THE STATE IS ROTTEN: Hillsborough, Orgreave, Shrewsbury, blacklisting…



There is something rotten at the heart of capitalism.
Not just a few bad apples, but a whole stinking barrel of cover-ups, collusion in lies, corruption and cruel, class injustice that goes to the very top of society.
But the priceless courage and tenacity of a group of mostly working class people has exposed the corrupt state, and put the Establishment perpetrators on the run.
The jury’s verdicts on the Hillsborough Disaster provide devastating confirmation of the cruel deceits, shameless lies and corruption at the tops of the police, the media and successive governments.
The revelations of details and footage of 96 fans being crushed to death – at the inquests and subsequent TV documentaries – are heartbreaking. Try to imagine what it was like for friends and relatives of the 96, as they sat in the hearings for two long years, listening to police chiefs still trying to blame the fans for this slaughter of the innocents, 27 years on, right up until the jury’s verdicts, as they dragged out proceedings in a callous attempt to cover up their own culpability.
Weep in Anger and Admiration
I am far from being alone in weeping every time the issue is mentioned on TV, for the unimaginable suffering of the 96 innocent victims and their families, and survivors (some of whom I knew) whose lives were irreparably damaged after being on the brink of death. Tragedies caused by negligence by police chiefs, owners of the clapped out Sheffield Wednesday stadium, the FA, and a Tory government that vilified working class football fans as sub-human hooligans, herding them into pens like cattle, surrounded by high fences that turned these prisons into a death trap at Hillsborough.
But grief merges with anger at the systematic campaign to smear and frame the dead, and all Liverpool fans. At the collusion in the Establishment’s cover-up between South Yorkshire Police chiefs and the heartless, vindictive Maggie Thatcher and her Tory government. At the disgusting, unforvigeable lies of Rupert Murdoch’s gutter press.
And tears flood too in admiration for the superhuman tenacity of the Hillsborough families and their allies, as they refused to be defeated over 27 years’ pursuit of Justice for the 96, their persistence vindicated by the jury’s 14 decisions – including that the fans bore no responsibility for the worst sporting disaster in UK history, and that the 96 were “unlawfully killed”.
The detailed sequence of events – the real truth, known to most of us since that fateful day in April 1989, but now officially confirmed by the longest legal hearings in UK history – have been spelt out elsewhere (including in my 2012 blog article).
From Orgreave to Hillsborough
To fully grasp the explanation for police attitudes and actions at Hillsborough, and the enormity of the subsequent collusion between police chiefs, government figures, members of the judiciary and a major part of the capitalist media, we have to look back at 1984, and especially to the Battle of Orgreave on 18 June 1984.
Secret Cabinet papers, released in January 2014 under the 30-year rule, confirmed what trade unionists and socialists knew and argued 30 years earlier. They exposed how the Tories consciously planned to shut 75 pits, wipe out over 75,000 miners jobs, smash the NUM union, and impose destitution on entire communities. They targeted Yorkshire for their opening salvo in a class-based civil war without bullets. And they prepared well, beefing up police pay, police powers and national coordination of police actions – stripping away elements of local control, effectively turning the police into a paramilitary wing of the government and Coal Board bosses. And nowhere more so than in South Yorkshire.
Police trap laid
Three months into the 1984-5 miners’ strike to defend jobs, communities and the future, the NUM got word of the British Steel coking plant at Orgreave, near Rotherham (8 miles from Hillsborough) being on the brink of running out of supplies. Temporary closure would have been a mighty boost to the strike, so they called a mass picket to stop lorries carrying coke supplies.
Up to 10,000 pickets came from far and wide, in magnificent solidarity. To their amazement, buses and cars full of pickets didn’t face the usual police roadblocks that had turned Britain’s coalfields into a diluted version of apartheid South Africa’s pass laws. Instead, police politely invited and ushered them onto the piece of land near the coking plant. Too late, the pickets found themselves surrounded on three sides by massed ranks of about 5,000 police, drafted in from all over the country.
Police carnage
As pickets in tee-shirts and trainers – some of them stripped to the waist in the glorious sunshine – peacefully milled around on the hill, unable to get near the lorries, the police unleashed an unprovoked assault.
Riot police, with helmets, shields and batons, smashed into the front lines of pickets. With military precision, they periodically opened up to let through heavily-clad cavalrymen, mounted police, who charged with long truncheons flying, their horses trampling people underfoot, whacking fleeing pickets’ heads as they tried to escape.
