Blood and Steel

A few of the 13 jobs I had before writing.

A few of the 13 jobs I had before writing.

Over the years I’ve worked with many firms that went bust, and it’s horrible, every time. For those who are in there, and feel the earth taken away from under their feet, who feel the embarrassment and fear as they tot up the monthly outgoings and look at the blank sheet of income, it’s much worse than horrible. It’s a catastrophe.

Occasionally it can be entire industries, such as the coal industry that was destroyed so unnecessarily in the 1980s. Some guys say it’s a shame, a disgrace, that the steel industry should be supported and maintained. Others say it’s a shame, so sad, but the industry cannot compete.

I have sympathy with the families of the workers. I think Tata have been a good employer for the last few years, but that won’t make life any easier for the people who are staring down the barrels of a payoff and no money.

When I was a computer salesman, I regularly had to accept redundancy. But never the megabucks redundancy of a banker or chief executive. The largest pay off I ever got was the statutory minimum.

I remember those days very clearly, the miserable feeling in the gut when you hear that yet again the employer is bust. I had a period of work when every company I joined soon went broke. My record was NBI, which headhunted me from a secure job, and two weeks later folded when the American owners decided to concentrate on the domestic market. They paid me a month in lieu, I think.

Another firm took me on, and although in the space of three months I made them some 70,000 pounds, yet they never paid me my salary, expenses, or commission. Basically the director was dealing fraudulently, and the court found in my favour to the tune of nearly eight thousand pounds. However I was advised by my lawyer to give it up. To get bailiffs involved would cost me even more. The man was so unreliable, his own lawyers were chasing him for their fees.

These two were competitors. Bluebird went first, so I went to JBA. Mistake!

These two were competitors. Bluebird went first, so I went to JBA. Mistake!

Before that I had worked for Bluebird Software. It seemed a safe bet, since it was one of IBM’s biggest software houses in the UK. I sold a lot for them in a year, but even so, after twelve months the firm went bust. I was owed thousands in commission, in holiday time, and expenses. But weeks later, when I received a seven page summary of the money owed, the total at the bottom had a line through it. After paying off other creditors, which meant the banks and government, I was allowed the statutory minimum of some two weeks at the basic wage. I was owed thousands of pounds, but got only two hundred.

And that is my point. There are not going to be people winning a chunk of money that will pay off their mortgage and set them up to begin a new business. When an industry shuts down, people are likely to lose plenty. And that means not only Tata Steel, but all the little businesses that feed Tata too. If Tata closes without a buyer, the workers are likely to receive their own seven page summaries with a minimum amount at the bottom. So are those who depend on supplying Tata as well.

Does that mean that the government should buy the business and keep it going?

No. What would be the point? If the companies cannot sell steel when they are private, who would honestly think that they would survive better while owned by the government? What would the plants do, stockpile steel in rusting mountains in the fields outside Port Talbot and Llanwern? The simple fact is, that unless Britain imposes trade tariffs on Chinese imports of steel, so that the Chinese stop dumping cheap steel in our markets, the steel plants in this country, paying our inflated “green” electricity rates will remain uncompetitive. They cannot compete with Chinese prices. So they can keep on stocking steel as long as they want, but they won’t sell it.

And England cannot impose tariffs on China. That is an EU issue. We are not allowed to act unilaterally, apparently. America has imposed tariffs, I believe, of some 200%. The EU has agreed on 9%. That’ll work, then.

So what should the government do?

The main starting point should be to look at the people who really matter. Those who’re going to lose their jobs and their families. I know what it’s like to discover that there’s nothing for the next month, that the job is going, that there’s no money coming in. I had that all through my 20s and 30s, and I don’t wish it on anyone else. It’s miserable.

Maybe the state should set up a creative team to help the people, and rather than bringing in civil servants or consultants on high expense accounts, they should hire people from the area who worked in the industry. They need people who’ve been through job loss, people who have set up their own businesses, entrepreneurs and advisers who can motivate and enthuse the locals. But most of all, pick people from the communities. Men and women who are successful and know the area.

Is this a simple fix? No. The sad fact is, there isn’t one. No company is forever. It doesn’t matter how loyal the staff are, how enthusiastic they are, nor even how important a business is. If it’s not viable, it will be closed.

But the people need help, and their communities too, and they deserve all the help we can give them.

6 Responses to “Blood and Steel”
  1. In total agreement with everything you’ve said. :(


  2. True, Mike, England can’t. For the moment neither can the UK, but June may change that.

    Steel-making isn’t viable, but can we afford to lose an industry that is central to our national security?


  3. Jack Eason says:

    Well said Michael. This is the ugly side of privatisation…


  4. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Michael on Tata


  5. Lindsey Russell says:

    Come June I hope there are enough people fed up with being told what we can and can’t do. ‘British Steel’ was a by word for the best.


    • Yes – along with Krupp, our steel was excellent. But successive governments of both parties have thought that manufacturing wasn’t as good as the services sector. Criminal waste of the industry and its workforce.


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