Class solidarity is the only answer to massive redundancies

See also :

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

The announcement by Ford in September that it intends to close the Jaguar factory in Coventry by September 2005, with the loss of some 1,150 jobs, has once again posed the question of how workers can respond to such attacks and defend their working and living conditions. The logic of capital continues to impose itself. The chairman of Jaguar was quite blunt: "The fact is despite significant sales growth and excellent levels of quality in recent years, we have not been able to keep pace with significantly larger competitors. We have too much capacity and this is our underlying structural problem." ('Plan Announced to Put Jaguar Back on Track', www.jaguar.co.uk, 17/9/04). The Ford motor company is not unique in facing such a chronic problem. In September GM Europe announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs because of overcapacity, which led to a 6-day walkout at its Bochum plant in Germany (see below). Indeed, the Austrian automotive analysts Autopolis estimate that "The world as a whole has about 30% more [car] factories than it needs. That's about 170 factories around the world, and most of these, quite frankly, are surplus to requirements" (BBC Online, 14/10/04).

These problems are not just restricted to the car industry in Europe. Swathes of jobs are being cut across Europe and the US: 2,000 at Deutsche Bank; train maker Bombardier axes 2,200 jobs in Canada, Germany and the UK; mobile phone operator Cingular announces 7,000 job cuts in the US; school watchdog OFSTED cuts 500 jobs - part of the Labour government's plans to axe more than 104,000 civil service jobs across the UK; 15,000 Kodak jobs cut worldwide, with 1,150 in the UK going in the past two months; Marsh & McLennan, the troubled US insurance broker cuts 3,000 jobs. Finally, the attacks are not just limited to employment, but also the 'social wage': unemployment benefits, pensions, health care etc. As the ICC has stressed, "All workers, whether at work or on the dole, whether still active or retired, whether they are in the private sector or the public sector, will from now on be confronted with these attacks on a permanent basis." ('A turning point in the class struggle', International Review 119).

Unions reinforce the logic of capitalism

In response to their growing anger and combativity workers are now regularly faced with the increasingly militant language of the trade unions - who are openly encouraging a vote in favour of strike action in the case of the Jaguar workers in Coventry. The unions - Amicus and the TGWU - were quick to respond to Ford's plans. According to the T&G, "Following Ford's betrayal of Jaguar's West Midlands plants with this announcement to effectively sack 1,150 workers, the joint unions have today called for an organised and co-ordinated fight back, beginning with a ballot for industrial action!" (www.tgwu.org.uk). Likewise, the leadership of the Amicus union claimed that "[the] decision could lead to further closures in the future and that they intend to draw a line in the sand. In a strong message to the company Tony Woodley, General Secretary of the T&G, and Amicus General Secretary Derek Simpson said they would provide leadership to workers to fight for their plants and jobs" ('Jaguar unions to fight factory closures', www.amicustheunion.org).

The unions then announced a demonstration in Coventry and a strike ballot, which has begun this week. However, the demo was six weeks after the initial announcement of job losses! Clearly enough time to allow the workers' anger to dissipate. In fact, of the 1,500 workers at the plant, 425 are being offered jobs in Birmingham, with a pay rise; 400 are being offered voluntary redundancy, and according to the company the severance package will be Jaguar's most generous ever; 310 jobs will be retained at the Coventry plant making wood veneer finishes for Jaguar and Aston Martin; the remainder are largely white collar agency workers whose contracts will expire 'naturally'. The company has done a good hatchet job, and although the unions have claimed that they knew nothing of the decision to close the plant, it had been mooted a year earlier in the Sunday Times according to a report on the BBC News website ('Jaguar dismisses closure talk', 20/10/03). Derek Simpson of Amicus said in this article that the unions meet with 'very senior management' every fortnight. Can we really be sure the management never mentioned the possibility of job losses?

The demonstration in Coventry on 27th November was much smaller than had been forecast - or more likely 'hyped up' by the unions and media - with at most 500 people present. The media have continued to play up the numbers present: one report on the BBC website begins by saying "Hundreds of people have marched through Coventry" and then three paragraphs later states that "It is estimated 1,500 people attended". The video of the protest on the same page then has an introduction saying that "Thousands of people have attended a rally in Coventry" ('March to support Jaguar workers', BBC Online, 27/11/04). The last sentence is lifted virtually word for word from the T&G's website... Then the SWP wade in with a claim that "The TGWU union said up to 5,000 joined the protest." (Socialist Worker, 4/12/04)! Clear evidence that the media are complicit in helping the unions get over their 'militant' message. Furthermore, the early start time of 9.30am probably also worked against encouraging workers from other towns and plants to join in.

How can workers impose their own logic?

Contrary to what the bosses and the unions say, there is an alternative to the logic of capitalism. As the ICC's section in Germany pointed out in their leaflet on the disputes at Karstadt and Opel, "If you approach things, not as the problem of Opel or of Karstadt, or of Germany, but as a problem of society as a whole, completely different perspectives emerge. If you consider the world, not from the point of view of a single plant or company, but from the point of view of society, from the point of view of human well being, the victims no longer appear as belonging to Opel or Karstadt, but as part of a social class of wage labourers, who are the main victims of the capitalist crisis. Seen from this perspective, it then becomes clear that [all workers] share a common fate and interest - not with their exploiters, but with each other" (Karstadt, Opel, Volkswagen: the need for workers' solidarity, web supplement to International Review 119).

In the face of these mass attacks the proletariat has historically unleashed its own weapon: the mass strike of all workers. And while such actions are not yet possible, "Such a defensive action of the whole working class would give the class the self confidence it needs to counter the arrogance of the ruling class. Moreover, such massive mobilisations would be able to change the social climate, promoting the recognition that human needs have to become the guideline of society. This putting in question of capitalism would in turn increase the determination of the employees and the unemployed to defend their interests in the here and now." (ibid.) The walkouts at Bochum, where several thousand workers downed tools for six days, and to a similar extent the recent walkout by workers at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant in Liverpool over the sacking of 47 workers, demonstrate that at one level workers are increasingly willing to show solidarity with those under attack because they know that it could be their jobs to go next.

In the long term the proletariat will come to understand that their sacrifices for the company are in vain: that there is no way out of capitalism's vicious circle. This system is historically bankrupt, not just economically, but at the level of holding any perspective whatsoever for the future of humanity. It is at this point, when the proletariat raises its struggle from the defence of its immediate economic interests to the posing of its political dictatorship over society that it truly begins to reveal its true nature as the only revolutionary class.

Spencer, 3/12/04.

See also :