From Behind Closed Doors

 

closed doors

closed doors

 

 

 

 

 

“Victory has a hundred fathers, defeat is an orphan.” The saving of Teesside is, in my lifetime, an unprecedented Industrial success story. However, since the fantastic signing of terms of agreement between SSI and TATA, there have been many fathers coming forward to claim this victory at Teesside. Often the quote I have used as a title to this article is used in a cynical tone-denoting the opportunism of men and women of the political craft I now take part in as a Member of Parliament. However, I believe this quotation is fi tting, in its most inspiring and beautiful sense. The saving of Tees Cast Products did indeed have a hundred, if not, thousands of fathers as  well as mothers! I believe it is fair to say, that Tees Cast Products has been saved by us all. In writing this article today, after attending the Service of Thanksgiving with Arch Bishop of York, John Sentamu, at Christ Church Coatham, I listened to the Arch Bishop’s beautiful and entertaining sermon. I also remembered delivering sarnies to the night shift at the BOS plant bait room, when moral was at its lowest, in order to keep in touch with the lads and try and answer their questions as best I could. I recalled when I climbed the Trinity church in North Ormesby, to raise our union ‘Save Our Steel Flag’ prior to Christmas 2009.

Marching in solidarity in Durham, Redcar and around the Riverside stadium as well as assembling outside the Steel House gates the morning when the Blast was being tapped. But more than just the wonderful use of our English language, the Arch Bishop had an understanding of what was really at stake for our area, and indeed, our country. As a former Trade Union offi cial during this troubling time for our steel heritage, I was privy to most of the information, though not all, regarding negotiations at the time. From October 2008, when the Beam Mill (part of Scunthorpe’s Long Product division, not TCP) was originally under threat, I acted as a regional union offi cial for Community (formerly known as the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation) dealing with Corus branches and contractor branches on site at TCP, as well as sites such as Corus Hartlepool, Corus Skinningrove, Corus Darlington, Corus Scunthorpe, Forgemasters Sheffi eld, Corus Thrybergh and Corus Aldwarke and many other steel fabrication sites. More often than not, the media attention swirling around us all highlighted the plight of 1600 core Corus workers, and rightly so. But what was often ignored was the plight of men and women working for Multiserv, Hansons, Minteq, OCS, Vesuvius, Cape, all contractor fi rms operating on site, to mention but a few.

 

Industrial action within contractor branches was threatened, to resist site closure, often led by myself. It was also used to fi ght for better redundancy conditions for these men and women, who worked on site with terms, and conditions much less than their Corus counterparts. It was often hard, emotionally and mentally demanding work, especially when negotiating upon the lives of men and women I considered my close personal friends. The timing of the SSI announcement is very appropriate as it coincides, almost to the day, when one year ago the Blast Furnace at Redcar – the heart of the operation – and the steelmaking vessels at Lackenby were taken out of service. However, less known is that many union offi cials on site were aware from the summer of 2009 that SSI, amongst others, wished to buy Corus TCP. As the Blast was tapped, we knew orders were still coming in from within Corus’ own operation! But an internal managerial decision was over-riding the patently obvious viable business economics that could keep TCP open. A decision had been made, despite the abundance of obvious facts.

 

Indeed, if you recall, the site was originally to be saved in February-June 2009 by the Italian company Marcegaglia. That deal fell through. The following patient attempts to purchase prior to the Mothballing on 19th February 2010 were deliberately and cynically blocked by the then CEO of Corus Europe, Kirby Adams. Kirby Adams, I would suggest, in all quarters is held as the bogey man throughout this period of our history. Amongst Trade Union circles, Mr Adams was the blockage to sensible negotiations. On one occasion, almost an entire day was required by Unions and Management, in February, in order to get Mr Adams to understand the obvious economic viability of South Bank Coke Ovens, in relation to current international Coke prices. Those negotiations were particularly frustrating, as Mr Adams would never-ever negotiate in person. In turn, the public’s frustrations grew. Questions were asked about the then Government’s priorities and involvement in our Steel crisis. I, whilst also working in Forgemasters Sheffi eld, saw the then Labour Government negotiate with Forgemasters CEO Dr Honeyman (himself a Boro Season ticket holder). That Labour Government gave the £80+ million, when the company requested it. It was an example of Government assisting the Steel industry. In contrast, when Labour Government Minister’s called Kirby Adams to offer the same such assistance, Mr Adams put the phone down on Government help. I can now say this, and have done so on many occasions in Parliament. However, if said at the time, Mr Adams would have certainly reacted by blocking any ongoing negotiations.

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Likewise, since May 2010, the now Coalition Tory-Lib Dem Government has cancelled that crucial £80+ million funding to Forgemasters, leaving Forgemasters as well as the 60 extra apprentices Forgemasters took on, stranded. And likewise, this same Tory-Lib Dem Government cut by nearly a third the funding to the Tees Valley Industrial fund, a fund used for the steel and chemical industry alike. A plan was hatched, when I fi rst became elected as MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, by General Secretary Michael Leahy of Community Union some days after the election to arrange a meeting between SSI, Michael Leahy and myself. However, we both recognised the need to involve Ian Swales, the newly elected MP for Redcar, out of respect to Ian as the new MP, and in order to have a conduit with the new Tory and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government. Michael contacted me and Ian to arrange that meeting, in Parliament, in mid-May. Within days of that briefi ng to Ian Swales, we alongside other unions, Geoff Waterfi eld and Dave Reid went to Thailand to meet with SSI. However, what must be remembered is that the groundwork, with SSI, and other companies such as Dong Kuk from South Korea, in order to fi nd a buyer, had been made many months before handparticularly by Geoff

and Dave, as well as the former MP for Redcar, Vera Baird. From our initial meeting of May 2010, with SSI in Thailand, it was clear that SSI have a great vision to continue the proud tradition of steelmaking on Teesside. SSI have a well-earned reputation and have confi rmed already that they will maintain existing jobs and create new ones which is great news for our area, particularly during these diffi cult economic times. Now, the job is for all of us on Teesside to work with SSI in their task of getting the newly acquired plants up and running. It will be a big engineering challenge in its own right, but I know the skills, expertise and determination of the workforce and the specialist contractors will be more than capable of surmounting those challenges. There will also be a big human resources job to be done in terms of manning the plants once they are operational, and again this is an area where SSI will fi nd willing allies in the shape of the Trade Unions on the site. Finally, we must remember the huge sacrifi ces men and women made to get us here. It would have been politically expedient to let the cat out of the bag on Kirby Adams, but we did not. We could not. Politics was put to one side in order for the greater good of keeping the fl ame of hope alive in the negotiations for our steel making heritage. For that reason, I can say the orphans of political defeat in May 2010 are some of the most noble, disciplined, patient and principled people I know.

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