Nationalise Liberty Steel | Mario Laghos
Liberty Steel is the third largest steel manufacturer in the UK. The firm employs some 3,000 workers across the country, and its facilities have the capacity to roll 3 million tonnes of steel annually. But as you may be aware its future is far from assured. The founder of Liberty Steel, Sanjeev Gupta, is scrambling to refinance Liberty’s owner, GFG (Gupta Family Group), after its financier, Greensill Capital, filed for bankruptcy in March. The government has rejected a £170Million request from the firm, on the grounds that GFG’s finances are ‘opaque’. Though nationalisation has not been taken off the table, it is becoming increasingly apparent the government is biding their time until a private buyer can move in to save the firm. Afterall it was none other than Boris Johnson’s Conservative government which presided over the Chinese takeover of British Steel last March, (a deal which involved redundancies for 450 workers). This perennial crisis which looms over British steel firms like a sword of Damocles needs to be dealt with, not just treated. The cycle of crisis, buy out, and then job losses, which is dealing a death by a thousand cuts to the industry could end today. And it should end today. The government shouldn’t bail out Mr. Gupta, they should buy him out, and the next day they should take back control of British Steel back from the Jingye Group.
The idea that everything can be produced offshore and then imported has been exposed as the most flawed assumption of the past 40 years by the Covid crisis. We sat idly as Costa replaced coal mines and the Upper Clyde gave way to call centres, and in doing so fundamentally weakened our national capacity for defence. Last year, untold millions were wasted on opportunistic middlemen, faulty foreign PPE and rogue suppliers who failed to deliver on their contracts. But more important than that, the lives of frontline NHS staff were put at risk because our manufacturing sector was simply incapable of meeting demand for gowns and masks. We have become dependent on foreign nations to supply us at their pleasure, while we do the soft work of service and finance. But when the going gets tough, numbers on computers and ample numbers of Pret are found to have much less value than was previously thought. The international community is a myth, it’s me first, on pain of revolt from national populations. And what happened with PPE, ventilators, and almost happened with vaccines if not for the foresight of the government’s procurement team, could happen with steel too.
We can’t live without steel. We build tanks, ships, planes, and guns with steel. We build roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, houses and hospitals with steel. We need it for appliances, railways, trains, and cranes. It’s a vital strategic material essential to our national infrastructure and vital to the defence of the realm. It seems obvious, but a lot of ‘Conservatives’ imagine the conservative position is to pit our steelworkers against Chinese steelworkers and let the market decide their fate. But China is a loss leader on steel, like a supermarket that gets you in with subsidised bread and milk, China is not afraid to sell their steel at a loss. There is no base below which they will refuse to push their worker’s wages and health and safety regulations. And when your industry collapses, and you become dependent on China, it would be foolish to expect the price to remain low and the supply to remain constant.
There are some people who get it in the Tory party. But by and large Conservatives are still preoccupied with the price of everything and the value of nothing. It’s not just the blue team that suffers from this brain rot though. Labour too has become corrupted by the short-sighted silverware sell off that is neoliberal economics. Labour aptly showed to all the world their affliction when they mounted a campaign against a new mine opening in Cumbria, which would supply British steel firms with coking coal. Like the Tories who want to be beholden to Beijing the Labour party would rather be dependent on solid fuel from Putin than dig a hole in the ground. How did that work out for Eastern Europe anyway? Maybe this goes to show the old divides between Conservative and Labour are no longer relevant. Increasingly it seems like the world is split down the middle between patriots and internationalists. Somewheres and Anywheres. Leavers and Remainers. Boris should make it clear he’s on the right side, and nationalise Liberty Steel now.