The cavalry charged through the village. An eyewitness recalled seeing a Derbyshire lad sitting on a bridge eating an ice cream, only to have a police truncheon smash through the cone and into his face. Others saw two coppers pin down a Nottinghamshire picket while a third battered him senseless, until an inspector said‘That’s enough, you’re going to kill him’, whereupon they dragged him off and wiped away the blood before photographing the half-dead picket.
This was unprovoked carnage, a pre-planned display of naked state violence by overpaid thugs in uniform, hired by a frightened ruling class who were out to teach the miners and wider working class a lesson in who rules whom.
Decades of lies
The physical violence was rapidly followed by shameless violence against the truth. The BBC was as brazen in pumping out lies as theSunand most of the press. Footage of the police carnage against defenceless pickets was literally reversed, to make millions watching TV bulletins think South Yorkshire Police were acting in self defence from picket violence. Many of the victims of police attacks were arrested and 95 charged with riotous assembly, which at the time potentially carried a sentence of life imprisonment.
Here’s the link with the police action at Hillsborough, five years later: the charges were dropped when documents showed police statements were fabricated, often identical, dictated to junior officers by detectives who weren’t even at Orgreave.
Quietly, in 1991, when pickets sued them for assault, unlawful arrest and false imprisonment, South Yorkshire Police settled out of court, awarding 39 pickets £500,000, which also gagged the miners from exposing the truth.
Fabrication by police chiefs
Documents from the Hillsborough case have now exposed not only that the same fabrication of police evidence occurred at Orgreave as at Hillsborough, but that several of the same senior police officers and the same SYP solicitor (identified as ‘Mr H’) were involved at both! Junior police officers testified that at Orgreave they were told not to write up their reports in their notebooks [which are like sacred documents and are used as gospel by the Courts] – just as happened at Hillsborough. Their statements were often written up months afterwards.
The Snowman was here!
One of the police top brass active at both events was John Nesbitt, former Chief Superintendent of SYP. He was the stuff of legend during the miners’ strike, having ordered coppers in a Range Rover to ram a snowman built by pickets as a petty show of power, only to discover the miners had built the snowman round a concrete bollard, which wrecked the police vehicle, and earned Nesbitt the nickname ‘Snowman’!
He was the one who arrested miners’ leader Arthur Scargill at Orgreave, and then tried to claim his head injuries were the result of Arthur falling over before the events that day! But in January this year, at the Hillsborough inquest, a policemen (David Frost) who was there when the 96 died, testified how Snowman Nesbitt – a Chief Superintendent of SYP by then – had met a group of junior officers and told them to alter their initial statements, stating:
“We have all got to get our stories straight or a lot of senior officers’ heads will roll.”
Acting with Impunity
The top brass in SYP orchestrated the state thuggery on behalf of Thatcher’s thuggish Tory government at Orgreave, to cow miners – dubbed ‘the enemy within’ by Thatcher – and the wider working class. They unleashed state terrorism that day, and were then encouraged and aided by the Thatcher regime in covering up the truth, slandering and trying to jail their victims. No police officer was ever charged or even reprimanded for assault, let alone perjury and perversion of the course of justice.
Orgreave taught them to think they could act with impunity, an outlook that seeped down the police ranks. And that outlook towards working class people, and arrogant assurance they could get away with lies and fabrications, was sustained by the very same SYP and some of the very same top brass and solicitor five years later. If the state – up to and including Thatcher’s Cabinet – hadn’t got away with these monstrously corrupt practices at Orgreave, some or all of the 96 might never have died at Hillsborough.
Orgreave Inquiry
Top civil servants briefed Tory Home Office Ministers admitting‘mistakes or worse’in the Orgreave policing, but arguing against a public Inquiry for political reasons, and Tory Home Secretary Kenneth Baker publicly declared he was“glad to express my sincere admiration for the work of the police”.
Successive governments – Tory AND Labour! – denied demands for an inquiry into the role of the police and government at Orgreave, to cover up who gave the orders for this display of unbridled state terrorism against its own working class.
It was only after a BBC documentary in October 2012 that South Yorkshire Police referred themselves to the (ludicrously misnamed) Independent Police Complaints Commission. At one stage, in 2014, the IPCC had to threaten legal action to force SYP to hand over five boxes of documents, which SYP had refused to relinquish for five months, subsequently claiming they were in the hands of their insurers!
The IPCC proceeded to delay and prevaricate over whether a scoping exercise on the evidence merited a public investigation – only to declare 2.5 years later, in June 2015, that“due to the length of time that has elapsed”an Inquiry into Orgreave wasn’t appropriate! You couldn’t make it up – but they did.
