Employers have slashed thousands of jobs in recent months. Worst affected have been workers in the manufacturing and banking sectors. While the media portrays unemployment as simply a figure, the truth is that losing your job usually means untold hardship and worry.
This is especially true in Australia where most people have credit card debts and are suffering from either rent or mortgage stress. It is a further slap in the face when at the same time as job losses are being announced companies, especially the big banks, are making record profits.
Companies including Holden, Toyota, Billabong, Pacific Brands and Qantas, amongst others have all made drastic cuts to their workforces in recent months. Further jobs are under threat including at Alcoa and Caltex.
The high Australian dollar is one of the reasons given by employers as to why they are slashing jobs. They claim it makes it harder for them to sell their goods on the international market. While this is true it is not the fault of workers rather it is, in part, a result of the mining boom and high commodity prices.
The truth of the matter is that the mining boom has been one sided in the sense that it has meant super profits for a tiny elite but has bypassed the vast bulk of the population.
The job losses in manufacturing are part of a long term trend towards off-shoring. Employers are shifting overseas, seeking bigger profits from lower wages. Workers are being pitted against each other in a global race to the bottom.
Side by side with the loss of well paid manufacturing jobs, more and more workers are being forced to accept low paid casual and labour hire jobs without paid leave or secure hours.
So irrational is the capitalist system that ever increasing dividends for a minority of rich shareholders is prioritised over the livelihoods of the majority of workers.
The idea that big companies should force ordinary people to pay for economic problems should be opposed. There is an urgent need for the trade union movement to adopt a strategy to protect jobs, wages and conditions.
At the moment most union leaders have resisted putting up a fight against job losses preferring to call on the government to prop up failing companies. What they are really doing is parroting the bosses’ arguments for tax-funded corporate subsidies and protectionism. None of these measures are in the interests of workers.
Subsidies have consistently failed. In 2008 the car industry bosses received $6.2 billion in corporate welfare. At the time we commented that that this would be a stop-gap measure and that it wouldn’t be too long before they came back again, cap-in-hand, threatening to slash jobs.
The basic problem with this idea is that once the money is handed over to private companies there is no way to make sure it is used to protect jobs, wages and conditions. It is impossible to control what you don’t own.
Similarly protectionist measures like tariffs only lead to higher prices and inevitably off load the problems on to workers in other countries. Not only do they not address any of the fundamental issues but they create new economic problems.
Instead of accepting the logic of a system that puts profits before people’s needs the trade union movement needs to adopt a new fighting strategy. We need to fight against every job loss with industrial action. Employers who claim they can not operate without slashing jobs should be forced to open their books. Let us see where all the profits and subsidies have gone.
Further to this rather than subsiding companies that threaten job losses we should be looking at bringing them into public ownership. If the banks, the big manufacturers and the other major sections of the economy were in public ownership, and under democratic control, they could be used to both provide jobs and fulfil our social needs.
The union movement should adopt these policies and fight for them as an alternative to the profit first system.