The neo-liberal offensive includes Austerity but it is part of a capitalist offensive, anti-austerity is one means to block the offensive and turn things around to develop the counter-offensive, but it should not be looked at on its own.
What are the goals to aim at in carrying forward resistance to austerity and neo-liberalism? Only political renewal, empowerment of the people and a new direction for the economy and society are the goals. These are the alternatives to austerity, attacks on the rights of the people, and neo-liberal globalisation.
Defending social programmes is one thing, also public services, but what about the basic livelihoods of people?
The Capitalists and their cartel politicians have no answers, they grope around and talk about solutions of growth through cutting debt and deficit through Austerity cuts. Their offensive against the workers is through “productivity” and squeezing the last drops out of manufacturing decline. They do not want to invest; in fact the monopolies are in total control and refuse, so the Government is powerless in the face of Multinational and Transnational Corporations.
Even in the workers’ movement, you find those arguing at the top on the basis of low pay and the need for higher pay growth to put more spending money in workers’ pockets. Couched in this necessity they mask their ineptitude, they do not address the problem facing workers working in the social productive economy. This should be done, they bleat, to strengthen the economic recovery and restore lost living standards, they agree with the Chancellor and the “need for productivity”. They complain that the Conservative Government is failing and that they should take even more responsibility to ensure big business gains from “productivity” and everyone shares in the desire.
The capitalist offensive against the workers contains within it, “Productivity” and capitalist competition points to France or Germany being more productive than Britain. In no way do they explain growth through investment, only greater exploitation of existing productive forces.
From 1990 to 2003, employment in manufacturing decreased by 29% in the United Kingdom, 24% in Japan, 20% in Belgium and Sweden, and 14% in France. (Source: OECD). In the United Kingdom, over 30% of jobs in the early 1970s were in manufacturing. In 2003, this proportion dropped to 12%. Manufacturing has dropped to below 10% of GDP and is projected to drop even further, the first major wrecking programme was in the Thatcherite 1980’s with a drop from over 25% to 11% and continued decline under Blair.
The kinds of jobs existing are low paid jobs replacing higher paid manufacturing jobs. This is what Osborne means when he talks about more people “in work” and not on benefits. This is the rhetoric of the, “Party of Workers”. Zero hour contracts, temporary work, day to day working in low value-added work, are notoriously insecure and without benefits. Also, evidence from the working class in industrial areas dispute the arguments put forward by Conservatives. Factory after factory with jobs paying over £10 per hour have closed. Lost jobs have been in the basic industries of steel, car and heavy industry. They may have been replaced, somewhat, with an increase in high tech manufacturing, especially in research and development and in construction of energy projects. Even so, thousands of workers since the 1980’s, that is over 30 years, in higher-paying manufacturing jobs, lost their livelihoods and did not find new employment in similar paying jobs for various reasons. The decline has meant that, long since, the workers have been working at lower pay rates than some working 30 years ago. They now work at the minimum wage at less than £7 per hour.
No modern economy can survive without an internal manufacturing base producing means of production and articles of consumption. Lacking a manufacturing base puts an economy in an existential crisis.
The politicians at present have neither the inclination nor political will to change direction in the economy, they therefore only talk about squeezing more out of the existing productive forces through “productivity”.
Increased use of machinery leading to “productivity” eliminates jobs. That is the point of productivity, to reduce the living work-time while producing the same quantity of goods and services.
Certain businesses using more machinery such as robots generate greater productivity. Car production at the German owned firm BMW in Oxford uses Scandinavian Robots, Programmable logic controllers and German monopoly Siemens software and electronic equipment. The first Robots in British Leyland were not developed at home, even though some were invented here and used as prototypes back in the ‘80s. The ones at Jaguar cars used Italian built Robots initially, then some Japanese equipment, American Modicon and Honeywell were introduced and superseded by others, there is hardly any British innovation. This new and intensified technology will mean that they will not only eliminate jobs within their own companies but may wipe out competitors destroying even more jobs.
The government has no plan to cope with increased unemployment or under-employment and enforced idleness due to greater productivity.
Productivity is to do with workers, the means of production and machinery. It is to do with “transferable value” in the process of adding value, the essence of which is the wealth producers.
Vulgar economists are dupes of the “enchanted and perverted world” of capitalism. The fact that the social product produced by the working class under capitalism must first be transformed into exchange-value and money, before it can be put to use, begins a process of circulation that takes the social product and its monetary representation further and further away from its source. This is until the distance is so great vulgar economists cannot even imagine where the value originated.
