Recent revelations that the British Steel Corporation is facing a financial loss of about GBP500 million sterling (not far short of a billion U.
Recent revelations that the British Steel Corporation is facing a financial loss of about GBP500 million sterling (not far short of a billion U.S. dollars) this year, have led to a parliamentary row in Britain about public control of nationalised industries the right of Parliament to demand the fullest information from them. But this is more than a domestic dispute. The plight of the industry is symptomatic of what is happening to major steel producers in many parts of the world.
SYNOPSIS: Port Talbot in South Wales in one of the British Steel corporation's five major steel-making complexes. The Corporation was established ten years ago, when Britain's private steel companies were nationalised. Most experts agree that the reasons for its losses are low productivity and overmanning. Some suggest that the work-force of 207,000 is between 40 and 60,000 too ???.
Italy's partly nationalised steel industry is also facing losses. Again, political considerations are in conflict with commercial ones. The major plant at Taranto-one of the biggest in Europe-was built to bring jobs to the poverty-stricken south. It is running at not much more than two-thirds capacity, but is reluctant to cut its workforce and add to southern Italy's unemployment.
Three thousand French steel workers who lost their jobs in Lorraine headed this protest march in Paris last April. The European Economic Community's steel industry is working at only about 60 percent of capacity and in the Community as a whole, jobs are being cut at a rate of between five and six thousand a month.
The United States is the biggest producer in the market economy countries, coming second only to the Soviet Union. Its largest companies are also losing and having to lay off workers. Its main problem is dumping by countries with lower labour costs, and the government has recently proposed a special charge on steel imports to regulate this.
Japan, which comes third in quantity of output, is undoubtedly the commercial world's most efficient producer. Last year, Japanese plant needed four man hours to produce one tonne of steel; Britain, at the bottom of the productivity league, need 30. But even in Japan production is running well below capacity and is falling.
Mrs. Indira Gandhi, as Prime Minister of India, inaugurated a new hot strip mill in Bihar in 1976. India is one of the third world's leading steel producers. Many developing countries are now expanding their domestic steel industries, and so cutting down the export markets available to the big industrialised producers.
China has plans to increase her output four-fold by the end of the century. If she does, she will become one of the top four steel producing countries of the world. The outlook for the developed countries is much less promising. They must invest to keep pace with technological improvements, and remain competitive; but they see few immediate outlets for increased production.