21 April 2016
Tata for now
On 18 January, Tata Steel confirmed that it would be cutting 1,050 jobs in Wales, including 750 at Port Talbot, the biggest steelworks in the UK with 4,000 workers currently employed.
The announcement was the latest in a series of crises to hit the UK steel industry in recent years. The same factors of the Chinese dumping of steel and high energy costs persist, exacerbated by a global oversupply, a strong pound and falling prices.
The threat of job losses to Port Talbot has struck a chord not only in Wales but throughout the UK. The small town has been built up around the steel industry and redundancies will affect cleaners, corner shop owners and many others. Those who lose their jobs will have to look far if they are going to find alternative employment where they can use their skills.
The revelation of the job cuts has brought about strong responses from many politicians. Wales' first minister Carwyn Jones announced the creation of a high level task force, headed up by economy minister Edwina Hart, charged with supporting everyone affected by the announcement. Local MP Stephen Kinnock has in many ways emerged from the shadow of his father Neil through the crisis, demonstrating a tenacity in standing up for the local community while pressing the UK government for a solution to the crisis. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn cut short his Easter holiday to visit Port Talbot in a demonstration of solidarity to workers as the situation deteriorated.
The political rhetoric–for an issue in which no-one yet knows the final outcome–has included arguments for/against nationalisation (a policy that hasn't seen the light of day for years), national security and the upcoming EU referendum.
Churches in the Port Talbot area have rallied around in support of the steelworkers. Although no one yet knows if their jobs will be lost, there is much anxiety and frustration along with a feeling of resignation that the loss-making industry cannot continue in its present form forever. A team of 16 leaders from the towns churches and chapels have formed a ministry team to help Tata's chaplain in Port Talbot, Rev Rick Hayes, support people struggling with stress. Church-led compassion ministries such as foodbanks and CAP debt advice centres and job clubs are also ready to help if needed while an interdenominational service is being organised by Rev Hayes for this Sunday, 24 April, to demonstrate Christian solidarity for people in the steel industry threatened with job losses.
The #steelselfie trend on Twitter had people, not only from the UK but other parts of the world as well, taking pictures of themselves with tins of beans, cutlery, cars and by iconic buildings–all made in part or wholly by Port Talbot and British steel.