The TGWU and Amicus have responded to Peugeot’s announcement of the closure of its Ryton factory in Coventry by demanding “stronger” laws making it difficult to cut jobs, laws like those that exist in France.
There was no talk of direct workers’ action — action like the French workers’ strike which have put limits to the destruction of job security in France.
But, so far as can be seen, this wasn’t just a matter of union leaders being feeble: there was no confidence for a fight among Ryton workers, either.
For the last twenty years at least, the union leaders have had nothing much to say about jobs beyond the call for manufacturing to be “protected” — which means a vaguely economic nationalist/protectionist call to defend British industry against its foreign competitors. Since the late 1990s, the destruction of jobs in manufacturing industry has been balanced by a fairly rapid growth of the service sector, both private and public. With enormous cuts in the civil service and the NHS crisis, however, the latter is obviously coming to an end; a sharp downturn in the economy will tip the unions’ (non) strategy from foolishness to disaster.
Maybe, today, many of the Ryton workers will find other jobs — though at worse pay and with worse conditions. Tomorrow, maybe not. The day after, we may face big job cuts in all sectors — the normal thing in capitalist slumps — with the labour movement helpless.
The workers’ movement need to put forward the demand for a decent, well-paid job for everyone who wants one. This implies the sort of policies put forward by the French revolutionary left during the CPE struggle: a ban on redundancies, taxation of the rich and the redirection of funds from corporate welfare to a programme of public works. The idea of nationalisation under workers’ control of failing companies and workers’ reconversion plans to direct factories to new, socially-useful, production, also needs to be re-raised.