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BBC Wales's Miles Fletcher
"Now a major plant is to close the decline of Welsh steel production really begins"
 real 56k

Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 12:32 GMT
Mighty steel dies like coal
Workers arrive at Llanwern plant
Steel workers arrive at Llanwern in south Wales
The news that almost 3,000 steelworkers are to lose their jobs marks the beginning of the end for the industry in Wales.

Steel once followed coal as the second major employer employing thousands across Wales.

Steel strike in 1980
The bitter strike of 1980s

The industrial revolution forged towns such as Ebbw Vale, Newport and Merthyr Tydfil.

Thousands flocked from all over Europe to prosperity in these thriving industrial heartlands of south Wales.

Steel and coal were king. Cardiff was one of the biggest and busiest docks in the world.

But after Thursday's announcement of sweeping cuts the final death knell for the industry was tolling.

Not so long ago Llanwern near Newport was seen as a model steelworks - setting new standards of productivity.

Even throughout the 1990s Wales produced more steel than ever before, it was just the number of workers which declined.

In the 1970s the old nationalised steel industry was a byword for inefficiency and overmanning.

South Wales Valleys coal pit
Coal and steel once reigned supreme

But in 1980 a bitter strike was followed by wholesale redundancies and closures.

Shotton in north Wales, Ebbw Vale, and East Moors in Cardiff were all milestones on the road to privatisation.

Today, small business units are dotted around the once huge steel empire of Cardiff's docklands.

At Ebbw Vale, the steel mills were replaced with trees as the site of a national garden festival took place.

The new slimmed down British Steel plc then concentrated on the big plants.

But something important was changing. The company had relied on domestic markets - now UK manufacturing was on the slide with fewer cars made in Britain.

Strong pound

This was a particular blow for the south Wales plants.

More steel went for export and it became harshly exposed to the strong pound.

Steel from Llanwern was 15 a tonne dearer that that from its sister plant in Holland.

While Port Talbot saw more than a 100m of new investment, Llanwern looked exposed and vulnerable.

The end of steel production there was seen by many as inevitable.

But with its sister plant at Ebbw Vale closing its doors the decline of Welsh steel production begins in earnest.

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See also:

01 Feb 01 | Business
Corus cuts 6,000 steel jobs
01 Feb 01 | Wales
'Betrayal' of a nation
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