It was also the cataclysmic revelations of the Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2012 that encouraged the birth of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, which was further boosted in its demands for a full-blown public inquiry by the recent victory of the Hillsborough Justice campaigners.
Breaking down the barriers
Now the barriers erected for over 40 years by a venal ruling class – their police chiefs, judiciary, press and governments included – have begun to crumble and collapse in the face of relentless campaigns by ordinary working class people with extraordinary dedication, based on burning anger at injustice. A public Inquiry into Orgreave is about to be granted.
The new Chief Constable of SYP, Dave Jones, last week tried to distance himself from the stinking corruption of his predecessors by declaring his support for an Orgreave Inquiry.
In a very telling declaration from an incredible source – former Manchester Police chief Sir Peter Fahey – the wider guilt of the entire system was hinted at. Describing Orgreave accurately as“a police army of occupation”, Fahey went on to call for an Inquiry…
“…into policing of the miners’ strike, not just Orgreave, and the role of the police, but also the role of politicians. We need to look at the wider context of the way the police were used and the agenda set for them by government. Clearly it was about national control of the police in pursuit of a political agenda.”
Prosecute ALL the Perpetrators!
The truth confirmed about Hillsborough should now lead to prosecution of those who caused the cruel carnage at a football match, at a day’s entertainment, but also those up to their necks in decades of systematic lies and fabrications designed to shift the blame from the perpetrators to the victims, in an exercise dripping with class hatred.
And not just David Duckenfield, but other SYP bosses; the West Midlands Police chiefs who staged a bogus inquiry in full knowledge of the cover-up; the football bosses who ignored safety for short-term profit; the media who smeared and demonized the dead and the city of Liverpool; and indeed the government figures who colluded in the decades of corrupt cover-ups.
Labour’s shame
And whilst Labour’s Andy Burnham is currently basking in the praise heaped on him for ordering, in 2009, the Hillsborough Independent Panel, whose revelations in 2012 blew this tower of lies asunder, there are some stubborn facts we shouldn’t forget. In common with the rest of his Labour Cabinet of the time, he’d done nothing to challenge the lie machine until he met a torrent of angry chants from the terraces of“Justice for the 96“, when he spoke at Anfield at the 20th anniversary event in April 2009. Worse still, his predecessor Jack Straw cynically deceived the Hillsborough families when Labour won office in 1997, promising them a full-blown Inquiry, then setting up a one-man legal ‘investigation’ that was stage-managed to conclude there was no justification in holding any Public Inquiry [see my 2012 blog for detailed documentary evidence of this episode].
Systemic corruption
The Orgreave and Hillsborough scandals are interwoven by a thousand threads, but they are also part of a bigger fabric of state corruption and class injustice. Back in 1972 the Shrewsbury pickets were framed for daring to strike in defence of pay and jobs, with six of them jailed under obscure laws like the 1875 Conspiracy Act, and then drugged and tortured in jail.
Nor did these practices stop at Orgreave or Hillsborough. Decades of blacklisting in the construction and other industries has ruined thousands of families’ livelihoods and lives. Undercover secret service infiltration of protest groups – stooping to sexual relationships and having children with protestors as a cover for spying – are not just the stuff of the excellent recent TV drama,Undercover, but frightenly common in real-life Britain. Recent Tory legislation makes such methods, and state snooping on people’s communications, all the easier – and legal!
System change
Capitalism is a system of rule and exploitation of the 99% by the 1%. It wouldn’t succeed in holding onto power for the ultra-privileged few without a complex web of propaganda, deceit, lies, anti-working class laws, an upper-class judiciary steeped in the same class ideology and interests as the owners of economic wealth – and ultimately the naked brute force of state forces like the police, deployed in times of conflict between working people and those exploiting them.
So we need to press on with demands for full exposure of the methods of all these forces – including their hired politicians – demanding justice for Hillsborough, Orgreave, the miners as a whole, the Shrewsbury pickets, blacklisted workers…
But to prevent constant repetition of these crimes against the majority working class population by those with power, we need to strive for a socialist democracy, a society where the wealth producers own and control the wealth, and where forces like the police are democratically controlled citizens’ forces, not weapons in the hands of a tiny minority class of exploiters and their corrupt politicians.

