Business people, politicians and local people have come together in solidarity with Port Talbot’s steelworkers following the news of 750 job losses from the town’s biggest employer, Tata Steel.
Steelworkers will begin to find out if they are among those to lose their jobs following a 45-day consultation period due to end in March. However, spokespeople for both Tata and the Community Union say they are hopeful the consultancy period will be extended, and for some departments may even last until the summer.
But extra weeks or months of employment are unlikely to lessen the blow.
Mike Cosker owns Rolls Choice café and is president of Port Talbot Chamber of Trade.
“Port Talbot is a steel town, and it always has been,” he said. “We all know somebody who works there or who has family working there. We are a community, and if part of that community is hurt, then we are all hurt. There are guys working there with mortgages to pay and families to feed, and the truth is that if they lose their jobs, they won’t easily find work in this area that pays as well as they have been getting.
“Even if they earn £1,000 each a month, then if you think about it, that’s £750,000 out of the local economy, and we are all going to feel it.”
Margam councillor Rob Jones said he hoped the scale of the cutbacks meant that the future of the works would now be safeguarded.
“We would hope that by taking such drastic action it will save the future of the plant,” he said. “The number of people directly and indirectly employed in the works is huge. There’s an inward spend of about £0.5 billion in south Wales, with a lot of local contractors and suppliers relying on the steelworks.”
Meanwhile, local politicians and steelworkers focused their attention on easing the problems faced by the steel industry, attending a rally in Brussels. Steelworkers and representatives from Tata Steel called on the EU to level the playing field for the European steel industry by increasing tariffs on cheap Chinese steel currently being “dumped” on the market.
Stephen Kinnock also raised the issue in Prime Minister’s question time, and later said: “It is transparently obvious that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have a thinly veiled, half-hidden agenda, which is this: they have agreed to take Beijing’s cash in exchange for being China’s chief cheerleader in Europe, and they see the jobs and livelihoods of steel workers in Port Talbot and all over the UK as collateral damage – no more and no less. Cozying up to Beijing is their driving obsession; building a sustainable future for British steel isn’t even on their radar.
“We must now mount a nation-wide campaign to force the UK government to withdraw its support for giving Market Economy Status to China. The decision on this will be taken in Brussels, in December of this year, as the UK is represented through the European Union at the WTO. I will be discussing this campaign with UK Steel (the body that represents the entire British steel industry), along with Tata Steel, Community Union, other steel unions, and my colleagues in parliament, and hope to make progress in the coming weeks.”
Back in Port Talbot, Mike Cosker said the town was already braced for the worst, but that everybody would stand together.
“It is going to be tough, there’s no doubt about it, and we are all worried. But we’ve all got to carry on and get through it and hopefully there will be light at the end of the tunnel. We will be there for each other and support each other, but for now, we all have to be most concerned about the 750 people who are about to lose their jobs.”