Community delegates are attending the TUC Congress in Brighton, where unions discuss their priorities for the year ahead. Community called for support for its Save our Steel campaign and received the unanimous backing from all the union reps at the conference.
Below is the speech by Community’s General Secretary Roy Rickhuss:
“Since conference last met we have seen more turbulence in our industry: more change, more restructuring, more challenges for us to overcome.
“Ever since the 2015 tragedy of SSI in Teesside we’ve been in crisis mode. We’ve been fighting for the survival of steelmaking in this country. And together the steel unions – Community, Unite and GMB – have campaigned hard to save our steel.
“By coming together and working together. We have lobbied – at every level – for government to deliver for our industry. And we will not stop until we are competing on a level playing field, but we are a very long way from where we need to be.
“The prices we pay for electricity are now double what they pay in France and our business rates can be ten times more than they pay in Europe. We are suffering from a lack of vital investment, needed to make our plants competitive. And – by their own figures – government procuring just 43% of the steel it uses in public funding projects from the UK is a disgrace.
“And we have new macro challenges to face. Trump’s steel tariffs have led to a new climate of trade protectionism.
“And then there is Brexit. The abject failure of our politicians to resolve Brexit is destroying our manufacturing base – not a week goes by without announcements of job cuts or plant closures. The steel industry needs certainty but above all we must avoid a no deal Brexit – which would mean new duties and friction at borders – making our steel less competitive.
“British steelworkers have faced many challenges, and unfortunately there is more to come. Many of you will know of recent developments at Tata Steel and British Steel – the biggest employers in the sector.
“In May the merger discussions between Tata Steel and Germany’s Thyssenkrupp collapsed due to their failure to agree a remedy to a competition issue. We told them it was going to be a problem two years ago and they didn’t listen!
“And we have concerns Tata will now attempt to pursue a short-term cost-cutting approach that could devastate us. Just last week Tata made the crushing announcement that they intend to close the Orb Works in Newport, which is the UK’s only electrical steels plant and employs nearly 400 highly skilled workers.
“We do not accept the closure of this vital strategic business and we are ready to fight for the future of the Orb. It makes no sense to let the only plant we have that can make electrical graded steel to close, just when that steel is going to be needed more than ever for electric car production.
“Then, on the 22nd of May came the news that British Steel had gone into liquidation. It was a devastating blow for the workforce and all those who depend on British Steel for their livelihoods. 25,000 jobs placed in the balance. Whole communities fearing for their future.
“Since the announcement we have been working closely with all stakeholders to secure a new future under the right ownership.
“And last month we reached an important milestone – when Ataer were confirmed as preferred bidder for British Steel. They are now in the due diligence process and could conclude a deal shortly.
Congress, we know British Steel is a great business. Making world class products. With the most committed workforce there is. Who even now – under these circumstances – are breaking production records.
“There is no doubt that British Steel can have a bright future.
“Secretaries of State, Ministers and even Prime Ministers have stood at the dispatch box and said you cannot have a successful manufacturing sector without a successful steel industry at the heart of it.
“Now is the time to follow those warms words with real action. Get back round the table and secure the steel sector deal we have demanded.
“Steel is our past, our present and can be our future. We’re going to have to fight for it – and we will. Together, we will save our steel.”