SOLIDARITY WITH WORKERS IN MINI STRIKE-WAVE


A flurry of strikes has hit Scotland this week, with public and private sector workers fighting back after sweeping majorities in union ballots for collective action, primarily in defense of their wages.
The Scottish Socialist Party has no hesitation in offering 100% support and solidarity to all these trade unionists, who are showing tremendous courage in the frenzied anti-trade union atmosphere coming out of Westminster, which has served to encourage employers to think they can ride roughshod over workers’ pay and conditions.
Grangemouth Port
Workers at Scotland’s biggest port, at Grangemouth, have started a two-week all-out strike, to be followed by an overtime ban, after Forth Port bosses stonewalled Unite union’s requests for a negotiated settlement. Crane drivers and cargo handlers taking this action will hit the port hard, an action they voted 100% in favour of in a 97% turnout!
This strength of feeling is in response to imposed changes of shift rotas that will slash £1,600 a year from weekend premium payments and another £200 a year from nightshift allowances.
This is an increasingly common form of attack on workers’ incomes, in pursuit of even higher profit margins and public sector cuts. Those affected also include whole swathes of retail workers and thousands in budget-slashing local government – regardless of whether run by Labour, SNP or various coalitions at council level.
FE Colleges
Thousands of college lecturers are taking their first sustained national strike action in over 20 years. As with the Grangemouth port workers, these members of the EIS Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS FELA) voted by a sweeping majority to strike; 93.5%.
At the heart of this dispute is the demand for equal pay, to end pay disparities of £10-13,000 between different colleges across Scotland. Their determined action is further fueled by frustration at years of education cuts, and fury at obscene ‘golden parachutes’ awarded to Principals and other senior management figures during the SNP’s mergers and centralisation of colleges.
The SSP not only offers unqualified support to the EIS-FELA union members taking this action, but in fact we have campaigned for restoration of national pay bargaining since our formation in 1998, and even produced a special edition of the SSP’s Scottish Socialist Voice on the issue about 15 years ago.
It is to their eternal discredit that the SNP government has carried on where their Labour-LibDem predecessors left off, failing to step in and remove these outrageous pay disparities, with salaries dependent on which college, in which town, lecturers doing exactly the same job happen to work.
On top of that, the SNP’s centralisation of colleges has led to no educational improvements, has reduced jobs, and contributed to the loss of at least 144,000 places for students – overwhelmingly working class students; hardly a track record matching the SNP’s claims to be ‘Stronger for Scotland’.
Council Workers
Smaller workforces are continuing their strike action against Labour-controlled Glasgow city council, and it’s arms-length offshoots, Cordia and Community Safety Glasgow (CSG).
About 130 Unison members – school jannies – have staged a 3-day strike as part of their long-running battle to win payments they deserve for duties their job includes, including dirty and heavy jobs. Parity with other workers doing the same type of work would mean an extra £500-1000 a year for the jannies.
CCTV staff, employed by CSG, who earn the giddy sum of £8.25 an hour, have started strikes for parity with others employed by the same CSG – who get payments of up to £7,500 for doing the same anti-social, 24/7 shift patterns as the CCTV staff.
And in neighbouring Labour-run West Dunbartonshire council, teachers in the EIS union have staged several days of strike action, and are now voting on whether to accept the council’s new offer on restructuring of schools that would have meant savage attacks on kids’ education, being a cost-cutting exercise falsely dressed up as shiny new ‘modernized’ restructuring of staffing and departments.
Solidarity with the Strikers
The Tories are doing their damnedest to eliminate the last vestiges of collective action by trade unionists. Labour pretend to be the new-found friends of the unions, ahead of the looming elections – but when in power, attack conditions and pay like the worst employers. The SNP make warm, cooing noises towards the unions, but show their unwillingness to take sides in situations where they could make all the difference, such as the FE colleges.
The Scottish Scoalist Party has an unrivaled record, spanning nearly two decades, of taking the side of workers, and building support for their struggles. We offer that ABC solidarity to all those taking action right now, in defiance of attempts by employers to crush their wages even further in favour of profit, and despite the vicious anti-union laws being made even more repressive by the Tories.

