Rhetoric versus reality

No-one doubted the sincerity of the defiant messages repeatedly expressed after the first meeting of the steel task force at the assembly.

A succession of union leaders and a council chief executive said there would be no rolling over or waiving of the white flag when it came to the Welsh steel industry in the wake of the recent losses.

Unfortunately for the steelworkers, it's not the decision for the task force to make.

The question is how this rhetoric relates to the brutal reality facing Tata.

I can't recall the boss of a major manufacturing plant speaking so bluntly as Stuart Wilkie, the man who runs Port Talbot and Llanwern.


He told me that while much of the focus will be on the 750 losing their jobs from Port Talbot and Llanwern, the remaining 3,500 are in a fight for their survival.

When I asked him how long his bosses in India would continue to support a loss-making business, his answer was only that it required swift action from the EU to put the industry on a level playing field.

How long is swift? That's the key question. In other words, how long have they got to turn things around?

A figure of 18 months has been mentioned by some, but there's no definitive answer.

The news conference after the meeting became fractious at times. At one point the economy minister Edwina Hart reverted to one of her favourite tactics by accusing the media of being too negative.

Set the tone

For the record, Tata has had no problems with the media coverage of the past few days.

If the boss of Britain's biggest steel plant says it is in a fight for survival, like he did on Monday, then that set the tone for the week.

Business leaders are concerned about the situation, as are the politicians.

Welsh MPs have had their chance to have a say on the challenges in a debate at Westminster, including the fundamental problem of cheap Chinese steel driving the price down.

At this stage, it's difficult to see where the game-changing moment will come from for the industry.

Big money

The EU is due to take action against cheap Chinese imports but the time-frame is key.

What many are clinging onto is the scale of recent investment by Tata at Port Talbot and Llanwern.

No firm is going to want to walk away after spending big money on a blast furnace with a 15 to 20 year lifespan.

Another interesting feature of this story is the extraordinarily tight bond between the unions and the management.

I can't recall an example where union leaders have responded to the loss of a thousand jobs in any industry by saying they have no difference of opinion with the company that's done the cutting.

Instead, the accusations are all pointed firmly in the direction of the Conservative UK government for not doing enough to protect the industry, and not the company executives making the actual decisions.

While the task force now cracks on with the job of trying to help those who are about to lose their jobs, the long term future of those who are left will be decided by events elsewhere.