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Mass demonstration at Liberty Steel calls for urgent support amid crisis

22 February, 2024In a display of solidarity and determination, IndustriAll European Trade Union and IndustriALL Global Union marched alongside steelworkers at the Liberty Steel's Ostrava plant in the Czech Republic on 22 February, a mass rally organized by IndustriALL affiliate OS KOVO. This was not just a protest but a powerful statement against the ongoing crisis in the European steel industry, embodied by the dire situation at Liberty Steel.

Roman Ďurčo, president of OS KOVO adresses crowd

"It is disgraceful to keep thousands of workers in limbo week after week. This has been going on for too long and we are not seeing any positive developments. We need support in solving this situation. It affects tens of thousands of people and politicians should not be indifferent to such a serious social problem!”

said Roman Ďurčo, president of Czech Metalworkers´ Federation (OS KOVO)

The crisis at Liberty Steel is symptomatic of a larger, continent-wide emergency facing the steel sector. With production halting for weeks and no clear path to resumption, the future of 6,000 workers at the Ostrava plant hangs in the balance. This uncertainty extends to the broader region, threatening 30,000 indirect jobs and the livelihoods of 900 SMEs dependent on Liberty Steel's operations.

The recent insolvency of Tameh, Liberty Steel Ostrava's energy supplier, in December 2023, has exacerbated the situation, leaving 117 subcontractors without essential services like heating or water. The Czech Minister of Industry and Trade has called on Liberty Steel to deliver a viable industrial strategy to secure the plant's long-term growth, a call that remains unmet.

The challenges facing Liberty Steel Ostrava reflect a broader crisis within the European steel industry, marked by high energy costs, plummeting orders, and the idling of several steel plants. This turmoil has led to a sharp decline in European steel production and fears that up to half of the continent's steel capacity may be permanently lost. Contrastingly, the global steel market, particularly in countries like China and India, is expanding, further skewing the balance.

At the heart of the demonstration there were impassioned appeals for change. Judith Kirton-Darling, IndustriAll Europe general secretary, emphasized the strategic importance of the steel industry to Europe and highlighted the urgent need for support at Liberty Steel. 

"Workers cannot and should not pay the price for mismanagement, lack of investment and lack of respect. And this in an industry that is strategic for climate action and our security!

"We insist that Europe cannot afford to lose this strategic industry, which is so important for Europe's autonomy in the context of energy transition and geopolitical conflict. The protests in Ostrava are just the beginning and policymakers must listen and act. European steelworkers expect decisive action to support steel in Europe.”

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary adresses crowd at rally

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary echoed this sentiment, calling for an industry that values its workforce, commits to sustainable practices, and operates transparently.

“To the management of GFG Alliance, we say: the time for change is now. It is time to engage with us in genuine dialogue, to open your doors to constructive solutions, and to recognize the indispensable role of workers in the industry's future. 

Our international solidarity is our strength. It is the bond that unites us across borders, languages, and cultures. It is the force that will drive us forward in our fight for a just and equitable world. 

Today, as we stand together, let us remember that our cause transcends national boundaries. It is a call to action for trade unionists and workers around the world to unite in solidarity for the rights, dignity, and future of all workers.”

The rally underscored the strength of international solidarity, uniting workers across borders in a common cause for justice, dignity, and a sustainable future. 

In solidarity, the participants stood not only for the employees of Liberty Ostrava but for all workers affected by unjust corporate practices, reinforcing the message that together, they are a force for change.