How can we fight to save manufacturing jobs?
By Kevin Henry
Unite the Union estimates that, in the last year, 2,500 high-value manufacturing jobs have been lost in Northern Ireland. The net impact of these losses is estimated to be multiplied three times when indirect and induced jobs lost are included. For some communities, this will have a devastating impact. Ballymena will lose about 1,200 jobs with the closure of Michelin and JP Gallagher’s.
Workers and communities who have now been thrown on the scrap heap can have no faith in the Assembly politicians to offer anything. These politicians are themselves directly responsible for destroying jobs in our economy. In the last month, we have seen the first wave of redundancies in the civil service agreed at Stormont House. Their plans to destroy 20,000 public sector jobs will further add to the problems of our economy and deprive young people of jobs in the future.
The level of manufacturing jobs being destroyed amounts to a real crisis and radical measures are needed to stem the tide. The Socialist Party believes that CEOs in their boardrooms should not be allowed to destroy the lives of working people on a whim. Instead of accepting flimsy excuses about costs from the bosses, we demand that the books of these companies are opened so the public – particularly the workers and their trade unions – can see where money is being spent and judge whether there really is a financial crisis or simply profiteering.
Firms implementing mass redundancies for profit or threatening closure should be taken into public ownership by the Assembly and placed under democratic workers’ management so that they are run in the interests of their workforces and of society as a whole. If necessary, that may mean retooling factories for alternative production and some additional training but will safeguard skilled jobs not just for the current workforce but for future generation.
Of course, the neo-liberal Stormont politicians will not take this course of action voluntarily. Community and trade union campaigns will have to be organised, involving demonstrations, occupations – such as that which won enhanced redundancy packaged for workers at Visteon in west Belfast – and international solidarity initiatives, such as strikes and blacking of goods. If the bosses refuse to back down, the politicians can be pushed to take dramatic action if enough pressure is exerted, fearing an electoral cost.
A key problem we face is the lack of confidence amongst workers, largely due to a lack of clear leadership from the trade union movement. The inaction of the trade union movement in the wake of the March 13th public sector strike against Stormont’s austerity has deepened cynicism about the movement’s ability to deliver. Workers now fear rocking the boat could threaten their redundancy packaged. This understandable sentiment cannot be overcome overnight but trade union activists can begin to rebuild confidence by developing a concrete and determined strategy to fight austerity.