Richie Venton: POVERTY KILLS – £10Now! a matter of life and death!

POVERTY KILLS – £10Now! a matter of life and death! That’s the clear conclusion to be drawn from yet another damning report on health inequalities in this rich nation. And since the prime roots of poverty and inequality are rampant low pay and cruel cuts to already miserly welfare benefits, this makes the struggle for a national minimum wage of £10 Now! – and an end to benefit cuts – matters of life and death. The authoritative Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) has issued a report proving that life expectancy is a lottery, dependent on what district and income …

NEITHER COUNCIL CUTS NOR TAX HIKES – build mass defiance

As the butchery of jobs, services, community facilities, and workers‘ conditions looms large and ugly in the setting of Scotland‘s 32 council budgets, Labour and SNP politicians are knocking verbal lumps out of each other. Listening to their excuses for implementing savage cuts, and the feeble ‘alternatives’ they offer, we could be forgiven for quoting the lines from Macbeth’s famous speech: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The noisy clash between the SNP government and the non-SNP controlled councils signifies nothing but cynical party political manoeuvres for the May elections, rather than …

RECOLLECTIONS OF GLACIER METAL FACTORY SIT-IN VICTORY

On Hogmanay 1996, the Glasgow Glacier Metal engineering workers were ringing the bells in elation at their victory, whilst Glacier bosses were wringing their hands in despair. The ‘Polmadie 103’ had scored a landmark victory for class struggle trade unionism, defeating the factory’s multinational owners, Turner & Newall, after a seven week factory sit-in. It was the first workplace occupation in ten years, and was provoked by dictatorial bosses trying to impose a 15-point change of contract, which aimed to double company profits, cut wages by £123 a week and slash sick pay, the canteen subsidy and other benefits won over …

CHOOSE DEFIANCE – NOT DESTRUCTION!

