Socialist Worker

Trade unions must lead a national fight to save jobs

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2128

Over 1,200 people are being forced out of work every day in Britain as the recession deepens. The number of people out of work has climbed to 1.8 million – the highest figure since November 1997.

And because there is a lag in the announcement of government statistics, unemployment is actually rising much faster than the official figures suggest.

For instance on Tuesday of last week, Virgin Media, Yell and Glaxo Smith Kline announced more than 5,000 job cuts. Hundreds of job cuts at the Hoover plant in Merthyr Tydfil are set to be announced this week.

It is getting harder for redundant workers to find work. And any work they do find often comes with worse pay or conditions.

A study of 6,300 ex-Rover workers, published last week, found that two thirds were earning less than in their previous job.

But there is resistance. Workers at the Ford plant in Southampton, for example, are following up their unofficial walkout against job cuts last month with a mass lobby of the Tory-run Southampton council.

It is backed by the local trades council and the Unite union, which is calling for Ford workers from around the country to join the lobby and build support for the action.


Yet worryingly, there seems to be no overall union strategy to fight the attacks on jobs. So workers in BT last week were told they face 10,000 jobs cuts only three days after they were hit with a five-year increase in the retirement age and higher pension contributions.

This is despite the company making £590 million profits in three months. The £100 million being cut from the pensions is to be used to pay the dividend for shareholders.

The changes will reduce pension entitlement for 65,000 members of the final salary scheme, which was closed to new workers in 2001.

The scheme's normal retirement age will rise from 60 to 65, future pension entitlement will build up at a slower rate, the traditional link between final salaries and pension payments will be broken, and people will have to pay higher contributions.

The changes are being brought in despite the fact that the scheme was still in surplus to the tune of £600 million and has assets of £34 billion as of 30 September.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the share value of BT rose on the announcement of the pension changes and the job cuts.

The CWU union is supposed to represent the BT workers. But its response was appalling.

CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said, 'We could take immediate strike action to oppose the changes. But when the strike was over, the problems would still remain. It is better to take hard decisions now.'

When the jobs cuts were announced the best on offer from the union was opposition to compulsory redundancy.

We have already seen a dangerous warning sign of what happens when unions fail to fight against job cuts.

Construction equipment-maker JCB has announced a further 398 redundancies on top of the loss of 178 posts it revealed last month.

The GMB union had signed up to a cut in workers' hours and pay to 'save' jobs. Yet this simply encouraged the company to come back for more cuts.

Too many in the union movement have responded to the recession by hoping that Gordon Brown will act in workers' interests – against all previous form. They say we can't fight in a recession.

This is no time to unite with the bosses. If we give an inch, they will take a mile. We need to fight to defend our jobs, pay and conditions – and if the bosses say they can't afford to keep jobs, pay decent wages or pensions, we should take the companies into public control.

Ford workers will lobby Southampton council on Wednesday 26 November at 10am. For more on the BT workers' response to the proposed job cuts see » 'We have to fight for our jobs and pensions'

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Tue 18 Nov 2008, 19:32 GMT
Issue No. 2128
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