'We want steel,' chant workers demanding ArcelorMittal plant stays open
Contractors, workers and community members gathered outside Saldanha Steel on Thursday morning to protest against plans by ArcelorMittal to close the factory amid growing job losses in the area.
“Saldanha Steel is the breadwinner of this community. Most of our husbands, wives and children work here,” said Beryl Azure, a community activist who has lived on the west coast for more than 30 years.
Gathered at the factory gates, the crowd chanted, “We want steel”.
They waved banners with messages including, “Saldanha works can’t become a white elephant” and “Our voices matter”.
Community members are anxious about how the loss of Saldanha Steel to the local economy will affect their families.
“There's nothing for the people to do if the plant closes,” said Allvin George, who has worked at the factory for five years. “You can’t find a proper job and if this place doesn’t stay open there’s no security for the future. Everything is going to go backwards.
“We’re in a position to go forwards. We voted for the ANC, but where is the ANC today?”
The effects of the closure will be devastating for more than just the 900 employees at the factory, said Lynn George, a member of Uniref, a provider of refractory services for the plant.
“It will have a ripple effect throughout the community, taking children out of school and closing shops and businesses,” she said.
Garth Duncan and his son Steve, contractors who do light maintenance at the plant, said they were shocked when they heard of the planned closure.
“We’ve had permanent contracts here for the past 20 years and just got a message from Saldanha Steel terminating the contract. We have a staff of 13 skilled electricians. Closing the factory will lead to complete devastation.”
“There was no lead-up,” echoed Sammy Claassen, chief communications officer of the SA Social and Economic Development Forum, which is organising on behalf of the community.
“Monday morning, a statement was issued by the factory and as a community we were shocked to hear so suddenly. There can’t be a dialogue exclusively between Saldanha Steel and the government. The community needs to be a part of the discussion.”
Claassen said it was important that the factory property should be retained for commercial activity.
“It must remain productive or there will be poverty, unemployment and social problems will escalate.”
He said plans were under way to arrange for buses to take community members to Cape Town to protest outside parliament next week.
“We will take this fight to Cape Town,” said Claassen.
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