STEEL CRISIS: Real toll of threatened Corby jobs could be more than 1,000

FLASHBACK: An iconic image from protests over the Corby steelworks closure in 1980
FLASHBACK: An iconic image from protests over the Corby steelworks closure in 1980

More than 1,000 jobs in Corby are at real risk if the town’s steelworks does not find a buyer, a union boss says.

Steelworkers in Corby were enjoying their company’s annual shutdown this week when Indian owner Tata announced its UK plants were up for sale.

Hundreds march through the streets of Corby in 1980 to protest at the planned steelworks closure

Hundreds march through the streets of Corby in 1980 to protest at the planned steelworks closure

There are 600 people employed at the historic Corby site in Weldon Road, but Community Union regional organiser Paul McKenna says the real figure is much higher.

He said: “For every person employed at the works in Corby there are two or three other contractors and people employed in servicing the works.

“The steelworks is the backbone of Corby. It would be devastating to lose the works.”

Tata’s announcement is considered the biggest threat to steel manufacturing in Corby since British Steel announced the closure of their plant employing more than 11,000 in 1980.

Strathclyde Hotel Corby, in 1980.

Strathclyde Hotel Corby, in 1980.

Although steel production is now on a smaller scale, Tata is still one of the town’s largest employers.

And the Corby works are inextricably linked to the steelworks at Port Talbot in Wales where 4,000 people work. If the Port Talbot plant closes, then it is almost inevitable that Corby’s Tata site will close.

There are two or three direct trains into the town every day from Port Talbot, where steel slab is rolled into coil before being sent by rail to Corby slitting plant where it goes on to become tubes, bars and beams.

The Community Union represents about 300 Corby workers.

Mr McKenna said: “They are on shutdown this week so unfortunately many of them will have heard the announcement while they were on holiday.

“There’s a strong connection between Corby and Port Talbot and we know that unfortunately one is unlikely to survive without the other so we hope that any buyer would look at the whole strip process as a package.

“There is also a whole series of contractors and people who work for them on site at Corby and their operations are also vital to employment in the town.”

Mr McKenna said he was keen to talk to town MP Tom Pursglove who has been appealing to Prime Minister David Cameron to take action to save the town’s steelworks.

Yesterday, Mr Cameron rejected calls to temporarily re-nationalise the country’s steelworks.

Mr McKenna added: “The message coming from the Government seems to be a bit disjointed. They’re not going to recall Parliament but this news from India can’t have come as a surprise to them.

“We’ve been fronting the Save Our Steel campaign for months.

“It’s a moving target at the moment and because the Corby workers are on holiday we’re trying our best to keep them updated by email.

“When they’re back next week we will be able to talk to them face to face about what the future holds.”

Corby Steelworks History

Corby was just a small village before Stewart and Lloyds opened the town’s first blast furnace at its brand new steelworks in 1933.

In 1931 Corby’s population was 1,500 but by 1939 it had grown to 12,000. Many steelworkers were from impoverished Ireland and Scotland and some even walked from Scotland to find work in the town.

During World War II the Corby steelworks were expected to be a target for German bombers but in the event there were only a few bombs dropped by solitary planes and there were no casualties. The area was purposefully blanketed in huge dense black, low-lying clouds created artificially by burning oil and latex to hide the glowing Bessemer converter furnaces.

The Corby steelworks made a notable contribution to the war effort by manufacturing the steel tubes used in Operation Pluto (Pipe Line Under the Ocean) to supply fuel to Allied forces on the European continent.

Faced with the problem of producing enough iron ore to meet demand, Stewarts & Lloyds commissioned the ‘Great Jib’, which, at the time of its completion in 1951, was the world’s largest walking dragline excavator.

In 1967 steelmaking was nationalised and in 1975 Harold Wilson’s Labour Government made plans to shift steelmaking to coastal areas, thus marking the closure of the Corby steelworks.

Despite a hard-fought campaign by local union bosses, by 1981 5,000 people had been made redundant followed by 6,000 more in the following years. Only about 1,000 workers were kept on permanently in tube works.

The closure left the town with more than 30 per cent unemployment and in a deep depression that cast its shadow for more than two decades.

In October 1999, British Steel merged with the Dutch company Koninklijke Hoogovens to form Corus which continued to manufacture tubes on the site.

Tata Steel took over Corus in 2006 and the Corus name was finally dropped in 2010. It is thought there are now about 600 steelworkers left in Corby. They manufacture steel tubes, beams and various other products for use in projects in the UK and around the world.

Corby steel tubes were used in the manufacture of the London Eye and the new Wembley stadium.