STRIKES: Historic vote for industrial action by Tata steelworkers

'In the crucial weeks to come, Tata’s workers and Unite will put up picket lines to prevent the company from taking this disastrous path'

Unite Steelworkers Port Talbot

Tata steelworkers in Port Talbot and Newport Llanwern have voted to take strike action over ‘disastrous’ planned furnace closures and job losses in a historic decision. 

It will mark the first time in over 40 years that Port Talbot steelworkers will have gone on strike and follows anger from workers at Tata’s plans to axe almost 3,000 jobs, in what has been described by Peter Hughes, regional secretary for Unite Wales as “devastating industrial vandalism”.

Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham accused the company of making “threats” to workers at the UK’s largest production plant, saying they would lose enhanced redundancy pay if they voted in favour of industrial action.

Despite this, workers voted decisively to strike, while members of Community Trade Union, representing staff in the UK steel industry, have begun their own strike ballot. 

Sharon Graham said Tata’s plans and those of the government reflected, “short-term thinking of a clapped-out disinterested government marking time to a general election”. 

She said Labour had “done the right thing” by committing £3 billion to UK steel, compared to the £500m pledge by the Conservative government.

“This is an historic vote. Not since the 1980s have steel workers voted to strike in this way,” Graham said. 

“Other EU countries are transitioning their steel industries while retaining and growing their capacity because they know steel has a bright future – a tenfold increase in demand is predicted in the coming years.” 

Tata wants to replace the blast furnaces with greener steelmaking that requires less staff, however Unite has highlighted a Tata plant in the Netherlands where the blast furnaces are being kept open and jobs protected while the company builds an electric arc furnace and invests in hydrogen DRI technology.

She added: “The average age of a Unite Port Talbot worker is 36. Workers and the communities of Port Talbot and Llanwern are looking to the years ahead. They know that with the right choices steelmaking capacity and jobs can be kept and the benefits of growing the industry grasped.

“In the crucial weeks to come, Tata’s workers and Unite will put up picket lines to prevent the company from taking this disastrous path.”  

Unite the union said the strike action will be scheduled to cause ‘maximum impact’, with dates due to be announced soon. 

Peter Hughes said: “Tata has employed everything from bribes to threats to discourage our members from industrial action.

“They will not be intimidated into standing by while Tata attempts to carry out an act of devastating industrial vandalism against their jobs and communities, inflicting untold harm on the Welsh economy and the UK’s national interest.

“Our members have their union’s absolute support in striking to stop these cuts – Unite is backing them every step of the way.”

(Image credit: Unite the union)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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