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Corus steal jobs: Workers must fight back
The Socialist spoke to a Rotherham steelworker.
Rotherham in South Yorkshire has been devastated by job losses in the last four months. Since October, Rosebys, Woolworths, FADS and MFI have either closed or gone into administration.
In January, Burberry announced the closure of their Rotherham clothing factory costing 170 jobs. Now, only two weeks later, the town's biggest employer, steelmaker Corus, has announced mill closures and restructuring that will put 731 skilled workers, more than half the workforce, on the dole.
This is part of Corus's 2,500 job losses (over 10% of the workforce) around the country, with South Yorkshire and South Wales, where Llanwern near Newport is being mothballed and over 1,000 jobs are going, taking the biggest hits.
After big job losses in 2001 and 2004, a £90 million restructuring of engineering steels in Rotherham and Stocksbridge (Sheffield) was announced which management promised would "guarantee steel making in Rotherham." This restructuring was a disaster, the managing director has been paid off and the upgraded primary mill is now to be closed with the loss of more jobs.
Corus is an Anglo-Dutch steel company formed by the merger of privatised British Steel with Hoogovens in 1999. Nearly two years ago Corus was taken over by the Indian-owned industrial conglomerate Tata, who went on to buy out Jaguar Land Rover as well.
Last year (2007-08), the Tata Group made £2.8 billion profits worldwide. On the back of surging demand from China and high world steel prices, their steels division, Tata Steel, posted a 35% rise in profits to £538 million in the six months to September 2008. They handed the shareholders a 22% increase in dividends.
Even though the world recession had already hit steel demand and prices, last November, Tata Steel's chief executive told the Financial Times that the company's aim was to "triple profits within five years."
It's clear that the bosses intended to carry through massive job losses to achieve this, and Corus has admitted as much, stating: "Elements of the initiative comprise long-term plans that were already under consideration but have been brought forward as a result of the slowdown." The company say that these cuts will improve profits by over £200 million!
One steelworker said: "Workers were stunned by the scale of the job cuts. But also angry. I'm angry that I found out from the local radio news. Angry that we're paying the price for management cock-ups. And I'm angry that at the 'cascade' meeting (a bit like Thatcher's trickle-down!) one of the top bosses implied that it was our fault we're losing our jobs."
Local Community union branch secretary Bob Hudson made a good point to the press when he said: "We're not getting the same help we would be getting if we were wearing bowler hats instead of hard hats. It's one thing for the banks and another for us."
But so far there is little sign of any fight-back from the trade unions other than Unite joint general secretary Derek Simpson saying his union will not accept any compulsory redundancies. What is needed is a programme of demands to rally workers' anger into action.
The Socialist Party demands:
- Where have all the profits gone? Open the account books to union inspection.
- Share out the work with no loss of pay.
- Don't subsidise the bosses - renationalise the steel industry under workers' control and management, with no compensation for the fat cats.
- Let workers produce steel for a programme of useful works, eg housing, hospitals, schools and public transport.
In The Socialist 5 February 2009:
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Marxist analysis: history