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Year 2009 No. 49, July 21, 2009 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Workers Demonstrate on Teesside to "Save Our Steel"

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Workers Demonstrate on Teesside to "Save Our Steel"

For a Steel Industry that Serves the Social Economy!

Interview with Geoff Waterfield, Chair of the Teesside Multi-Union Workers’ Committee

International – Canadian Workers’ Strike:
Vale-Inco Miners and Refiners Stand Firmly against Concessions

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Workers Demonstrate on Teesside to "Save Our Steel"

Steel workers demonstration - Redcar

On Saturday, July 18, "Save Our Steel!" and "Don’t let river steel die!" was the call of over 5,000 steel and other workers who staged a militant demonstration and rally in the centre of Redcar, Teesside, to oppose the closure of the Teesside Cast Products steel works at Redcar. The closure threatens nearly 3,000 jobs at the Corus plant plus thousands more in related industries. That is in addition to the 4,500 job cuts announced in the steel plants this year in Sheffield, Rotherham and Scunthorpe. On the demonstration, steel workers who travelled hundreds of miles from other Corus steel plants at Scunthorpe, Llanwern, Port Talbot and Corby joined the workers from the Redcar plant. Chemical workers from Hartlepool and other workers from the surrounding area also took part in the demonstration.

Steel workers demonstration - Redcar
Demonstration proceeds along the sea front

This is the third demonstration since Corus announced that it was to close the plant with nearly 3,000 job losses. The demonstration marched from Majuba Road through the streets of Redcar to the town centre for the rally. Bob Stainthorpe, an electrician and Deputy Chair of the multi-union committee at the plant, chaired the steel workers’ rally and welcomed all who had joined in. He introduced a number of speakers condemning the closure, including the Mayor of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council Paul Briggs, Derek Simpson, General Secretary of Unite, Ray Vickers of the Community Union, Kevin Rowan, Northern region TUC, and Vera Baird, MP for Redcar.

Steel Platform Steel Rally
Geoff Waterfield and Bob Stainthorpe at the conclusion of the Rally

The rally chair called on Geoff Waterfield, Chair of the Teesside multi-union workers’ committee at the Redcar plant, to make the concluding speech. What Geoff Waterfield said reflected the spirit of resistance and dignity of the steel workers, emphasising that hard working people in their hour of need are side-by-side shouting enough is enough. How long must decent hard working people pay for the mistakes of the feckless and the faceless jackals that are devastating our towns, villages and communities, he asked. The workers have spoken out against what we know to be wrong, yet here we are the victims of this systemic stupidity. Who pays for it? It is our families and our people who are workers – who build communities and not destroy them! When will we see investments and long-term commitment to manufacturing and not these insulting handouts, he declared to great applause. He said that we, the steel workers, are one of the last survivors of manufacturing in Britain in the face of the destruction of manufacturing driven on by the profit mongers. He concluded by saying that that the steel workers refuse to turn the lights out on a people who have given so much over 200 years of steel making on Teesside. The government should back us and not the bankers. It is workers like us who are the real backbone of this country. With these rousing remarks, the rally concluded to great applause and the shouting of Save our Steel!

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For a Steel Industry that Serves the Social Economy!

Part of Redcar Steelworks
Redcar Steelworks with the main blast furnace complex

In May this year Corus, which is owned by Tata Industries, took the decision to put the steelworkers at the Teesside Cast Products plant on 90 days’ notice when a 10-year contract to supply steel to a global consortium was prematurely ended by the consortium. Corus said that the plant which produces 25% of Britain’s steel output would be "mothballed". Corus blamed the consortium, saying that they had received steel at a low fixed price for the life of the 10-year contract when the steel was highly priced on the steel market and now that price had halved on the steel market the consortium wanted to run from the contract.

