CACCTU's blog

Port Talbot and the future of steel

The recent decision by TATA to close down its two blast furnaces at Port Talbot steel works over the coming year, with loss of around 2,800 jobs, is a devastating blow to both the workers and to their wider community. 

What is happening in Port Tabot is precisely the “cliff edge” of sudden mass redundancies, the threat of which is often ruthlessly weaponised to create opposition to climate action 

But despite the rhetoric about decarbonisation, TATA’s decision to shut down the blast furnaces ahead of starting production with an electric arc furnace is based purely on financial not climate considerations. 

Their decision not to install the additional technologies needed for low carbon primary steel production (as opposed to recycling) is not a decarbonisation plan, but a business plan.

In contrast to this disaster, a worker-led, socially just transition plan would determine the most effective way to decarbonise across the economy, whilst meeting the immense labour needs of new or growing sectors vital to the transition. 

It would do this whilst fully protecting the pay and conditions of all workers affected by technological transitions, whether work is currently available for them or not, as well as during any re-training.

The level of coordination and planning required across numerous sectors is not possible within the context of private companies vying for markets, but implies a need for public ownership of key industries, with full worker participation in planning, and delivery overseen by a public National Climate Service.

Below is a motion of support for the TATA steelworkers written for urgent adoption by union branches, regions and trades councils. 

General Motion on Climate Change

Below and in printable form is a General Motion intended for wide circulation across the trade union movement, and adoption by branches, regions, trades councils and annual conferences, with an ultimate aim for it to be heard at the 2024 TUC.

The motion is deliberately pitched at a high level, starting with the basic assertion that climate change is a class issue and a trade union issue.  It sets out the fundamental elements that should underpin the climate policies of every union in order to achieve a common understanding of the crisis, and how to respond to it in the interests of climate justice for workers, public service and the planet.  Many of these elements will already be clearly understood, but there is a need for a consistent and coherent articulation of these across the movement.  

The reason this General Motion is being raised now is due to the fragmented and inconsistent responses of different trade unions, within unions, and between members and their leaderships.  In particular, the climate-related motions passed at recent Trades Union Congresses have been deeply regressive, producing a narrative that runs counter to the long term interests, and job security, of workers, both in the U.K. and globally.  This motion seeks to redirect that narrative towards more progressive and radical solutions that will produce and secure thousands of jobs, restore a public service ethos, and make genuine progress towards countering the climate emergency.

Adaptations to the motion are welcomed to incorporate specific local, sectoral or international factors; the motion needs to be relevant to each constituency while ensuring that the fundamental elements are retained.  It purposely avoids specific references in order to be universal, and it is envisaged that details of specifics would be covered in complementary motions.

Finally, this motion is not viewed as the property of any one union, climate organisation or political faction.  It has emerged from a common analysis among activists across a number of trade unions, many of whom are also involved with the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union group (CACCTU), Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA) and other climate networks.