Wednesday 18th November CHOOSE DEFIANCE – NOT DESTRUCTION! You couldn’t make it up! David Cameron, Tory MP for West Oxfordshire, recently wrote a letter to the Oxfordshire Tory council leader, berating his local authority for (to quote his epistle) “cuts to frontline services – from elderly day centres to libraries to museums. This is in addition to the unwelcome and counter-productive proposals to close children’s centres across the county”. The MP, claiming “shock and outrage”, goes on to demand why the council leader hasn’t looked at “back-office savings” – a euphemism for sacking council staff. Tory Tit-for-Tat The Tory council leader …

Richie Venton

Richie Vention Scottish Socialist Party: National Trade Union and Workplace Organiser   POVERTY PAY SCANDAL WORSENS   New figures on low pay reinforce the importance of the campaign by the SSP for an immediate £10-an-hour minimum wage. And the urgency of pounding union leaderships into taking action in pursuit of this policy, which was agreed unanimously at the 2014 TUC conference. A new publiciation by KPMG has revealed that 450,000 workers in Scotland – one in every five workers – earn below the so-called Living Wage, which was £7.85 at the time of their research, but has been uprated this …

NATIONALISE TO SAVE OUR STEEL JOBS, SKILLS & PRODUCTION!

The timing could not have been more obscenely appropriate, as a symbol of the cold class warfare facing working class people under Tory rule, and indeed under the rule of capital over labour in general.
Hot on the heels of the destructive closure of SSI steel plant in Redcar, shedding 2,200 jobs, came the devastation of Tata Steel’s closure announcement, slashing 1,200 jobs in Scunthorpe, Motherwell and Cambuslang. These closures threaten the permanent end of the steel industry in Scotland.
In both cases, SSI and Tata owners blamed a flood of cheap Chinese steel on the world market for their decisions to wipe out livelihoods for whole communities.
Royal Banquets for Rich – the Bullet for Workers
Meantime, Cameron’s upper-class regime hosted and banqueted dictatorial Chinese President Xi Jinping at Buckingham Palace. Venison from the Queen’s Balmoral estate, west of Scotland Turbot, lobster mousse and 1977 vintage port were some of the items on the menu at the royal state banquet – with callous disregard for the thousands of steelworkers’ families who meantime face the prospect of not being able to put a meal on the family table if these closures are not resisted and defeated.
Steel Town – Not Ghost Town
Lanarkshire used to be one of the world centres of steel production, with highly skilled, proud workers, who fought through their unions to conquer relatively good conditions.
Ravenscraig was once the biggest hot-strip steel producer in Europe. Now it does not exist. And plans to build a new town on its former site have been abandoned, but only after £230m was spent on the first phase!
The Dalzell Steel and Iron Works opened in Motherwell in 1872. Clydebridge steelworks in Cambuslang has been there since 1887, and produced steel plates for many of the Clyde-built ships of fame.
They were once part of the nationalized British Steel Corporation, which Thatcher’s government targeted in their early crusade to smash the unions and privatize public property for the benefit of the profiteering class. First Corus, then Indian-based Tata Steel took over the plants now facing closure. At their peak, 12,000 workers produced vital supplies and profits in the two plants; as one worker told journalists, they used to allow 15 minutes at either end of the shift to get to and from their place of work in the plant, such was the crowd. Nowthe remaining 270 have been given 45 days’ notice of closure.
A Desert in the Making
These workers and their families face the devastation of lost jobs, in an area turned into an industrial desert by the conscious destruction of manufacturing by Thatcher’s pro-finance capitalist regime, added to by this week’s announcement of 1,100 council job losses in North Lanarkshire. These two jobs slaughters combined threaten to double the numbers unemployed in the Motherwell district.
But the area, and indeed the whole of Scotland, also faces the danger of losing the accumulated skills of these workers, in a nation already suffering a skills shortage of monumental proportions.
So it is crucial to the next generation – and this one – that a determined fight is waged to save every job, save the skills, and save production at the steelworks. The SSP will do everything in our powers to combine with the unions and anyone else willing to fight to ‘save our steel’.
Steel Glut – Crisis of Overproduction
The capitalist rich and their Tory puppets spout all the usual platitudes about sympathy for the workforces, whilst excusing the closures.
Cameron took a break from banqueting the Chinese dictator to crush hopes of a UK government rescue by spelling out that there’s a world glut of steel production. According to the figures he used, the surplus global supplyof steel is 50 times larger than the UK’s entire steel production.
That explains the catastrophic collapse of steel prices on the world market, to half their previous levels. And that of course is a central feature of the system Cameron and his likes defends to the hilt – capitalism. Because it’s a system based on competition between rival capitalist corporations battling for the biggest possible share of the market at the highest possible levels of profit for each of them, the system goes through a phase of massive production, until it goes beyond what can be sold. A crisis of overproduction.
The current steel crisis is a classic example of this rotten, unplanned system, where the private profits of a few owners comes first and always – whilst workers, families, communities and whole nations are thrown to the wolves.
