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Workers fight for steel and industrial sovereignty

28 April 2024

Billboard in Sheffield with a steel campaign message from Unite. Photo: Workers

Tata Steel workers, members of the Unite union, have voted for industrial action to keep at least one blast furnace open in Port Talbot. The Indian-owned company wants to replace blast furnaces with an electric arc furnace (EAF) resulting in the loss of 2,500 jobs at Port Talbot and 300 at Llanwern.

Although Port Talbot steelworkers have mounted campaigns for an integrated electric and blast furnace system throughout 2023, this will be the first time in over 40 years that they have gone on strike. Now they want to cause maximum impact despite the threatened loss of enhanced redundancy packages.

“An act of devastating industrial vandalism....”

Unite Wales regional secretary 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....inflicting untold harm on the Welsh economy and the UK’s national interest”.

EAFs produce steel from scrap, not quality virgin steel from raw materials which the rail, aerospace, and automotive industries, among others, need, and which only blast furnaces using coal and coke can provide. This move is a threat to Britain's industrial sovereignty at a time when demand for steel is likely to rise ten-fold in the coming years.


Tata is also accused of being hypocritical on emissions, as it is opening huge new blast furnaces in India. Clearly the company aims to boost its profits by cutting British jobs - it has nothing to do with the environment. They have responded by questioning the regularity of Unite's strike ballot, but these tired old bullying tactics have not discouraged members of a fellow union.

Members of Community, who work in the blast furnances, will hold their own strike ballot, which closes on 9 May. They accuse Tata of “decarbonisation on the cheap”, and point out that as EAF furnaces are as yet untested, closure of all blast furnaces could result in a 3-year pause in production. Semi-finished steel slabs will be imported from sites in India and the Netherlands before an EAF can be operational in 2027.


Meanwhile a Unite petition signed by 30,000 people, was handed over on Friday 26 April to politicians in Corby, Northamptonshire, calling for more support for steel and for UK steel to be used on UK projects. Thousands were once employed in the steel sector in Corby, once the home of Europe’s biggest integrated steel-making plant and tubeworks, but since the closures of the 1970s and 1980s that number has dwindled to around 500.

In Scunthorpe, Chinese-owned British Steel has won a contract to supply a major new rail route in Egypt. 9,500 tonnes of track are being manufactured in Scunthorpe for Egypt’s first fully electrified mainline and freight network, from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. Two shipments will set out for Alexandria in April and in June.

British Steel has plans to demolish its blast furnaces, but substitute EAFs will not become operational until late 2025. When this happens it is doubtful such a contract could ever again come to Britain.