However, the issue here is that the global multinationals such as Tata Steel attempt to enforce their dictate, while the government also disregards the interests of the social economy and regards inward and outward investment as the natural order of things. In the conditions of the global economic crisis and the slump in the price of commodities, the monopolies are in cut-throat competition to concentrate production in their own hands and even destroy capacity. The history of steel-making in Britain bears this out. 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. In the hey-day of the social welfare state, the British Steel Corporation had brought into state ownership 90% of British steelmaking in 1967. As this system went into crisis at the beginning of the 1980s, the steelworkers fought a bitter battle against the dismantling of the industry in a 13-week national strike. Margaret Thatcher brought in Ian MacGregor to oversee this destruction, which more than halved the workforce from 268,500 to 130,000. The same Ian MacGregor was in charge of the National Coal Board when Thatcher took on the task of defeating the miners during the 1984-1985 strike.

The call of the Save Our Steel campaign is entirely just. The workers demand that the government shoulder its responsibilities to society and make emergency and long-term investments in the steel industry instead of allowing Corus to close the plant and devastate the steel communities with the untold human and financial costs that will bring about. But it is crucial to safeguarding their future that the working class of the North East, as with workers everywhere, reject the government's outlook that the issue for the workers is to get behind their bosses in being competitive in the global market. This is being used to justify job cuts and the devastation of workers’ communities everywhere. This can never be the basis for creating a modern economy or for solving the problem of creating jobs and economic prosperity in the North East or any other part of Britain.

The steel industry like every other industry should serve the social economy and the public good, and not serve the drive of the owners of capital to get rich at the maximum possible pace and by methods which just wreck any human-centred endeavour. In fact, these methods include utilising the state itself to serve the interests of monopoly capital and facilitate the concentration of the added-value which the working people produce in the hands of the rich owners of monopoly capital. This underlines that the social economy and its industries and services must be brought under the control of those who live, work and produce for it if the government and the monopolies persist in pursuing their reckless and criminal course. The working class must take up its own independent programme for society which demands a modern economy capable of uninterrupted extended reproduction, where more is put into the economy than is taken out and the people's wellbeing is put at the centre of the economy and not the interests of the monopolies.

Building a steel industry where the rights of the monopolies are curtailed and the interests of the people are paramount will start to end the vagaries of the present global economy and contribute to charting a way out of the crisis and building in its stead a modern socialised economy.

Success to the Just Struggle of the Steel Workers!

Save Our Steel!

Article Index



Interview with Geoff Waterfield, Chair of the Teesside Multi-Union Workers’ Committee

WDIE: Can you speak about the situation at Corus?

GW: I think the situation is very well publicised. The owners of Corus made a strategic decision back in 2003 that the Teesside plant wasn’t going to be part of the company’s plan. At that time, we saved the plant by putting a consortium together of a number of businesses who were off-takers. Since the onset of the current recession, those off-takers have decided that they don’t want to be part of that contract and have broken the agreements and walked away. At this time, Corus is trying to have further talks with one of those companies – Marcegaglia, the Italian steelmaker – so as to resurrect that deal. We are not too hopeful on the outcome of that. On the other hand, there have been approaches from a number of other steel-users, and so we are hopeful that those companies will be able to see that buying our steel is a viable prospect.

WDIE: I notice that in your speech you said that the government is financing the bankers, whilst the workers are suffering the cutbacks. Can you comment on that?

GW: I think it is what everybody knows – we don’t see any bankers suffering! The MP mentioned up to £5 million for regeneration. But if we are honest about this, some of these bankers get as much as that in wages and bonuses. That £5 million is for training support, and that has got to be spread also amongst the whole of Yorkshire which includes the Stocksbridge Works in Sheffield. You can see that with the numbers there and the numbers here, there is going to be very little left and you will be lucky if you get change for the bus fare home!

WDIE: Can you tell us how the campaign to Save our Steel is going?

GW: I think it is going well. This demonstration has been the pinnacle of many events we have been involved with so far. It won’t be the last event either, because we will continue fighting right through the 90 days notice and beyond. We know there are talks going on this week, so we will sit down on Monday and see where we are.

WDIE: Thank you very much and we wish you every success in this vital campaign, Save Our Steel.

