Tuesday, 27 January 2009

'The Return of Yosser Hughes'

Remember Boys From the Blackstuff? The television series by Liverpool playwright Alan Bleasdale, set in 1982, at a time of economic recession and anxiety about unemployment, it chronicled the disparate and sometimes dissolute attempts of five former members of a tarmac gang to find work in a city (Liverpool) hit hard by mounting unemployment and depression during the Thatcher years.

Yosser Hughes was the fictional character who comes to mind from Alan Bleasdale's television creation. The character played by Bernard Hill. Yosser a man in his mid thirties with his trade-mark distinctive bushy moustache, he’s always appears unkempt and unshaven. He has a wife Maureen, an aggressive, unloving women frequently berates him and had an affair with another man, the likely father of their three children .

When the boys were swindled out of their savings in Middlesbrough, Yosser reacted particularly badly, showing the first signs of the nervous breakdown that would characterise his behaviour.

Yossers catchphrase was; 'Gissa Job' along with the informed head butt, if you were unfortunate enough to cross his path, this made Yosser an unforgettable persona, but has he returned?

As the economic crisis and world recession deepens, thousands of job losses are being announced in Britain on an almost daily basis. While most of these losses have been in the retail sector, they are now spreading to manufacturing, particularly in the auto industry. Today its being reported that Steel manufacturer Corus is preparing to axe more than 2,500 UK jobs this week.
The cuts, which amount to 10 per cent of the company's UK workforce, are a fresh blow to the manufacturing sector, which has already been hammered by the recession.
NINETY-three jobs are to go at Scunthorpe's Corus steelworks.
In a statement released this morning, Corus has announced proposals to restructure its engineering services and review its support functions in Scunthorpe.
Corus' statement said: "A number of proposed changes have been announced today by Corus across the group to help it reduce costs and survive the unprecedented economic storm.
"At the same time, Corus will continue to improve the efficiency of its plants and align its production levels to anticipated demand.
"The proposals also include plans to keep the Bloom and Billet Mill open in Scunthorpe so it can supply steel to the Thrybergh Bar Mill in Rotherham.
"In Scunthorpe, the restructure of the company's engineering business would lead to the loss of 93 jobs. Sean Lyons, Corus Scunthorpe site director, said: "I know this will be distressing news for those adversely affected by today's restructuring announcement, and we will do everything we can to minimise the impact and to help them find another job.

In this evenings; Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph a steelworker made the following comment: “People seem to forget that this means 93 families badly affected by what is going on here. Most will have children and mortgages and this will have a terrible effect. There is nothing out there on the jobs market except minimum wage jobs through agencies, mainly in call centres. Our thoughts should go out to them all.”

Earlier this month, Nissan announced that it was shedding 1,200 jobs at its plant in Sunderland, northeast England. The firm had already halted production of two of its models at the plant and sent workers home early before Christmas as a result of a massive drop in demand for new cars.

Further losses in the industry were announced on January 14 when Jaguar Land Rover said it was shedding 450 staff. The company employs 15,000 workers in the UK and was bought by Tata from Ford last year in a £1.7 billion deal. The company intends to cut 300 managers and 150 salaried agency staff from its payroll.

Honda has also said that it will stop production at its Swindon plant for two months, between April and May. It had already stated that the plant would be closed during February and March, making it the longest continuous suspension of production at a UK plant. Workers are to get full pay until the end of March, after which salaries are expected to be reduced to 65 percent of present levels.

These measures have immediately hit the main suppliers to the manufacturing plants, where most workers in the motor industry are employed.

Despite the relatively small number of mainly overseas companies that now constitute high-volume car production; they still constitute a sizable proportion of what remains of British manufacturing. According to the autoindustry.co.uk web site, in 2005 there were 210,000 workers directly employed in auto manufacturing in the UK car industry. As a percentage of total manufacturing, this represented 6.5 percent.

The Unite trade union has stated that up to 70,000 jobs are at risk in auto manufacturing and associated supply firms. More than 800,000 workers are employed in the motor trade as a whole.

An article in the Daily Mirror newspaper stated, “Sales of new motors are down 27 percent and falling and the wave of job losses threatens to grow into an unemployment tsunami.”

The first of these job losses in the auto supply industry were announced on the same day as those at Nissan. The diesel engine maker Cummins reported that it had entered into consultation with trade unions regarding a further 130 redundancies at its factory in the town of Darlington, also in the northeast. Cummins is one of the largest employers in Darlington and the latest job losses mean that the workforce has been cut by a third in six months.

The crisis in the auto industry is symptomatic of the general precipitous decline in UK manufacturing that is now under way. This month the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that UK manufacturing output fell in November at its fastest pace since 1981. The ONS figures showed that output fell 7.4 percent from a year earlier—the biggest drop since June 1981. On a monthly basis, the fall was 2.9 percent, the ONS said—the largest since the summer of 2002 and four times that forecast by a group of economists polled by Reuters.

The Sunderland plant was the most productive car operation in Europe. It is Britain’s single biggest carmaker and exporter, producing one in five UK-made cars. In June 2008 Sunderland turned out its 5 millionth car.

Just a year ago some 800 jobs were created at the Sunderland plant in response to growing demand for its new Qashqai model. Until December, sales figures remained steady compared with 2007. In 2008, Nissan sold 66,336 new cars in the UK—only 0.14 percent fewer than in 2007.

Sales for December 2008 then fell drastically by 26.68 percent compared with the same month in 2007. This collapse mirrored the average decline in sales of 21.2 percent across the auto industry.

In an attempt to offset the fall in demand for its vehicles, Nissan imposed a number of measures at its Sunderland plant. It implemented a period of short-time working as well as a number of fully paid non-operation days. The plant closed five days earlier than normal for the Christmas shutdown. Prior to the holiday it also froze production of its Note and Micra models for two weeks, as well as production of its Qashqai model for three consecutive Fridays. Sales of the Qashqai model had been the main factor in the plant achieving its record production year in 2008. Last year the plant produced 32,000 more cars than in 2007.

The decline of Nissan in the UK has its own particular significance. The Nissan plant opened in 1986 to much fanfare following the decimation of the traditional coal and steel industries in the northeast at the hands of the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Based on management/employee cooperation, it was described as nothing short of an “economic miracle.”

A January 10 article in the Independent newspaper, entitled “The wheels come off Maggie’s revolution,” commented, “For the Northeast, one of Britain’s worst-hit areas of unemployment, to be chosen as the site of the giant Japanese company’s British car plant was hailed as a modern miracle. It stood for high technology, the latest working practices and a new model of cooperative trade unionism, everything lauded as necessary to the new Britain by the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher who opened the plant in 1986.”

This “new model of cooperative trade unionism” was premised on the basis that the interests of the workforce and the company were identical and that the class struggle was over. On this basis the trade unions—at Nissan and everywhere else—policed the workforce and carried out to the letter the dictates of management. The trade union bureaucracy worked as an arm of management and was critical in implementing speed-up, productivity increases, wage cuts, job losses and every other attack demanded by transnational corporations such as Nissan.

This pro-business agenda is most clearly seen in the response of the trade unions today to the job losses at Nissan. The trade unions immediately agreed to sit down with Nissan in a “consultation period” to implement its programme of “voluntary redundancies.” Ruling out any struggle against the job losses, the unions have instead raised the flag of economic nationalism and called for the government to introduce protectionist measures to defend the car industry and the British economy.

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