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There’s nothing inevitable in this autumn of layoffs

This article is over 6 years, 2 months old
Unions are treating mass job losses like a done deal. Instead they should learn from last time, argues Simon Basketter
Issue 2479

There is a contradiction at the heart of the British economy.

Thousands of steel jobs were slashed in the last month with thousands more under threat.

But this is a time when the economy is growing—however slowly.

back story

The unemployment rate fell to 5.4 percent in August. And 58,000 more people found private sector jobs in the three months to August.

Inflation is low, but so are wages.

The average wage rise is 2.8 percent—not enough to make up for austerity and recession.

Perhaps symbolic is JCB. Before becoming a peer of the realm JCB boss Anthony Bamford and his family pumped £6.3 million into Tory coffers.


As a peer the friend of David Cameron was able to vote through cuts to tax credits. But it is not just benefits Bamford is cutting.

JCB has warned 290 jobs are at risk, on top of up to 400 possible redundancies announced in September.

The company matters because, since it makes diggers, it is a weathervane for the direction of sections of industry.

Despite the property bubble construction is slowing down. There is a lot of construction going on, but people aren’t buying many diggers.

Much is made of construction jobs in big projects. But down the road from the steelworks in Redcar, 700 construction jobs vanished after a waste energy plant was put on hold last week.

Meanwhile a £100 million scheme to bring offshore wind turbine manufacturing to Fife is dead in the water.

That’s a promised 500 jobs gone.

JCB matters also because at the start of the recession in 2008, unions signed up to a pay cut on the promise of stopping job cuts.

But 1,684 jobs were cut anyway in 2008 and 2009.

As the BBC put it on the company’s 70th anniversary last month, “By 2012, things were looking brighter for JCB as it posted a record profit of £365 million, opened a £63 million factory in Brazil, and announced a doubling of trade in Africa.

“UK employees were given a £500 Christmas bonus and a three percent pay increase.”

But it didn’t last.

Gordon Richardson, GMB union convenor for JCB, said of the current cuts, “This news is obviously very disappointing but it has been apparent now for some time that global markets have been declining.


“Our job as a trade union is to now work hard to formulate a plan to mitigate the impact of the proposed redundancies.”

Unfortunately this ineffectual approach seems to be infectious.

At Molson Coors brewery Unite regional officer Rick Coyle responded to job cuts with, “The loss of well-paid, skilled jobs will be a great loss to the town.

“Unite is committed to working with the company to limit the possibility of compulsory redundancies.

“While the losses will be painful, it is accepted that the proposals are a logical part of the significant investment into Burton, which looks set to secure the long-term future of the brewery.”

That makes the lacklustre response of the unions to the loss of steel jobs look militant.

The lesson of JCB last time was that compromise and partnership don’t stop job losses.

But not everyone wants to learn the simple truth that if you fight you might not win—but if you don’t you will definitely lose.



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