In the last few weeks, high in the rafters of Riverside Stadium, Smoggies have been belting out a tribute to steelworkers across the country. To the infectious tune of Lord of the Dance, they chant: 'Cameron, wherever you may be, you're not fit to run our country, you shagged a pig, made it squeal, get off your arse and save our steel'. This rare politicised football chant is emblematic of the steelworkers' feelings towards our government - not just in Teesside, but across the country. As the Conservatives remain indifferent - sitting on their proverbial, and sometimes literal, arses - steelworkers face job losses, plant closures and the deprivation of their communities.
The Smoggies' chant followed the closure of a steel plant near Middlesbrough with the loss of at least 1,700 jobs. Boro players wore 'Save our Steel' t-shirts in the warm-up for a recent game against Leeds United and massive banners stretched across the crowd to show support for local steelworkers. And Teesside is just one area that faces such problems. There are many others. Tata Steel, an Indian company based in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire, recently announced up to 1,200 job losses. Caparo Industries claimed the loss of 452 jobs primarily in the West Midlands. According to the BBC, of the 20,000 Britons currently working in the steel industry, up to one in six face unemployment. Just in time for Christmas, I suppose.
UK steelmakers have been explicit in suggesting measures the government could take to tackle this issue. Their demands are substantial, but achievable. They want lower business rates and a break from green taxes. They want better compensation for high-energy prices and a commitment to use British steel in major government-backed construction projects.
The government's reaction has been essentially rhetorical. They have depended on words, not actions, and even their words have been insignificant. The purported 'party of working people' don't seem to want to help these working people. The party of the so-called 'Northern Powerhouse' seem to care little about an industry primarily based in the north. It is not that the government are unable to help these people. They are, rather, unwilling.
Other EU countries face similar problems with their steel industries. In contrast to the UK, however, these nations have offered direct intervention, often investing huge resources. Germany, for example, has set aside over three and a half billion pounds to save their steel. The UK could only muster a relatively measly five hundred million. The Italian government temporarily nationalised the Ilva steelworks in order to save at least 14,000 jobs. The UK government won't even entertain such an idea.
Britain's lacklustre response is at the behest of the government's basic ideology. They don't want to tamper with the market - despite clear market failure due primarily to the dumping of Chinese steel. They are exceptionally quick to privatise, if it means awarding under-priced government assets to wealthy folks, but nationalisation to protect British workers is out of the question. The Tories' prevailing austerity mantra renders them indisposed to offer adequate financial support for a struggling, but proud British trade. They certainly wouldn't dream of bailing out our steel industry. I suppose the government reserve such money for banks.
This weekend, steelworkers from across the UK marched in Sheffield to voice their anger at an ostensibly indifferent government. The marchers' message was less creative, and certainly less humorous, than the Smoggies' chant in the rafters of Riverside. But it was essentially the same: with each passing day, as the steel crisis intensifies, communities face further deprivation and workers suffer. The marchers, as with the Boro football fans, know the government has a choice. The Tories can continue to sit on their arse and remain indifferent as a once mighty British industry rapidly heads towards meltdown. Or, they can get off their arse, offer financial support and implement policies to prevent such a meltdown, and save our steel.