This week marks the 20th anniversary since the closure of Ravenscraig. On Friday night the former ironworks, engineering and production staff got together for a reunion to reminisce.
Ravenscraig closed in june 1992, 38 years after work started on construction of the giant plant.
A total 770 staff lost their jobs. They were all that was left of more than 13,000 who had once worked at Ravenscraig.
In 1947 when I first started, it was a dirty, dangerous and hazardous industry. But after the introduction of the health and safety at work act and the safe working practices we adopted it became a much better and safer industry. Ironically at the time the decision was made to pull the plug the industry was performing well and safety records at an all time high.
But it didn't matter. We just did not fit in to the long term plans of British Steel.
Many people say the Thatcher Government closed Ravenscraig. She certainly didn't help, but it was British Steel and in partcular Bob Scholey the chairman that did it.
The way it was closed was wrong. It was probably the most efficient plant of the 5 major plants in British Steel in operation with an average of 2.5/3 man hours per tonne-whilst the average in the rest of British Steel was 6.2. This was even more of an achievement given we were producing hard to make top of the market steel. Despite of our strong record it just wasn't enough.
When Ian McGregor first mooted the closure of Ravenscraig in 1980 there was a strong economic argument for keeping it open, and whilst that economic argument remained British Steel had a difficulty in justifying closure.
So they decided to close it by stealth, first they closed Gartcosh Works in 1986. Gartcosh was the finishing mill which gave the added value to our product and it's closure put a big question mark over the future of Ravenscraig. Then around 1988/89 they introduced Prefferential Loading and Production Pauses. This meant that the plants in the South were being preffered and loaded to capacity whilst Ravenscraig had pauses in their production.
The Gartcosh closure coupled with the prefferential loading and production pauses practically destroyed our economic argument and the union had to face the obvious fact of closure.
It seemed that even if we were making slabs of gold British Steel were still going to close the plant, so our focus shifted to finding the best possible way to represent our members, and that was to ensure they were properly recompensed for the loss of their jobs and that the proper retraining packages were in place for them.
I can clearly remember telling the Industrial Relations Manager if you close us, we will have the best deal in British Steel’s history. And we got it. We had top training and senior people at the plant were excellent, working with us to get what we needed. While it helped workers, you only have to look at the state of our main towns in Lanarkshire to see the legacy.
That’s why I look to an independent future for Scotland. As a life long trade union member and a member of the Labour Party for 39 years till it left me - I sincerely believe it is fundamentally better if decisions about Scotland, are taken by people who care most about Scotland, and that is the people of Scotland.
I have no doubt that we have the resources, talent, ingenuity, and skills to prosper as an independent nation. I have lived through the Thatcher years and experienced the devastating cuts, and closure of most of our steel making facilities in Scotland like Ravenscraig. It has left us with no steel making facility and only able to process steel from elsewhere. That’s why I welcome the opportunity of renewable energy and future that has for Scottish jobs. We need to re-industrialise our great nation.
And this will be a key industry of the future helping us do that providing jobs for our children and grandchildren. And we have so many more industries to secure a strong economy for the future; tourism, food & drink, higher education, research centres and the financial sector to name a few.
I have no fears or qualms about the referendum or independence. The people living in Scotland will make the decision in 2014, and if Yes we will then in 2016 elect a government of whatever party colour the people want. I hope that when we do, we will be in it together for Scotland.
-Tommy Brennan is the former Ravenscraig Works Convener and Trade Union leader