the Trade Union movement can be smashed, as it was in Nazi Germany. This Central London Branch therefore proposes that any member who uses his professional standing or stage act or records to promote fascism should be expelled from the Union.”
To promote a rock star with such a background as David Bowie is to say that irrationalism and nihilism is what the youth should espouse and what popular culture should be about. It is in stark contrast to the stand and path taken by Cornelius Cardew himself who blazed a trail in music of enlightenment and progress.
The issue really is what should today's popular culture be like. The hype and hysteria surrounding Davie Bowie assists in blocking sorting out this issue.
For example, the final album “Blackstar” drew such quotes as “David Bowie has rarely embraced clear meaning and on his new album … he's as slippery as ever”. Its lead track was said to be about ISIS, which Bowie reportedly denied, as he denied ever making a Nazi salute. One review, headlined “The Beautiful Meaninglessness of David Bowie”, likens the album lyrics to surrealism, quoting with approval a description of the surrealists: “But above all, taking their lead from dreams and the unconscious, their work showed a deliberate rejection of reason.” The same review says that the final track “almost reads like a defence of a career of obscurantism”. Its lyrics typically read: “Seeing more and feeling less, Saying no but meaning yes, This is all I ever meant, That’s the message that I sent”.
The Guardian, writing on January 21 of the title track of “Blackstar”, which begins, “In the villa of Ormen ...”, says, “Ormen also means serpent in Norwegian, a creature mentioned in the writings of the occultist Aleister Crowley, with whom Bowie was obsessed in the 1970s.” Another review says, “The imagery here is rich in Satanic overtones, something Bowie has flirted with in the past. In the 1970s, during his Thin White Duke phase, he became deeply engaged in the writings of occultist and novelist, Aleister Crowley, drawing pentagrams on the floor, fuelled by copious amounts of cocaine, peppers and milk.”
So fascism at the beginning of Bowie's career, occultism at the end, and obscurantism throughout.
Perhaps Bowie's most famous track is "'Heroes'" (the title is in quotation marks), co-written with Brian Eno. Wikipedia says that his performance of the song on June 6, 1987, at the German Reichstag in West Berlin was considered a catalyst to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall. As the euphoria of that fall is now nowhere to be seen, one might guess that the hero-worship being promoted with Bowie's death will similarly prove hollow and empty. Even in Bowie's song, the reference to heroes is ironic. The lyrics have nothing to do with any heroic deeds performed in defence of progress and humanity. We can be heroes, just for one day, as lovers, “I, I will be king, And you, you will be queen”.
The wall to wall coverage given in all the media to David Bowie on his death is therefore inexplicable unless viewed as giving god-like status to what is most base, attempting to block the path to what would be a genuinely popular culture.
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