Cast-iron case for a not-for-profit steel industry owned by workers, funded by a national investment bank

This article was co-authored this with Kirsten Robb,  our Lead Candidate for Central Scotland . It was in the Herald last Friday:

The mothballing of the Lanarkshire Tata Steel plants is a disaster for communities already scarred by severe job losses in the 1980s and 1990s. Almost all commentators see closure as the inevitable conclusion of the move to mothball. It threatens to remove some of the few remaining industrial jobs that give a living wage. It also threatens to remove the opportunity for Scotland to benefit from the massive expansion of renewable energy installation that we need to keep the lights on.

We should be making our wind turbines, our wave and tidal installations and the structures on which to mount solar panels from the steel finished in the plants Tata is closing. We should also use steel from these plants in the houses, hospitals, schools, ships and railways we will build in the coming years. Steel recycling, manufacture and finishing are fundamental building block of any modern economy.

The crisis is caused by a number of factors. These have pushed up the price of Scottish steel, or reduced the cost of imported steel. At the heart of it is the flood of steel on the global market coming from China. The result is that the spot price of steel is little over half what it was a year ago.

As the infrastructure bubble in China has deflated, so domestic demand for steel has collapsed. Steel that is not required domestically in China is being dumped on international markets at a cut price. This glut is temporarily reducing prices.

The situation cannot continue. The capacity in the Chinese domestic market will reduce, and the spot price will increase. The fire sale of Chinese steel may destroy our domestic industry, and once it has done that we will be obliged to import steel for our own use in renewables and other building projects.

There is a way to save the livelihoods of those in Motherwell and Cambuslang. Earlier this week, Central Scotland MSP and Scottish Green Party member John Wilson commented that, if the UK Government can support bankers and financial services through difficult times, it should be able to support important business in Scotland too.

The Scottish Government has a national infrastructure plan that requires substantial amounts of steel. If we are to generate the equivalent of our electricity demand from renewables we will need massive amounts of steel. The houses we must build to solve the housing crisis will need steel for frames. This steel could be finished in Motherwell and Cambuslang. In fact, it would be deeply foolish not to use the steel finished in these plants. We must plan for our transition to a low-carbon economy to gear up our people, skills and infrastructure in traditional industries such as steel, energy generation and shipbuilding before more task forces are needed.

Last year the Scottish Green Party conference agreed a policy that would allow workers a right to buy out their workplace. It would then be run as a workers’ cooperative. This was a response to the Ineos crisis, where billionaire tax exile Jim Ratcliffe held the workers at Grangemouth to ransom: they could accept serious reductions in their terms and conditions, or they could lose their jobs. The Scottish Government was similarly held to ransom.

By giving workers a right to buy, and financing it using a national investment bank, Scotland could protect the jobs and livelihoods of people in the steel industry. We could have a not-for-profit steel sector. The Scottish Government could go further and act as guarantor for the steel finished in Motherwell and Cambuslang. By guaranteeing a price for Scottish-finished steel we would benefit doubly from the infrastructure we need to build. Not only will we get low carbon electricity, new schools and more houses; we will also benefit from the jobs in steel finishing and all the associated supply chain jobs.

Once the Chinese steel industry adjusts its capacity to meet the demands of the domestic market we will be left with our own steel industry. We will not be subject to the vagaries of a market in which the price of steel has rocketed and plummeted in the past 10 years. We will benefit from the jobs associated with steel finishing, and we will no longer be subject to the whims of billionaire tax exiles. The old economic orthodoxy has failed. It’s time to create a new orthodoxy, based on cooperation.

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