Socialist Worker

Devastation on the jobs front

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1771

'MY MUM used to tell us about life under Thatcher in the 1980s, when hundreds of jobs went every day and half of industry went to the wall. I could only imagine what that was like-until now.'

So explained Motorola worker Drew Wilson from East Kilbride near Glasgow. He says, 'It just feels like we're all going under, that nobody's job is safe, and that it's all happening without anyone making the slightest protest.' Drew is 25 years old. Last week Motorola management announced 7,000 jobs are to go worldwide. In Britain Motorola has already closed its factory at Bathgate with the loss of 3,100 jobs.

Now there are fears for 2,000 jobs at East Kilbride and 600 at South Queensferry. Union leaders are doing nothing while a roaring recession is shattering lives. If those plants had been under threat six months ago it would have been national news. Now it is just another day's toll of unemployment. There is a job-slashing tide sweeping Britain, destroying work and communities. The economy is in its deepest recession since 1991. Manufacturing output slumped by 3.5 percent in the last six months and is set to fall further. The service sector has also turned downwards.

In Mitcheldean, near Gloucester, electronic office equipment company Xerox has announced 1,200 jobs are to go. The company is by far the largest employer in the area.

AEEU member John Howls says, 'We are all devastated. This will be a disaster for the whole Forest of Dean economy. 'I have no idea what we'll do-sweep the roads or go on the dole, I suppose. I've worked here for 31 years, and I'm too old now to move away or travel. This is history repeating itself. First the coal went and then Xerox came. Now Xerox is going but there's nothing to fill the vacuum.'

Kvaerner, the construction giant that employs 35,000 worldwide including 6,000 in Britain, has warned it is desperately fighting off bankruptcy. Aer Lingus has just slashed 2,500 jobs and John Player has cut 250. Atlantic Telecom announced last week that 245 workers are to go in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Manchester and London.

Around 800 Rolls-Royce and Bentley car workers are to go on a three-day week soon. The war against Afghanistan has been used to hide the scale of the recession. It is not just the adviser to transport and local government secretary Stephen Byers who thought 11 September was 'a very good time to get out anything we want to bury'.

The gathering global recession meant many firms were looking to shed jobs. Now every employer who wants to slash costs and protect profits sees a chance to hand out redundancy notices while the spotlight is elsewhere. If anyone objects, they blame the whole collapse on the World Trade Centre suicide attackers.

It is a cynical camouflage for problems caused by the boom and bust rhythm of capitalism, and the bosses' insistence that profits come before people.

'12,000 JOBS Cut in One Day' was the headline of the Guardian's finance section on Tuesday.

British job cuts included:

  • 170 jobs cut at GE Caledonian at Prestwick in Ayrshire.
  • 670 axed at TRW Aeronautical systems in Birmingham,
  • Wolverhampton and Hemel Hempstead.
  • Redundancies at Goldman Sachs.
  • A threat to the entire Siemens plant at Beeston near Nottingham.

  • Blatant attacks anger workers

    NONE OF these job losses or pay freezes could happen so smoothly without the submission of the union leaders. The most blatant example is the Post Office. Two weeks ago management announced that there would be 20,000 job losses.

    After the mass redundancies were unveiled, leaders of the CWU union agreed a three-month no-strike deal. In return the management claim they will not impose anything on the workforce without agreement. But this does not prevent them trying to sack activists or continuing with their plans to eliminate nearly one in six of the workers. The no-strike agreement is a disgraceful abdication of leadership in fighting for jobs and against privatisation.

    The CWU, now led by left winger Billy Hayes, is threatening to achieve what years of management assaults have failed to do-blunt the rank and file resistance of postal workers. The tube unions also buckled under criticism about going on strike during the war by calling off last week's drivers' stoppage.

    Many trade unionists believe that both the CWU and the rail unions have faced intense pressure from the top of the TUC and Labour Party not to strike. At British Airways some union leaders were prepared to accept the wage cuts. Only the angry response of the rank and file has forced them to reject the proposals.

    It is not just job losses that are going through without resistance. The government has not halted a single one of its 64 PFI hospital projects-all of them part of the process of cutting staff, reducing the number of beds and shifting cash from clinical budgets into the pockets of multinationals, and their greedy shareholders.

    The fall of Railtrack should have seen another surge in a continuing campaign to keep public services out of private hands. Instead there is no campaign against PFI and privatisation. It all seemed very different three months ago.

    With 'a £10 million war chest' for fighting privatisation in the public services, Dave Prentis of the UNISON union, told the Guardian, 'We will defend our members, and if that means industrial action then so be it.' TUC leader John Monks predicted, 'The shortest honeymoon on record is going to be replaced by a very difficult period of relationship between the union movement and the government.'

    But following the tragedy on 11 September union leaders decided it wasn't time to fight, and the TUC conference stopped completely. At the Labour conference there was a deal, where almost all the union leaders were satisfied with concessions that 'weren't worth the paper they weren't written on', as John Edmonds of the GMB union said.

    Three days after the Labour conference Blair appointed four top business people 'to examine areas such as the structure of the NHS. This could lead to recommendations for much greater private involvement in the delivery of health services.'

    They included Adair Turner, former head of the bosses' CBI and now vice-chairman of financiers Merrill Lynch, and Penny Hughes, former president of Coca-Cola Great Britain. Of course, as Prentis insists, UNISON leaders are still against PFI and privatisation. They have just stopped doing anything about it.

    UNISON's privatisation war chest has been firmly closed for as long as Blair wants to wage war in Afghanistan. Its adverts against privatisation have been cancelled. The TUC organises no march against job cuts. The public sector unions let PFI roll on. Mass job losses threaten union strength.

    They will also tend to push the political anger at New Labour towards cynicism and scapegoating rather than socialist resistance. This is an urgent challenge to every union activist and every anti-capitalist. While throwing ourselves into anti-war activities, we also have to push for resistance to the attacks at home. Our jobs, our services and our futures should not be offered up as yet more 'collateral damage' of the war to add to the blood and slaughter in Afghanistan.

    Firms take money from staff

    IT IS not just jobs that are going. Companies are also demanding that workers start to hand over their wages to fatten shareholders' dividends.

    British Airways wants to pocket £37 million by forcing its 36,000 flight crew, cabin crew, engineers, administrative staff and ground staff to accept pay curbs. These add up to a 4 percent pay cut-on top of the news that the equivalent of 7,000 full time jobs will go at the company. Granada, ITV company, has frozen the pay of 5,000 staff.

    Carlton Communications is also freezing pay for its 3,300 workers. SMG-which owns the Scottish ITV licences, the Herald newspapers, Virgin Radio and outdoor advertising sites-has offered voluntary redundancy to its entire workforce of 1,700.

    These job destroyers are hugely profitable firms. Granada reported a profit of £114 million for the six months to March 2001. Carlton grabbed £66 million in the same period. But they can see a slump in advertising revenue, and they are going to make workers pay the price.

    Jeremy Dear, national organiser for the National Union of Journalists, said last week, 'You would not believe the number of companies which are using the excuse of 11 September to call for pay cuts or wage freezes. They are trying to make us pay for a crisis that was already there before the attacks on the World Trade Centre.'

    Since 11 September the Cambridge Evening News, Sunday Business, the Independent and the Independent on Sunday have all signalled pay freezes. Jobs are to go at many local newspapers, including the Birmingham Post and Mail, and at Lloyd's List.

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    Article information

    Sat 20 Oct 2001, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1771
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