THE SHARPEST rise in unemployment for eight years. That's the reality behind official figures announced last week. Figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that between June and the end of August the number of people looking for work rose by 53,000.
The wave of sackings since has seen tens of thousands more jobs go. Last week saw still more job cuts. Over 3,800 workers at Rolls-Royce aero engine plants in Derby, Bristol, East Kilbride and Hillingdon are to be sacked (see box below). Over 450 workers in Burnley also learned last week that they face the dole after tyre firm Michelin announced it was closing the plant (see page 9).
Government spin and most press headlines last week tried to claim that Britain wasn't suffering from the global recession. The numbers of people claiming benefit, they said, had continued to fall. That reflects changes in benefit rules, not the real picture of numbers out of work. An analysis for the Observer found that 36,000 jobs in Britain had been cut since the attacks in the US on 11 September.
Many commentators warn that up to 100,000 jobs could be cut between now and Christmas. 'Assuming that Christmas Eve and weekends are off limits, there are still 45 redundancy days before the turkey's carved,' wrote Edmond Warner, chief executive of the Old Mutual Financial Services investment firm. 'And right now each of those days brings thousands of job losses around the world.' The jobs crisis is spreading to every sector of the economy.
Sign Pearson, the media company which owns the Financial Times paper and the Economist magazine, plans to axe one in six of its workers. This is because of a collapse in advertising revenues as firms worried about the recession cut back. Pearson is also abandoning plans for a new building in London.
That could be a sign of a coming slump in construction in the capital, one which would throw tens of thousands out of work.
And many commentators fear that the war against Afghanistan could make things worse. 'The situation is very jittery. The stock market could fall steeply again if the world situation deteriorates, particularly in the Middle East,' warned Professor Peter Spencer, an adviser to the Ernst and Young accountancy firm. 'Then you shudder to think what might happen to economies around the world.'
'We fear worse to come,' said TUC general secretary John Monks last week. But what are the trade union leaders doing to fight the job cuts? Nothing. Not one protest or strike has been called.
We need urgent action to stop the bosses bringing misery to even more workers and their families in the run-up to Christmas.