“Productivity” means, as it always has, cuts in jobs, closures, squeezing the existing workforce, one person doing two or three jobs, it means increasing the working week, getting the maximum out of skills, paying less, cutting pensions, dismissal of older workers, intensifying the working day It also means cutting back on health and safety, the workplace environment and conditions, introducing technology to undermine jobs, getting the maximum out of all productive forces, including machinery.
Productivity means less not more. This is in terms of growing the nation’s economy. There is no room for investment in the kind of wealth creation necessary to finance social programmes. Manufacture is left off the agenda as a branch of the economy that is crucial for survival; therefore it has entered a new phase where we now have an existential crisis, a crisis of the kind we have never seen before in the history of British and Western Capitalism.
Car production remains one of the most important sectors of the manufacturing economy in Britain.
When you look at the ‘flagship’ car manufacturer, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) they continue to make record car sales. The figures show it with sales for 2013 of 425,000 cars sold worldwide. This was up almost a fifth for the company; JLR has plants in the West Midlands and Merseyside.The Land Rover brand alone sold 350,000 vehicles worldwide last year, accounting for over 80% of Jaguar Land Rover’s total sales.
In 2014 the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said total car sales in Britain were at their highest since 2007.
In 2012, JLR had a 21,000-strong workforce at Castle Bromwich in Birmingham, Rover in Solihull, Gaydon and Whitley (Coventry) in the West Midlands and Halewood on Merseyside. Total staff in the UK, 2015, is now said to be more than 26,000. Tata is pocketing most of the extra cash it has made for itself and taking huge amounts out of the British economy and sending most of its stash abroad. Tata, with its minimal “job creation” is in fact getting a massive return on its waged workers and so is taking more than giving. Jaguar Land Rover only hired nearly 2,000 extra people to meet demand between 2013 and 2014.
There were 12,881 skilled and semi-skilled shop-floor workers across JLR’s five plants balloted over their 2014 pay-claim. Unite estimated it had about 17,000 (including some staff) members at JLR involved in Jaguar and Land Rover production in 2012.
The company made a staggering £10 million profit a day. Divide that with its 12,881 skilled and semi-skilled shop-floor workers and it works out at £776 per shopfloor worker per day. A worker on £20,000 per annum would only earn £77 per day and a skilled worker on £16 per hour would only earn £112 in a day. So the rest of the £776 is going elsewhere, mainly into BMW’s back pocket.
The company turned over £13.5 billion in 2012, which even then represented, a growth of 36.9 per cent over the £9.9 billion last year in 2011. Through their ‘creative accounting’ they produced profit figures.
JLR made a pre-tax profit of £942m in the first quarter of 2014 alone. 2011 profits stood at £1.1bn 2012 at £1.5bn and 2013 profits stood at £2.5 billion, according to its own capital-centred accounting.
The workers point out the car-makers’ aim to gradually replace pay rises that attract company pension payments over the coming years with bonuses which will neither be consolidated nor pensionable.
Workers had also wanted new starters to receive 100% of the rate for the job after five years. A deal was struck that included new starter rates rising from 90 per cent to 95 per cent of the current pay rates.
The focus on “Assured Saturday Working”, demanded by Tata in the pay negotiations as far back as 2012, shows that the employers were already stepping up the offensive before Austerity was well under way. Assured Saturday Working is a guarantee for enforced overtime similar to what GKN on the Isle of Wight was doing with their extended, 48 hour working week. They intend to exploit the EU working time directive of 48 hours to its maximum. It is a way of extending working time and making more profit without hiring more labour and ensuring the maximum run-time of machinery. Assured Saturday working is basically a demand that each worker is committed to working for twelve Saturdays in any 12-month period. At the same time, there are other demands for increased “flexibility” and “efficiency”. For example, workers would be expected to “take part in videoing of processes, self timing and participating in “Learn Master-classes” to extend skills.
To justify the extension of the working week, and the expectation that workers submit to management-controlled procedures in the name of improved efficiency, the JLR Castle Bromwich management engaged in capital-centred logic.
The threat was that if the workers did not agree, they would be be jeopardising new investment, jeopardising the future of the plant after 2020, and threatening the plant’s competitiveness in the global market. This is the same logic that the Government is making with the Queen’s speech emphasis on “productivity”. The Conservative “Party of Workers” (sic) is not mentioning their inability to procure investment to solve the crisis, instead they want to cut public expenditure and make cuts as well as hit the workers in the private sector as part of that same offensive. It is the neo-liberal agenda operating and extended over the entire working class. It will not solve the problem of manufacturing as an important sector of the economy, in fact it helps create a capitalist “existential” crisis.
