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Steel in focus at Welsh Labour conference

23rd April 2018

Community steelworkers were front and centre of the Welsh Labour Party conference, which took place in Llandudno over the weekend. Steel reps were invited onto the platform to showcase the Save our Steel campaign, which Community has been leading throughout the UK.

Layton Phillips, a Community branch secretary at Tata Steel in Port Talbot, spoke in the steel debate. The following is the full text of his speech. [CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY]

“Conference, Layton Philips, delegate from Community, the steelworkers’ trade union.

“Conference, I am proud to be a Labour Party activist. I am proud to be a trade unionist. But most of all, I am proud to be a steelworker. I’ve worked in Port Talbot for well over 20 years. It is the largest remaining integrated steelworks in the UK – and we’ve been constantly fighting to keep it this way.

“As I’m sure you will all remember, over two years ago, Tata announced its intention to sell its UK operations. This put thousands of jobs in Port Talbot and across Wales at risk. I remember my friends standing before you at this conference, as steelworkers at risk of redundancy and at risk of an uncertain future. And I still remember the feeling I felt in early 2016. It’s difficult to describe what its like until you go through it – fearing for your family and for your home.

“Conference, any one of those job losses would have impacted me, my colleagues, my friends, my family and my community. We needed all the support we could get, and I was and still am so grateful I received it. I am proud that my union, the steelworkers’ union, Community, have continued to lead the fight to protect our industry, and have fought tooth and nail to get where we are today.

“The steel industry is part of my DNA and of Wales’ DNA, just as it is part of Community’s DNA. Community’s been calling for action for years, not just protect steel workers in Port Talbot, but in Llanwern, Newport, Trostre, Cardiff and Shotton.

“And when we launched our national campaign to Save our Steel, mobilizing steelworkers, our families and whole communities, we united steelworkers all across the UK. The steel crisis cost our industry thousands of jobs, that’s why we’ve continued to work with those in the industry to develop a strategy for steel, to guarantee our industry and jobs for the future. Here in Wales we’re fortunate enough to have a Labour Government that’s been prepared to intervene to support people in the steel industry through those difficult times, and we’re proud that this report reaffirms that commitment.

“We need to see the Welsh Government use every lever at its disposal. From investment in infrastructure, to investment in skills, and from targeted procurement policies to support for short time working. Because conference, there are still many more challenges ahead. Steel competes in a global market, with further uncertainties on the future of our jobs, on production, on tariffs and in protecting our industry post Brexit.

“When facing these challenges I know you will have our backs, and I know our workers are prepared to continue to fight for their jobs and for their industry. When we stand and demand to Save Our Steel – we mean it. Because this fight is bigger than anyone in this room – our communities depend on us, and our country needs us.

“Without the steel industry, without the history that is rooted in our industrial communities, and without the good quality and sustainable employment for local people, our communities would be destroyed.

“We’re proud of our industry. We know what this industry means. And we know what our people can do. I know we will continue to do everything we can to defend our industry and manufacturing, and to continue to succeed.

“For our members, our families, our communities, and for our children, our grandchildren and the generations to follow. We as steelworkers are the guardians, not the owners, of the industry. That’s why we have, and we must continue, with your support, to Save our Steel.”

Politicians echoed Community’s call for action on steel. Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon, which includes the Port Talbot works, and Stephen Doughty MP, who represents Cardiff South and Penarth where the Celsa works is located, spoke in the debate.