Sanjeev Gupta, the owner of Liberty Steel, has announced he intends to sell-off the steelworks at Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire, which were taken over by Liberty, part of the Gupta Family Group (GFG), from Tata Steel in 2017.
GFG, currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Squad following the collapse of the finance company Greensill (for whom David Cameron lobbied), is using the livelihoods of the 750 steelworkers at Stocksbridge as a financial pawn to pay off Gupta’s £1 billion debt to Credit Suisse, inherited when Greensill collapsed in March.
Liberty Steel has sites elsewhere (Brinsworth, Motherwell, Hartlepool) and in total about 3,000 jobs are at risk. Gupta’s plan, supposedly, is to concentrate on developing a scrap-processing plant in Rotherham with the cute name “Greensteel”. Given the huge quantities of electricity used in scrap-processing, it is difficult to see how it could ever be green. Meanwhile, Gupta can always retreat to his £42m London mansion or his Scottish estate, where, I understand, the grouse shooting is first class.
Since the late seventies the British steel industry (once the British Steel Corporation) has been steadily run down. The industry employed 325,000 workers in 1971. It was below 100,000 by the end of the Thatcher years, in 1990, and has only 30,000 odd today. Steelworks have closed across the country. The main steelworkers’ union over most of the period, the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC, now merged into a small “general union”, Community) pursued a feeble policy of fighting each closure on an individual basis. It never developed an industry-wide strategy to oppose what was clearly an all-out war by the Thatcher government on the steel industry.
A spokesman for the National Trade Union Steel Co-ordinating Committee was quoted in the Yorkshire Post (24 May): “Liberty must act as a responsible seller and run a transparent process which fully engages with the trades unions”. Given that the Tory government only recently refused Liberty a loan, on the grounds that its business dealings were ‘too opaque’, this doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon.
The Labour Party argues that the government should step in and public ownership “should be considered”. Ed Miliband, the Shadow Business Secretary, has called for a “Plan B”.
In response to the sell-off, with the loss of jobs this will surely entail, workers need more than just a set of “appeals” to the likes of Sanjeev Gupta and Boris Johnson. A robust, fighting response based on the rank and file on the shopfloor and the local community must be mounted.