Article Index



International

Canadian Workers’ Strike:

Vale-Inco Miners and Refiners Stand Firmly against Concessions

Over 4,000 Vale-Inco miners and refiners in Sudbury and Port Colborne, Ontario and Voisey's Bay, Labrador have voted overwhelmingly to strike against concessions. The Vale Inco international monopoly is shamelessly using the economic crisis as an excuse to force workers to give up their traditional nickel production bonuses and exclude new hires from the existing defined-benefit pension plans, among other concessions.

On July 13, thirty-three hundred nickel production and maintenance workers in Sudbury and Port Colborne, Ontario rejected Vale Inco's demands for concessions on pensions, bonuses and many other issues and launched a strike struggle to defend their livelihoods. The strike was authorised in ratification votes on July 9 and 10 by 85 percent of the twenty-six hundred Sudbury workers who cast ballots. The large participation in the mass discussions and vote to strike against concessions came despite company attempts through its website to undermine the trade union leadership by appealing directly to workers to give concessions. Also, Ontario workers came out in overwhelming numbers to discuss the contract and vote even though their mines and refineries are in the midst of an eight-week company imposed shutdown.

Speaking from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where Vale is based, CEO Roger Agnelli castigated Sudbury miners as costs that must come down. "Sudbury is Vale's highest-cost operation and it's not sustainable," Agnelli said.

In a press release from the bargaining committee of the United Steelworkers (USW) local union branch, the committee vehemently denounced Vale's final offer saying it was "virtually unchanged from the demand for major concessions they tabled months ago", and recommending that workers unanimously reject the offer. The press release points out: "Vale, as of today, is a massively profitable Brazilian company that made over $13 billion pure profit last year, and has over $22 billion of cash assets on hand. They are, however, using the overall economic conditions as a fake excuse to demand major concessions from our Collective Agreement. Unfortunately Vale is doing this with no regard to how it will impact you, your families and our community.

"Vale has extracted twice as much profit from Ontario in their two years of ownership as Inco made in the previous 10 years. However, they still insist they need to radically impose these concessions (on) their Canadian workers. [...]

The committee particularly notes that:

"- Destroying our nickel price bonus and earnings-based compensation is not acceptable.

- Concessions in seniority rights are not acceptable.

- Contracting out our jobs is not acceptable.

- All of the above concessions are not acceptable."

Vale SA and Roger Agnelli, Xstrata PLC and Mick Davis and the other mining monopolies emerging as supermajors (BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Anglo American) are in crisis. The commodities boom could not and did not last forever. The market capitalisation of the leading forty global mining monopolies decreased 62 percent in 2008 and Vale and Xstrata have been left with huge debts as a result of buying Inco and Falconbridge at the top of the market. Over half a decade, corporate insiders such as Brascan, hedge funds, bankers, lawyers, accountants and speculators magically transformed $2 billion companies into $20 billion enterprises. Now the bubble has burst and the Vale and Xstrata monopoly groups are living in a world where each is either predator or prey. They are desperately trying to survive and emerge supreme. It is this system of monopoly right that is not sustainable and resistance to unfettered monopoly right is just.

The Vale Inco miners and refiners are demonstrating their social solidarity and determination to defend the rights of all including new hires and defeat the monopoly offensive for concessions. Their strike is a repudiation of the company lie that workers' hard work to mine and refine the natural bounty of Canada is a "cost" to some rich person holding Vale Inco debt or stock. Workers produce the added-value and have first claim on it. Society through taxes has second claim to guarantee the needs of the people and build the nation in opposition to monopoly right and the financial oligarchy who through their reckless greed have proven to be troublemakers and wreckers. The obsolete claims for interest, fees and dividends are a drag and interference in the socialised economy and the real source of the economic crisis. The old song that foreign and domestic rich investors are necessary to put miners and refiners to work is outdated and no longer relevant. Revenue from workers' production is more than enough for extended reproduction and public investment in local secondary manufacturing and the service sectors. The more added-value Vale Inco owners of equity and debt take out of the regions through concessions, the worse the local and overall economy becomes. Concessions are a plot of the rich to impoverish the working class and wreck the social fabric of the country.

(Source: The Marxist Leninist Daily on-line newspaper of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), July 13, 2009)

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