Year 2000 No. 118, July 24, 2000

Birmingham Activists and Friends Discuss How to Advance Workers’ Weekly

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Birmingham Activists and Friends Discuss How to Advance Workers’ Weekly

Workers’ Movement
What Is To Be Done to Halt the Further Decline in the Steel Industry?

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Birmingham Activists and Friends Discuss How to Advance Workers’ Weekly

Thirteen people got together in Birmingham on Sunday, July 16, to discuss the distribution and writing for Workers’ Weekly. A representative of RCPB(ML) came from the Party centre and outlined the exciting tasks the Party is setting for the mass party press in the context of the work of consolidating RCPB(ML) on the new historical basis. In particular, the participants discussed the Millennium Project, which aims to put the most up to date technology in the service of this work, and opening up a clear line of march for the working class and all democratic forces.

The representative outlined the proposals, which date back to the time of the Party’s Congress and are outlined in the document The Line of March to a New Society, based on the principles of Improve the Content and Extend the Readership of the paper. The role of the paper as a collective organiser was stressed, together with its role as an instrument in the hands of the workers and other sections of the people in their struggles with which they provide themselves the necessary consciousness for their victory, as well as its role in providing a coherence and a profundity to the outlook of the working class and people.

The meeting was organised with the intention of hearing the views of the participants on the way ahead, and in particular the possibility of setting up groups of supporters and readers who would solve the problems of getting the paper out to many more readers and develop the journalism. The Birmingham branch of the Party has the full intention of developing the conditions for writers and disseminators groups for Workers’ Weekly.

There was much constructive discussion around form and content of the paper. One local writer pointed to how the area had contributed reports and articles on a variety of issues from around the West Midlands. Other aspects of the discussions were open and frank about how readers saw the development of the paper. Such aspects covered layout of articles, headlines, masthead, photography and suggestions of how journalism day-schools or workshops might assist the writing.

The participants in the meeting discussed ways of how the paper could be advertised through posters and other journals. Outlets such as progressive bookshops; local shops and newsagents, selling on the streets; promotion through contacts; subscriptions from interested individuals were all seen as ways of extending the readership by substantial amounts.

In order to develop a mass press, the development of content has to be seen as an imperative and this can only succeed if there is substantial material coming in. Bearing this in mind, Workers’ Weekly relies on the support of individuals to write for it. Everyone who took part in the Birmingham meeting saw that each individual has a role, when they are reporting, to observe and analyse events in favour of the working people.

An agreement was reached from every participant in the meeting to write for the paper.

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Workers’ Movement

What Is To Be Done to Halt the Further Decline in the Steel Industry?

It was announced yesterday that union leaders are holding a special summit with the aim of saving thousands of steelworkers’ jobs. This comes in the wake of Corus, Britain’s biggest steel producer, recently announcing more than 3,700 redundancies.

The steel union, the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, is to meet with local officials in Cardiff, as well as community leaders to discuss what is to be done. On Friday, Corus confirmed that it is to make 1,300 workers redundant across Wales. The company said that the job losses would hit plants in Llanwern, Port Talbot and Ebbw Vale. It refused to rule out compulsory redundancies. Up to 450 jobs are expected to go at Llanwern, 500 at Port Talbot and 300 from the tinplate operations at Ebbw Vale and Trostre. A further 150 are to go from five smaller plants, four of which are in Wales.

Corus had already announced more than 2,500 job cuts across England and Scotland over the last month, and the ISTC has held meetings to discuss these threatened cuts in Yorkshire and the North East. Around 670 jobs will be axed at Scunthorpe and 530 at Teesside. A further 10 workers will lose their jobs at the plant in Dalziel, Motherwell. The redundancies include 1,400 announced in June. Most of these were at sites at Rotherham and Sheffield, but they included 200 at Port Talbot with the closure of the research and development centre.

ISTC general secretary Mick Leahy said: "We shall strive to co-ordinate with the government and local authorities a coherent national response to the industrial and community crises caused by the Corus job cuts around the country. We are calling on the Chancellor to act to accelerate the restoration of a realistic and sustainable exchange rate with the euro, before the heart is torn out of the steel communities in the industrial heartlands."

The company also blamed the strong pound, together with cheaper steel overseas and a decline in steel demand by manufacturers in Britain, such as Ford. Analysts have also said the problem is connected with the costs of producing steel here as compared with in Holland. This relates to the fact that the Corus Group was formed from the merger of British Steel and the Dutch company Hoogovens last year.