Rigging the Market
Other specific factors have added to the catastrophe facing steelworkers in this country. The massive growth of the Chinese economy includes huge output of steel. As part of their drive to become the biggest economic world power, their steel corporations are quite prepared to dump dirt-cheap imports on competing nations, including at prices below production costs, so as to win greater world market domination.
And Chinese steel companies have pulled off tax-avoidance tricks by adding alloying elements to their steel reinforcement bar, such as boron and chromium, despite boron being notorious for causing severe welding failure, but providing no benefits to the rebar. Why do they do this? Because it earns these companies a tax rebate of 9-13% from the Chinese government.
Chinese Workers not to Blame
That of course is not the fault of Chinese workers. Chinese workers have as much right to jobs as anyone else on the planet. It’s the fault of the system. It’s the very nature of capitalism. It’s part of the DNA of profit-seeking, tax-dodging corporations the wide world over, not just in China. As is the ruthless exploitation of Chinese workers by their employers.
Additionally, the British state has done precious little to support its own steel industry, refusing for example to match the subsidies for energy costs issued to energy-intensive sectors by the governments of other European competitors. The steel union, Community, for example is demanding that the UK government fast-tracks the £220m per annum fund they have for this subsidy.
Tasks for Steel Task Force
The Scottish government has swiftly set up a Scottish Steel Task Force. Nicola Stugeon has repeatedly pledged that the SNP administration “will leave no stone unturned” in their efforts to save Scottish steel, a phrase imitated in every comment by every SNP Minister since. The SNP government is focusing on finding “a new commercial owner”.
As the STUC rightly said, it would be totally unacceptable if the Task Force was deployed to just find alternative jobs for redundant steel workers. It must instead pursue ways to save the industry and the skills of the workforce.
This issue has a history in previous closure situations. For example, when Motorola shut down its West Lothian plant, instead of finding ways to integrate the expertise of these electronics workers in a government industrial strategy, they were instead ‘supported’ by a Task Force in pursuit of other job vacancies outwith electronics. As the SSP’s Colin Fox often tells me, the next time he met the Motorola workers’ representative (they didn’t have an actual trade union) he was sweeping the forecourt in Harthill service station.
Another Private Owner?
No socialist or trade unionist would hesitate to warmlywelcome a new buyer for the Tata steelworks, provided they kept every worker in a job, with no loss of pay, terms and conditions. It has now emerged that in their desperation to hold onto their jobs, workers offered to accept pay cuts and reduced conditions to Tata Steel. But why should workers pay the price of a crisis in steel that is not of their making?
However, putting the entire focus of a rescue mission on attracting another capitalist firm is fraught with pitfalls, to put it mildly. If that’s all the Scottish government and its Task Force looked at for the remainder of the 45 days consultation period, it could end in a slow death for the industry and its skilled workers, if no such buyer steps forward.
This health warning is necessary, because such a buyer wouldn’t be investing in the steel plants as an act of charity; in keeping with every capitalist firm, they’d be doing so on the calculation of making a hefty profit.
And if the world steel glut cuts off the path to such profiteering, what private sector buyer is likely to emerge? Already, Scottish billionaire Jim McColl, who took over Ferguson’s shipyard in Port Glasgow when it faced closure last year, has ruled out buying the steelworks. He made the point that if a major outfit like Tata Steel couldn’t make it work, he sees no scope for “smaller entrepreneurial Scottish involvement”.
Nationalise Steelworks!
The human, social and symbolic importance of saving the steelworks demands urgent, radical action by the government. Whilst pounding the Westminster cabal to save our steel is right to do, the unions and communities affected shouldn’t store much faith in that producing favorable action.
But in contrast to Cameron’s government of, by and for the rich, the Scottish government has a sweeping mandate to ‘stand up for Scotland’. When the First Minister promises to ‘leave no stone unturned’ there is one glaring exception so far: the option of the government stepping in and taking ownership of the Tata Steel plants is one ‘stone left unturned’, at least so far. Yet that is the key and most practical solution.
They did so with Prestwick airport, buying it for a penny. If, as I heard one economist on the BBC object, Tata Steel wasn’t inclined to sell the Lanarkshire plants for the token penny, so what!
They’ve profited as a capitalist enterprise long enough, with virtually no publicity over the fact that in the quarter up to June 2015, Tata Steel Ltd doubled their profits compared to the same quarter in 2014 – to £76.6million. But now they want to up sticks and run, leaving an industrial desert behind in Lanarkshire.
So the Scottish government should take ownership of the steelworks, as a public asset, with public ownership rather than public funding of the profits of another profiteering capitalist ‘entrepreneur’ – even if one that is interested actually exists!

