Friday, 4 December 2009

Lessons from the closure of the Corus steel factory

Today, "Steelmaker Corus has confirmed it will close its Teesside Cast Products factory, putting 2,000 people out of work." BBC News reports that "jobs had been at risk since an international consortium led by Italian company Marcegaglia pulled out of a 10-year-deal to buy the plant's steel in May" and "Tata Steel's chief Kirby Adams - which owns Corus - confirmed the plant's closure to staff on Friday."

In July, according to Workers' Liberty, "around 3,000 people marched through Redcar under the banner “Save our Steel”." However, little else was done. Although "recent occupations, including the [then ongoing] Vestas dispute, show the way," but "these links weren’t made." The fact that "many workers would support calls for nationalisation and workers’ control" was met with "no clear proposals from unions or campaign of how to achieve this or strategies for the fight, other than a broad coalition of unions, local politicians, media and businesses." A Facebook campaign group which "recognise[d] the need for a radical alternative" did emerge, but since August most of its mailouts have concerned other struggles.

With at least 1,000 workers already made redundant since January, it seems that the workers had long since given up any hope of a fightback.

Now, SteelGuru tells us that "workers, who lost their jobs at troubled steel giant Corus this year, are now taking courses on coping with redundancy." They are the latest victims of a recession that has claimed countless livelihoods so far. And now, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report tells us that "poverty has been rising in the UK since 2004 and is now at the same level as the start of the decade," whilst the Need not Greed coalition declares that "the £5 cap on Jobseekers Allowance claims discourages the building of a career" and "pushes many people on benefits to take undeclared cash-in-hand work."

All of which demonstrates the need to recognise the connection between workers' struggles and those of the unemployed. As the actions of groups such as the London and Edinburgh Coalitions Against Poverty and Nottingham Claimants Action demonstrate, organisation and resistance can have a profound effect upon the conditions the jobless, the homeless, and the poorest sections of society are expected to endure.

But perhaps the most important lesson from this saga is that, whilst such groups are doing brave work with those on the bottom rungs of society, workers' movements need to do more to ensure their members don't reach that point in the first place. As Fight for the Right to Work points out;
Unemployment has reached 2.5 million, and a million young people are left without jobs, education and training. Now all the main parties are competing to see who will deliver the most “savage” cuts - cuts that will hit vital services and set off a further jobs cull. In this atmosphere the politics of division and racism fester and grow. And governments that used to talk about tackling climate change are now making a bonfire of their promises.


There is a new sense of resistance against the attempt to make ordinary people pay for the bankers’ and bosses crisis. As well as the inspiring occupations at Waterford, Prisme, Visteon and Vestas, we have seen crucial strikes on construction sites, among council workers, college lecturers, and postal workers. Resistance is needed more urgently than ever.
We owe it to the workers at Corus, let down by their unions and condemned to poverty, to ensure that we learn this lesson in the fightbacks to come.