Friday, 1 April 2016

Steel yourself for bad news...

My family's history is one of coal and steel… 
Grandparents and parents worked in both industries. My granddad was a coal miner and latterly a Pit Deputy. My other grandfather, along with my dad worked at some of the most famous steel locations there are/were. My dad worked at Steel Peech and Tozer initially, and then moved to Templeborough. I remember my mum driving him to work in what must have been the late 1960s and I'd see him walking into the huge sheds that lined the roads between Rotherham and Sheffield, with the noise of the blast furnaces and hammers… It became part of British Steel around that time.

Later in his career he moved to Aldwarke and to the 11" mill at Parkgate, where it became Corus. In 2009, there were a lot of job losses at the plant, but my dad had just retired by then, after over 45 years as a steelworker and engineer. My mum worked in a college in Dinnington: another South Yorkshire mining village, and a great many of my classmates got jobs at Maltby Colliery when they left school. It wasn't exactly KES though… I didn't have a pet kestrel and I remembered to take my shorts to PE. I also remember the Miners' strike and various events, including the Battle of Orgreave, which was a few miles from home, and shook collection buckets for donations at various events around Yorkshire at the time. It didn't politicise me in the same way as it did some of my friends, but it has stuck with me since.

There was a quote in the article in the Independent above which resonates seven years later: 

Yet still the suspicion remains that cash might have been more forthcoming if the workers here had been "wearing bowler hats rather than hard hats"

Now we have a new threat to steel jobs in Rotherham, and other locations such as Port Talbot with the threatened closure of Tata steel plants and premises. My uncle worked in the specialist steel works on Moorgate in Rotherham too, now owned by Tata.
This useful article was shared by the Guardian to chime with the quote above, on the relative costs of bailing out the industry compared to the banks.

There are several problems which are said to be combining to create the current problems:
  • A strong pound means UK steel exports are more expensive than foreign competitors
  • The industry says it is unfairly burdened by high taxes on the energy it uses
  • Chinese demand for steel has slumped
  • The steel price has fallen by 30% as cheap Chinese steel has flooded the market.
The analysis doesn't look good, and Rotherham could be hit with another jobs blow, along with the other communities which have steel at their heart. They may join the communities where my granddad once went to work with his snap tin, to pick up his lamp and pit check token before descending into the darkness, and home in the evening to scrub himself clean, black bright' with coal: communities which have lost the industry that lay at their heart, and provided a large part of their identity and 'sense of place'.

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