The Australian Workers' Union says the nation's steel industry faces its "worst crisis ever" and needs urgent action to save 12,000 jobs in the Illawarra.Speaking in Wollongong, the union's national secretary Paul Howes pulled no punches yesterday in his assessment of the industry, amid a climate where closures of steel mills in Europe and the United States have become a regular occurrence due to the global financial crisis.Mr Howes said the present situation was a "bleak picture" that could not be ignored."This industry is facing its worst crisis ever in the entire history of making steel in this country."Of course, shutting down the steel plants will be the worst possible scenario but the union also has an obligation to ... look at what's happening around the rest of the world and paint the picture as it is," he said.On the last leg of a national tour to discuss the union's industry survival plan with workers, Mr Howes said "proactive" and "interventionist" policies were needed to save the 5500 jobs at BlueScope Steel and thousands of related positions in the region."It's fitting that our last consultation takes place in Port Kembla, because as we know the Illawarra is the capital of Australia's steel industry," he said."On Friday the union will be launching a new and comprehensive plan to help ... save the steel industry."Australia loses 60 jobs for every 1000 tonnes of steel cut from production and the union believes 500,000 jobs across the nation rely on the industry. Mr Howes described Illawarra MPs Sharon Bird and Jennie George as "steel MPs" for their willingness to carry the union's concerns to Canberra and rejected the suggestion by BlueScope Steel chief executive Noel Cornish that it was the Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) threatening about 12,000 regional jobs."We need to get the facts clear. The fact is the steel industry is facing a crisis today not of the Government's making, not of BlueScope's making but of the global financial crisis," Mr Howes said."So even without the threat of a carbon price on steel, we have a huge grave threat to this industry here in the Illawarra and the manufacturing industry as a whole across the country."Friday's plan will include a call for the Government to ensure Australian steel is used as part of its nation building infrastructure initiative, in a similar move to that adopted by the US which caused some anti-protectionist sentiment."I don't think the union criticised it," Mr Howes said. "Australian steel has always had a good export market overseas ... But American taxpayers should expect their Government's taxpayer dollars being used to shore up American jobs; that's all we're asking here."Ms George said the Australian-made philosophy was the right one for the times. "I think it is important that we stand united with the union, we're very concerned to ensure the protection of our existing jobs," she said.