The fact that workers in south Wales have to wait with bated breath for a decision on their future livelihoods to be made nearly 10,000 miles away says everything about the dysfunctional and undemocratic nature of modern capitalism.
The British government, which regularly throws its weight around internationally in defence of the City of London, refuses to countenance any action to defend the jobs of many thousands of steelworkers, affecting their families and the communities in which they live, as some of the few workers on decent terms and conditions.
Tata Steel announced a plan a couple of months ago to cut more than 1,000 jobs at its British plants, with 750 due to be lost at Port Talbot in south Wales alone.
The decision of the board meeting in Mumbai will be critical but it will merely be breathing room which may be enough to ensure the plant has a future.
The survival plan affecting 3,500 workers being brokered by Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock focuses on keeping the Port Talbot plant going by accepting cost cuts now.
Tata’s turnaround plan will still involve more than 1,000 job cuts across Britain, including in Trostre (Llanelli), Hartlepool (Co Durham) and Corby (Northamptonshire).
Although Tata is primarily renowned for its steel interests in Britain, its investment has grown to more than £8 billion across a range of industries. With more than 100 companies across interests as diverse as tea and telecoms, salt and steel, the Tata group is fast becoming one of Britain’s biggest employers.
Greybull Capital has been finalising plans to buy steel plants from Tata Steel, potentially saving around 4,700 steel jobs at the Scunthorpe steel plant in Lincolnshire and a number of smaller sites.
The development comes amid hopes for other workers after a deal to sell two mothballed plants in Scotland.
The Clydebridge and Dalzell plants are being sold for £1 by Tata Steel to metals firm Liberty House, via the Scottish government.
Liberty, which owns other steel sites in south Wales and the West Midlands, has launched a business review to get the plants back up and running.
Something may be better than nothing and the Labour leadership’s commitment to develop an alternative economic approach that will reinvest in the productive economy has been a welcome change from the mutual handwringing and shoulder shrugging while pointing to Brussels or China or Mumbai of past Labour leaders.
These steel plants have formed the beating heart of working-class communities for generations. Buying a few years’ and decades’ more life is important but it does raise critical questions for the left and the labour movement more generally.
Britain’s manufacturing heartlands have been so widely decimated over the last three decades to the point where we have to ask ourselves whether or not the current strategy to defend manufacturing jobs and industries is really working.
Occupations may seem like a relic of an industrial unionism that has long since departed, but it is a tactic that the labour movement needs to rediscover and rediscover fast.
Factory occupations helped unionise the US car industry in the 1930s and engulfed Italy in the red years that preceded fascism.
The militant period of 1968-78 saw a wave of occupations in Britain — nearly 2,000 reported cases during the course of the decade.
The most notable was the 1971 “work-in” at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, four shipyards, known as UCS. Hundreds of other threatened firms were taken over by their workers in emulation.
With the passing of the Trade Union Act workers’ direct action may be the only step that could halt the slide into the abyss for what remains of manufacturing in Britain.
This won’t spring magically from the ether, though. The militancy, organisation and the collective power of the labour movement has to be daily built and consciously won.