Jaguar in reality are doing the opposite of investment these days, they are intending to cut one of their two main Midlands’ plants, such as Castle Bromwich, and reducing the productive forces by consolidating in one major plant at Solihull between the two sites it will be a further major example of what “productivity” means for the workers.
Back in 2012, Jaguar management stated categorically the Castle Bromwich plant’s commitment to “flexible and efficient working practices” and intended to introduce “new flexibilities”. The threat and the sword of Damocles was then held over the plant and the workers’ jobs and the productivity measures, “needed to keep the plant open”. The proposed practices were grouped under the headings of: “Reducing the cost base”; “Volume flexibility”; “Creating a high performance and ‘safe’ environment”; “Future plans for the Castle Bromwich site”. It shows how bogus their rhetoric was.
Labour is not a cost; it produces value and surplus value even. The owners, i.e., Tata and other capitalists, whack it out amongst themselves and only provide a portion to the workers as wages. Workers being there produce value, workers not being there means there is no value. Workers who work a shorter working week still produce value; the claim on the added value depends on how much profit is made and how much the workers are able to claim as wages.
Workers have had to fight in defence of their rights and working conditions. The capital-centred logic should be condemned, the logic that if the workers do not agree to the management’s conditions, then they will be the ones who will be responsible for Jaguar’s failure to be “competitive” It is along the same lines that the Conservative Government has said that they are protecting jobs and the workers have to be productive to be competitive abroad, despite the nature of the actual jobs that predominantly exist at the lowest end of the pay scale.
It should be pointed out that all the concessions being demanded of the workers are no guarantee that a solution to JLR’s “competitiveness” will be found. There are other factors in the global market that are out of the workers’ hands and those of the owners of capital who own and control JLR.
The example of Jaguar/Landrover is not isolated, they are but an example of the way the monopolies are dictating the terms and forcing Governments to accept their logic.
Nissan’s Sunderland plant is technically highly advanced. They have been into the art of “productivity” for a long time. It uses sophisticated robotics and computer integrated manufacturing techniques to create a carefully monitored production process that reduces errors to an absolute minimum.
Total Quality Management (TQM) is a notorious and key feature of Nissan’s way of working. TQM is focused on creating high quality. The manufacturing process has been re-organised over a period of time, to exploit skills and production output as part of its continuous efficiency and continuous performance management. With a just-in-time approach, specific vehicles and their components are produced just-in-time to meet the demand for them. Sub-assemblies move into the final assembly plant just as final assemblers are ready to work on them, components arrive just in time to be installed, and so on. In this way, the amount of cash tied up in stocks and in work-in-progress is kept to a minimum. Team building and communication skills ar encouraged to obtain the maximum productivity. Nissan is obsessed with continuous quality improvement. Nissan states: ‘We will not be restricted by the existing way of doing things. We will continuously seek improvements in all our actions.’ In terms of its retained workers technical development – e.g. teaching skills relating to robotics and electrics are all important in its necessity to exploit its existing facility to gain the maximum from workers. Many car companies use these techniques.
Nissan and BMW like to hide their industrial relations and negotiations with the unions.
At the BMW Cowley Mini Plant there has been continuous staff pruning since just after the financial crash of 2008. In February 2009 ‘blue’ shift workers were axed as part of the company laid off 850 agency staff. This was due to changes in shift patterns to exercise productivity drives. In April 2012, thousands of Mini workers threatened to strike after it emerged that employees were facing shorter breaks and have to ‘ask for permission’ in order to use the toilets. This is the level the employers stooped to in their search for increases in “productivity” and attacked the workers’ dignity. A BMW spokesperson said that Oxford has the longest paid breaks within the BMW Group. The management demanded that the workforce accept an 11-minute reduction in paid leave during their morning and afternoon breaks.
At the time a union official for Unite, Roger Maddison, hit out saying:
‘More and more productivity demands are being made by BMW. Rather than try to claw back every penny it can, BMW should be treating its workforce with dignity.’
Austerity has different facets, it is part of a capitalist offensive, ant-austerity should be seen as a pivotal point or maybe a hinge to turn things around to develop the counter-offensive, but it should not be looked at on its own.
These are the alternatives to Austerity; defending social programmes are crucial, also public services, but what about the basic livelihoods of people? The fight against Austerity should incorporate the struggle against monopoly inspired “Productivity” in the Private and Public sectors.
An injury to one is an injury to all!