Community Branch Secretary and Rep Chris Williamson spoke at the Labour Party Conference on the importance of a putting workers’ voices at the forefront of climate strategy, and the impact on the steel industries and steel communities. You can read his words below:
Like all steel towns, the steel industry is the identity of Rotherham. Most families have a direct link to steel or have family members that work within the supply chain.
I fit in that category myself, being a third-generation steelworker with my brother working within the supply chain.
Rotherham is lucky to be in the situation of operating two electric arc furnaces, making steel from a range of products from razor blades to the steel that is used in landing gear of aeroplanes.
If the steelworks in Rotherham were to close it would be devastating to our town and to families like mine. But I also want to make it clear that losing our steel industry would also be devastating for our ability to respond to the climate crisis. A strong green steel industry is absolutely crucial to our mission to decarbonise our economy and protect our environment.
Steel is essential for the infrastructure we need to put in place to reach net-zero: from wind farms, through to nuclear energy and electric cars. The good news is that we can produce all the steel we need to decarbonise our economy right here in the UK.
It is clear that steel is fundamental to a just transition and that the opportunities are immense for our industries, for jobs and for our communities. Trust me when I say that we have the best steelworkers in the world who are ready to take the opportunity to modernise the industry with both hands and build a new, green economy with steel at its core. The only thing we are lacking is political will and a government that is on our side.
Under the Tories the UK is sleepwalking behind our European counterparts who are investing in their industries.
If we had a government that did the same here in the UK, our steel industry would be a foundation of growth, especially within downstream activities creating tens of thousands of jobs.
The title of this event is “nothing about us without us”, meaning that any changes and industrial transitions must be led by the working people in the affected industries – not imposed on them. I completely agree with this principle, and I think everyone around this table and in this room would agree with that too.
But I also want to offer another aspect of “nothing about us without us” and that is that without us – nothing will happen at all.
To turn the potential of a green steel industry into reality – we have to be in power, making the calls on the biggest issues our country faces from government, not from the side lines.
Every trade unionist knows that to bring about change in the workplace, you have to be around the decision-making table. It is for this reason that we must get a Labour government, to bring about this transition and build a fairer, greener future for our communities.
For the last 12 years the trade union movement fought hard for working people in the workplace and beyond, but for the scale of the change we need to see we have to be in government.
You can find out more about our climate change strategy here.