This week Toyota announced that it would cease producing cars in Australia in 2017. This came on the back of Holden and Ford making similar decisions in 2013. The crisis facing the industry requires a serious response from manufacturing workers and their unions.
Far from just accepting the news, the only option is to reject the economic logic of the bosses and fight for an alternative way of maintaining manufacturing jobs.
The closure of Holden’s assembly plant in Adelaide and engine factory in Melbourne will result in the loss of 2900 jobs. All that will remain of Holden after 2017 will be a parts distribution network, a ‘design studio’ for General Motors and Holden car dealerships selling imported vehicles. A study by the South Australian state government says a further 16,000 jobs could be lost due to the closure of Holden’s component suppliers. It is widely predicted that this will also mean the end of Toyota, the last car maker in Australia.
Leaders of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) encouraged workers to vote in favour of a deal that robbed them of $15 million a year last August. Current AMWU policy is to accept whatever cuts the bosses put on the table in the vain hope it will slow the leak of jobs. Instead of putting up a fight they unquestioningly accept the economic arguments of the bosses and the rules of their profit driven system. Holden management made its decision to shut despite the huge sacrifices made by the workers. Far from a plan to save jobs, the August pay deal has now been exposed as just cynical money grubbing.
Holden Managing Director Mike Devereux said closure was the result of a ‘perfect storm’, posing as a captain tragically forced to abandon ship. Devereux pointed to “the relatively high production costs” otherwise called wages and conditions. Big car companies are engaged in a global struggle to out-profit each other by clawing back wage rises and rights previously won by unionised car workers. Due to the historic strength of unionism in Australia, the standards we enjoy are high by comparison to other countries.
The closure of Holden is not the result of some sort of uncontrollable natural phenomena like an earthquake. It is a conscious decision to try and increase profits at the expense of workers wages and conditions. Devereux’s crocodile tears as he engineered the August pay cut prove that profiteers should never to be trusted.
While the current leaders of the AMWU have no strategy to save manufacturing jobs, workers should not accept that the industry is dead yet. Rather than meekly accepting the cuts and closures being put forward by the car industry bosses workers should demand that the accounts of the whole car industry are opened for inspection by workers and their representatives. Investigations would include where the $2 billion of public subsidies that Holden collected in the last 12 years ended up.
If there is no viable market for cars in Australia, then the plants should be retooled and the highly skilled workers should be employed to manufacture things that society needs like more trains, trams and buses as well as renewable energy infrastructure. This is the way that manufacturing jobs can be saved but workers have to organise and fight for it.
In the long run initiatives like this will only be maintained on the basis of a generalised collective control of the economy by working people. Coupled with an integrated economic plan this type of system would produce things on the basis of human need rather than profit and be a much saner way of running society.
By Kirk Leonard