Socialist Worker

Quarter of a million jobs gone under Labour

Issue No. 1694

Quarter of a million jobs gone under Labour

MANUFACTURING industry in Britain is bleeding to death. That's what the leader of one of Britain's biggest unions says. John Edmonds of the general workers' GMB union said this week, "Ministers must wake up. UK industry is not facing an inflation crisis or a sterling crisis. It is facing a manufacturing crisis on a scale not seen since the dark days of Thatcherism." Edmonds spoke out with thousands of car workers at Ford and Rover facing the sack. Asset-strippers Alchemy looked set to take Rover over at the end of this week, and multinational giant Ford is set to announce the effective closure of its Dagenham plant in Essex.

Jobs hang in the balance at shipyards in Scotland, Newcastle and Belfast, and at steel plants in South Wales. Thousands of workers' jobs have already been axed in the textile industry. A survey by Edmonds's GMB union says nearly 250,000 industrial jobs have gone since Labour came to office. Nearly 30,000 jobs have been lost this year.

The toll includes:

  • Northern England: 43,185 jobs decimated
  • Birmingham and the West Midlands: 31,322 jobs axed
  • Scotland: 25,292 jobs gone
  • London: 17,478 jobs gone
  • Southern England and the south west: 38,259 dumped.

Edmonds warns New Labour that the jobs slaughter will cost the government votes. He is right. But Edmonds and other union leaders should stop sitting back and start organising resistance.


Dagenham fight must start now

"HOW CAN we carry on when it's clear they just want to batter us? Our livelihoods are under threat. We can't work with that kind of cloud over our heads, just counting the days down before we're on the scrapheap. I work with people who are in their late forties. They are finished. We need industrial action, and it must not be half hearted. This is no time for a one day walkout or pussyfooting around. This is the time for a serious fight."

  • FORD WORKER, Dagenham

THE devastation facing the Midlands now also faces east London and Essex as Ford, the second biggest car manufacturer in the world, prepares to close its giant plant there. Ford bosses have not got the nerve to tell the workforce straight out that they are to end car production at Dagenham. So they have effectively announced it through the pages of the Financial Times.

Bill Morris of the TGWU says, "We have a simple message-hands off Dagenham. We will defend our jobs." These words must become deeds. Strike action should stop every Ford plant in Britain. The press are already attacking the workforce and pouring scorn on a fight. The Sun, the paper of union-basher Rupert Murdoch, says, "Returning to the failed strike tactics of the 1970s is not the answer. It could force Ford out of Britain altogether, costing 23,000 jobs at 16 plants."

The Sun is talking rubbish. The workforce is powerful. Ford workers in Britain can bring the whole of Ford Europe grinding to a halt. Ford bosses are already scared of a fight. The Financial Times says Ford is "preparing some of the most generous redundancy terms yet offered in British manufacturing to avert a workforce backlash".

Ford pleads poverty. But the company made 61 million profit in Britain in 1998, and Ford's worldwide profits are at record levels. It made 2.2 billion in the first quarter of last year alone. A fight would also put the government on the spot. New Labour is already scared. That is the reason why Blair met with Ford boss Jac Nasser.


Union leaders hide behind bid

DESPERATE attempts were being made this week to shore up the alternative bid for Rover cars in order to thwart Alchemy's takeover. Alchemy was to meet with BMW on Thursday of this week to sign the deal. Rover workers were to rally in Birmingham on Wednesday before a trade union delegation travelled to Munich to lobby BMW to give the rival Phoenix bid more time. But this bid, headed by Midlands businessman John Hemmings and former Rover executive John Towers, is barely off the ground. Hemmings told the employers' paper the Financial Times, "It's a non-starter unless we can get the overdraft guaranteed." Union leaders are backing the Phoenix bid because it gives them a perfect excuse to do nothing. They say action will only put Phoenix off. But whoever is the final buyer, thousands of Rover workers are to return to work after the Easter holiday to be greeted by their redundancy notice. The best way to respond to the new buyer is to stop work, occupy to stop the Mini car production line equipment from being removed, and call for a solidarity rally at the factory gates.

'Sticking plaster' is not enough

LEAKS OF the first study into the impact of the sale of Rover say the West Midlands will face economic catastrophe. Rover supports a total of 50,000 jobs across the region-some 8 percent of local manufacturing.

The sale of Longbridge, Britain's biggest car factory, is likely to mean the immediate loss of 19,000 well paid jobs according to Advantage West Midlands, which is the region's economic development agency. The report says manufacturing jobs in the area are already falling and vacancies are down: "We believe that it will be extremely difficult for the regional economy to rapidly absorb any large scale rundown of Rover activity.

"The potential economic impact will create a major shock to the regional- and potentially national-economy. It needs more than a sticking plaster response."


Workers warned

PEUGEOT HAS joined the growing ranks of car manufacturers warning about job losses. The French company employs 4,000 workers in Britain, mainly at its plant in Coventry. Company bosses said last week that they may cut back on both investment and jobs because of the strength of the pound. Peugeot's warnings come after similar ones from Honda, Nissan and Toyota.

City hike

HUGE CITY bonuses for fat cats are a key factor behind bankers forcing up interest rates. Financiers in the City are awarding themselves huge multi-million payouts. This leads to figures showing that "average" earnings grew at a 6 percent a year rate recently.

But most workers are getting nothing like 6 percent. Guardian economics editor Larry Elliot says the pay figures reflect "the size of City bonuses and one-off payments". This inflated figure has led the Bank of England to hike up interest rates, leading to higher mortgages.

Brown fiddles dole level

UNEMPLOYMENT IN Britain is at a much higher level than official figures suggest. In some areas the real jobless rate is three times the government's figure. This shocking finding comes in a study by academics at Sheffield Hallam University. It shatters chancellor Gordon Brown's claim that unemployment is at its lowest level for 20 years, and that there are jobs for all those who want them. The study looked in detail at unemployment in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria. The town has lost 9,000 shipbuilding jobs in recent years. The report found the real jobless rate was 20 percent, not the 6.9 percent official statistics claimed.

The reason for the huge difference was that vast numbers of people had been pushed onto sickness benefits, and so removed from official unemployment figures. The report's authors reject talk of people fiddling benefits: "Their status as sickness claimants is a logical consequence of the shortage of job opportunities and the operation of the benefits system." The research backs up similar recent findings about the real jobless rate in other northern industrial cities such as Barnsley in south Yorkshire.


NEW LABOUR is using misleading figures to cover up its miserable treatment of pensioners. Government ministers claim that "average" pensioner income is now 132 a week for a single person. That's still not a lot, but it is also a lie. The real "average" income pensioners have to live on is less than 100 a week. Government officials use a mathematical calculation called the "mean", which allows a few rich pensioners to bump up the supposed average.

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Sat 29 Apr 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1694
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