Welsh town steels itself for globalization

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  • The statue ‘the Man of Steel’ honors the workers of the Welsh town Port Talbot who have kept the steel industry going for more than 115 years.

  • The blast furnaces of the Steelworks plant are a prominent part of the landscape of Port Talbot. Port Talbot has suffered from globalization since the hub was privatized in 1988.

  • The Indian multinational Tata Steel outbid the Brazilian multinational CSN in 2007, by paying around $10 billion for control over the steel manufacturing sites of Ceres. Indian public banks have invested considerable funds into this prestige project.

  • The first cracks appeared in 2011, as Tata Steel suffered major losses. The Indian multinational has been undercut by Chinese competition. Increased labor and environmental regulation imposed by the UK and EU have increased the costs for Tata Steel and made it more difficult to compete.

  • The steelworkers have been asking the government for help with their campaign 'Save our Steel’.

  • The new train station Port Talbot Parkway was built with steel from the plant. This project was co-funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and the EU.

  • Several signs in Port Talbot explain the role of EU funding in the modernization of the town.

  • Port Talbot has received $356,000 from the Welsh Government to restore the Art Deco cinema Plaza that has been closed since 1999. The town is still searching for additional funding.

  • A man at Aberavon beach. 4,000 steel workers in Port Talbot risk losing their jobs.

  • Others are indirectly affected by the struggles that TATA Steel faces. 40,000 people are estimated to depend on the business for work in Port Talbot. Docks Café prepares meals, receives phone calls, and collects post packages for many steel workers.

  • The statue ‘the Mortal Coil’ captures the spirit of zealous steel workers, who continue to work despite the threats to their livelihoods and to the future of their town.

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Port Talbot Steelworks is the largest steel plant in the UK, producing nearly all 1 and 2 penny coins in circulation. It is one of the largest private employees in the town, employing around 4,000 workers. The Welsh economy was put at risk last year when the owner of the plant, the Indian multinational Tata Steel, announced that it was no longer profitable, and looked to sell the plant. It is still looking for buyers, but the plant remains threatened.

The flood of Chinese steel into Europe is a major reason for the plant’s demise. The amount of steel exported from China rose from 65 million tons in 2007 to 108 million tons last year. During the 2000s, numerous steel production facilities were built in China to support its fast-growing economy and building boom. The excess capacity from these facilities is now cheaply sold overseas, which has made it difficult for Port Talbot steelworks and other plants to compete.

The European Union, of which the United Kingdom is still part, has tried to combat Chinese steel-dumping with anti-subsidy measures and tariffs, but Port Talbot is still struggling to survive. The jobs that are now threatened and questions of whether the steelworks can survive are at the heart of a story over globalization and its discontents. If Welsh steel cannot compete with Chinese exports, this major industry and historical landmark might still be shut down.

About the Author

Aleydis Nissen is a PhD researcher and graduate tutor at Cardiff University. Her research focuses on business and human rights issues.

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