A Plan of Production
In turn that throws up the issue of how the steelworks could survive, as a public asset, if the globe is flooded with a glut of steel, a capitalist crisis of overproduction.
I don’t pretend to be a steel technologist! But surely the expertise of the workers involved, their trade union, plus industry experts could be urgently pulled together to devise a plan of production? Surely the Scottish government could use the Task Force to fully involve workers and unions in drafting a plan of what types of steel products the existing technology and skills set of the workforce could be used to link up with a wider industrial strategy?
Options for Socially Useful Production
For instance, to produce steel for a desperately needed public sector house-building programme, to tackle the crime of 157,000 families in Scotland being stuck on the housing waiting list? Or production of equipment for flood barriers? Or marine engineering equipment, as part of developing a huge public sector green industry? Or steel products to build the fleets and infrastructure for a vastly expanded public transport system?
Nationalisation of Scotland’s steel industry, with a plan of production for local, socially useful need, would help bypass the obstacles of the global glut of steel, created by a system that produces purely for maximum profit.
Energy Profiteering
Wider questions also arise from this catastrophic situation, including the socialist case for democratic public ownership of not just steel, or the construction industry, or transport – but also the energy industry, renewables included. One of Tata Steel’s excuses for closure is high electricity prices – which in turn is largely caused by the profiteering of private capitalist ownership of energy supply. So the longer-term solutions to the human tragedy of workers being chucked on the scrapheap – when it suits the balance sheets of capitalist employers -would require democratic planning of industry, energy and services – something only possible with democratic public ownership.
Solidarity and Socialism
We need to rally round the workers, their families and the communities faced with ruination by the threatened wipeout of an industry with over 150 years’ history in Scotland.
And the best contribution those of us not directly employed can make is to help popularise the rational alternative of nationalisation to save all steel jobs, skills and production – and put pressure on the elected government to wield the powers and authority they have been invested with by voters to carry out this measure before the furnaces cool and die.

SOCIAL PARTNERSHIP: PITFALLS AND TRAPS FOR WORKERS

As the Tories take a claw hammer to workers’ rights, and swing their wrecking ball at jobs, wages, tax credits and public services, it’s no wonder workers search for a political alternative. The cream of the Scottish working class has joined the SSP, the socialist contingent of the 630,000-strong trade union movement. They are rightly attracted by the SSP’s track record of solidarity with workers in struggle; unflinching fight for an immediate £10 minimum wage for all at 16; our advocacy of democratic public ownership, and our tireless campaigning for a charter of workers’ rights, as a core human right. …