Socialist Worker

‘Voluntary’ cuts—why we defend every job

Issue No. 2229

The Tories and the bosses are on the offensive. They want to slash jobs, pensions and services.

Sometimes they will use force—pushing people out of their jobs using compulsory redundancies.

But sometimes they will look for “voluntary” redundancies—asking people to agree to leave their job in exchange for a payout.

Some, particularly trade union leaders, have come to see voluntary redundancies as a “softer” option. In many unions it is now common sense to fight only compulsory redundancies, not voluntary ones.

Some even say that voluntary redundancies can help people who want to retire early or switch industries by giving them the money they need to do so.

Socialist Worker isn’t against people changing jobs or retiring. But we are against all job cuts—voluntary or otherwise.

Bosses make cuts to force remaining workers to work even harder and to shore up profits. They are an attack by one class on another. We should challenge bosses’ attempts to dictate how many jobs there are.

Redundancies aren’t just about the individual worker: they get rid of the jobs themselves.

During the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, strikers said that their job wasn’t theirs to sell. What they meant was if they accepted redundancy, the job would not be there for future generations. That is just as true today.

Campaign

We must reject the idea that cuts are necessary, or inevitable. Why should anyone be out of work when so many things need doing—when we need more nurses, more teachers, more house builders, more people working on green energy projects?

The idea that workers can “volunteer” to be sacked gives the impression that, through compromise between bosses and workers, cuts can work for everyone. They can’t.

We should also question how voluntary these choices are. Workers who are stuck in jobs they hate or who have health problems may be tempted by voluntary redundancies.

That’s hardly a free choice—after all, the option of a fulfilling job that they are capable of doing doesn’t exist.

If unions don’t give a strong lead from the start and campaign for every job, there will always be some who will take voluntary redundancy.

We should fight for every job and socialists must never take voluntary redundancy.

What if bosses threaten compulsory redundancies and workers’ resistance forces them to retreat to voluntary redundancies?

Of course, it’s good if workers force bosses back. It shows workers’ power and can give people more confidence.

If bosses announce 300 compulsory redundancies, and struggle forces them back to ten voluntary redundancies, that’s clearly a success.

At Leeds University, the threat of strikes and a campaign involving workers and students forced management to withdraw compulsory redundancies earlier this year. But that was one battle in a longer war.

Hundreds of jobs have gone at the university over the past year through voluntary redundancies and “natural wastage” (not replacing workers who leave or retire).

That leaves remaining workers with bigger workloads. It means jobs aren’t there for future workers—and that students’ education is cut.

It’s much easier to stop cuts than it is to reverse them. And voluntary redundancies are still cuts.

We face an enormous threat in the councils. Council bosses want to slash tens of thousands of jobs—and may try to do it by negotiating voluntary redundancy deals with the unions.

If thousands of council jobs disappear through voluntary redundancies, it will not be a victory. It will devastate services and remove jobs from future generations. It will demoralise workers—and hit any sense that unions can fight.

This doesn’t mean we dismiss fights that fail to save jobs as irrelevant. Some are highly significant. Factory occupations at car parts firm Visteon last year, for example, won redundancy payouts using methods not seen in Britain for decades.

The workers didn’t get their jobs back, but the battle marked a serious shift in struggle and showed that militant action can get results.

That’s very different to a dispute where people lose jobs without a fight. If bosses think they can avoid confrontation by making cuts through voluntary redundancies, they will do so more and more.

Socialists won’t always win the argument to fight for every job. But if we don’t make the argument at all, the bosses will walk all over us.


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Tue 23 Nov 2010, 18:26 GMT
Issue No. 2229
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