However, Martin O’Neill, the Chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee in the House of Commons, accused Corus of "asset stripping". He dismissed the claim that the strength of the pound was the problem and speculated that Corus had "bought some of these plants to close them down – in order to consolidate production elsewhere".

The Newport MP and Arts Minister Alan Howarth said that the firm should be strong enough to survive current market conditions. "A failure by Corus to commit themselves to the long-term future of steel-making in Wales would have seismic consequences." There still remains a threat to the long-term survival of the giant Llanwern works outside Newport, producing flat steel products for the car industry and for goods including washing machines.

Among the union leaders, Bill Morris of the TGWU said that Corus had not discussed with unions how "overcapacity" could be tackled, saying, "This is another example of British workers being too cheap and too easy to sack." GMB general secretary John Edmonds said, "They are destroying the industry with a thousand cuts. Our members in the Welsh communities affected are distraught and we are seeking urgent talks with the company." AEEU general secretary Sir Ken Jackson said, "The speculation is almost unbearable for many of our members. It has been a very difficult week and workers are very angry that they have been kept in the dark." He had said earlier of the cuts in the North-East: "Corus is playing a short-term game of job cuts now but with less investment for the future. It’s the wrong way forward." He added, "We’ve delivered productivity, but the strong pound has wiped out all the gains. Germany and other countries are increasing production, but Britain is cutting back."

For his part, the First Secretary of the Welsh Assembly, Rhodri Morgan, said that everything would be done to help those workers thrown on the dole.

Amidst all the recriminations, it is not being mentioned that not many years ago, the case of the British Steel Corporation was being presented as "probably the biggest turnaround story in UK industrial history". It was one of the first acts of Margaret Thatcher in her neo-liberal programme of privatisations that she brought in Sir Ian McGregor in 1980 to become chair of the British Steel Corporation. Having been deputy chair of British Leyland before, he then embarked on a massive programme of "restructuring" and cutbacks in the steel industry, and went on to become chairman of the National Coal Board at the time of the 1984-5 miners’ strike. His mandate in the steel industry had been to turn it into a "profitable and sound undertaking that could hold its own in the competitive private sector". The British steel industry emerged "leaner and fitter". The watchword was competitiveness, and it typifies the neo-liberal programme that this aim of making industry competitive in the global marketplace has been made the only criterion of "success", and that general benefits to the economy and society are said to follow from this "success". It will be remembered that the ideological battle was being fought by Margaret Thatcher on behalf of the bourgeoisie at that time against "vast overmanning" by "highly unionised labour". That "restructuring" was an "inhuman" policy was ridiculed, and it was pointed out that such nationalised industries were making huge "losses" and suffering from low productivity.

So a similar story was played out in the car industry and the coal mining industry. Hundreds of thousands of workers in these industries have lost their jobs, while the drive to become leaner and fitter has resulted in practically the extinction of these industries, the mergers to become trans-national companies, and so on.

It would be as misleading to suggest that it was simply the "policy" of privatisation that has caused the crisis in these manufacturing industries as to suggest that the unseen forces of the global marketplace hold the answer to the regeneration of these industries. What is happening is that the bourgeoisie’s whole programme of privatisation and neo-liberalism in response to the crisis of the social welfare state of the 1970s and 1980s is itself in crisis. The response of the financial oligarchy has been to demand that the penetration of finance capital should be completely unfettered, that the inward and outward movement of capital should be accelerated in the name of globalisation. The conception of a national economy serving the nation’s needs has been completely thrown on the scrap heap, and the pursuit of maximum capitalist profit is being pursued under the slogan of the "knowledge-based economy", as though production and manufacturing were a thing of the past. Governments such as that of Tony Blair have declared that they can only "manage" this trend, not reverse it, while covering over that their whole programme is designed to put the state machinery in the service of the rich. The whole of organised labour is supposed to put its weight behind this programme of making the various enterprises competitive in the globalised economy, while the whole people are supposed to enter into partnership with the government in the furtherance of this programme.

It is vital that the workers step up their struggles against this whole programme. They cannot allow themselves to remain ideologically disarmed by the ideological offensive that goes with the globalisation programme of the rich and powerful. The decline in the steel industry is not caused by such conditioning factors as the strength of the pound, or that the labour market is "flexible" in Britain, to use the jargon of the bourgeois economists. The fact is that the making of the maximum capitalist profit by any means in response to the crisis of the falling rate of capitalist profit is being made the whole aim of economic activity. This must be addressed by the workers who should discuss what agenda to set for society in the face of this capitalist agenda. At the same time, they must work to open up the space for change, and unite in struggle for their collective rights and interests.

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