TEN THOUSAND manufacturing jobs a month will go this year, says TUC union leader John Monks. If, as most economic commentators predict, the US boom ends, then thousands more will be destroyed. But there are important signs of resistance. Workers are angry at being playthings of the system's rollercoaster boom and bust. Even union leaders who instinctively back Tony Blair are appalled at the results of New Labour's jobs policy. But only pressure from workers will make them turn their words into deeds.
The main steel union, the ISTC, is threatening to hold its first national strike for 20 years. The decision is in response to steel firm Corus's plans for compulsory redundancies and the threat of plant closures. Corus (which took over British Steel) says it will axe 1,200 jobs at plants in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, and at Teesside, Cleveland. The ISTC began a strike ballot at Scunthorpe this week. A national ballot could start if Corus does not retreat at a meeting between unions and management on Monday.
The union fears that in the longer term up to two thirds of the company's 33,000 workers could be ditched under plans that will be announced in February. The plants at Llanwern near Newport and at Teesside are under direct threat of closure.
The ISTC has bent over backwards to avoid strikes and to cooperate with the company. But now its leaders have been forced to talk of fighting. Vauxhall workers in Luton are set to join General Motors (GM) workers across Britain and Europe in a day of industrial action on 25 January against their bosses' job cut plans.
The action was originally agreed at a meeting of union officials on the General Motors European Works Council in Germany. Roger Lyons, general secretary of the MSF union, said, 'January 2001 will be the month remembered when European workers refused to be treated like animals by multinational companies.'
GM shocked workers before Christmas when it announced that the Luton plant will close with the loss of 2,000 jobs, plus many more in supply industries. Thousands of other jobs will go in Europe. A TUC statement said, 'The general council congratulates unions for not accepting closure as a fait accompli and urges the Luton workers to take heart from workers' experience at Rover Longbridge.'
The height of that experience was the demonstration by up to 100,000 people in April. The TUC and the car unions must campaign hard for a similar march for the Luton workers, for strike action on 25 January and continuing strikes afterwards. They must also step up the pressure on the government. In an article in Luton's Herald & Post Tony Blair appeared to be on the workers' side but offered only the most insulting solutions.
He said, 'I fully understand the strength of anger felt by those who work at the car plant. I send my sympathy, but sympathy is not going to save a single job or find a single person rewarding new employment.'
He went on to offer 'fast tracking of benefit claims' for redundant workers and 'support for those who want to set up their own business'. The government must be pushed to save jobs-it should be nationalising GM plants. The union leaders threw away a chance to fight for jobs at Ford Dagenham at the end of last year.
They must not do the same again now. The crucial decision about where Nissan will build its new Micra is expected very soon. The choice is vital for hundreds of workers at Nissan's Sunderland plant.
If the model does not go there it will be a huge blow for Corus workers as well. Nissan in Sunderland is a major customer. Now is the time to fight for every job.