Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Steel industry job losses

Reading Time: 4 minutes

October fast news

At least 1000 jobs are to be cut in the Australian steel sector as BlueScope Steel closes down a blast furnace in Port Kembla, Sydney and its Western Port mill in Victoria. BlueScope blamed the high Australian dollar for the $1.05 billion loss it made in the last financial year.

Upon announcing the job losses the Labor government rushed to give BlueScope $100 million while offering minimal support to the 800 workers in Port Kembla and 200 in Western Port who will find themselves jobless.

The negative effects of the mining boom, which has created a two speed economy, are now becoming more and more apparent with jobs in the steel industry the first of what will be many casualties. The manufacturing industry is facing one of its worst periods since the Great Depression. Retail, tourism and services also are being hit hard.

Unions must be prepared to fight all job losses and public service cuts as the world economic situation gets worse.

SERCO Profits

SERCO, the company paid by the Australian government to run refugee detention centres, has made over $1 billion in profits. In 2010 the Australian arm of SERCO made $369 million from detention centres where self-harm, suicide and the denial of basic healthcare is common place. One centre in Darwin reported six suicide attempts within two weeks.

SERCO has made billions world wide through the privatisation of public services such as railways, schools and medical facilities. It’s profiteering off the misery and exploitation of victims of war, poverty and famine here in Australia is just one aspect of a company that feeds off the problems working class people face under capitalism.

The Gillard government’s support for SERCO along with the failed “Malaysian solution” show that Labor has now surpassed even the Howard government in terms of its right-wing scapegoating of refugees.

Breadline USA

‘The rich get richer, the poor get poorer’; is perhaps an overused cliché, but, nevertheless, a phrase that accurately describes social conditions in the USA today.
The latest US Census Bureau statistics show that 46.2 million people (15.1% of the population) fell below the poverty line, meaning that more Americans are living in poverty that at any time since records began 50 years ago.

Millions of people are mired in poverty as a result of the capitalist Great Recession and continuing high levels of unemployment, but a wealthy minority continue to enjoy their conspicuous consumption. The Bureau reveals that median wages (ie what most workers earn) peaked in 1999 and are still 7% below that level, whereas the richest Americans’ spending held constant at $1,400 billion.

Nearly one-quarter of all children are in poverty, a figure more akin to the 1960s when president Johnson announced his ‘war on poverty’.

And despite the political furore over Obama’s health care reforms, the number of Americans without health insurance rose by one million in the last year to a staggering 49.9 million.

Mea Culpa (My Mistake)

US investor Warren Buffett has ruffled the feathers of his fellow billionaires by demanding they pay more taxes. In what must be an anathema to Republican Tea Party zealots, Buffett said: “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”

So far, Buffett’s catharsis has fallen on stony ground as the Obama administration and Congress have not reversed president Bush’s ‘temporary’ tax cuts (worth $700 billion) to the wealthy but instead have slashed trillions from public services and welfare in an attempt to plug the country’s giant debt.

Since 1979 the top 1% of US income earners have seen their federal tax liability fall from 37% to 29%. And while the middle classes have also enjoyed a 4.3% fall in tax rates, median male real earnings have not risen since 1975.

Buffett can afford to be altruistic since he certainly won’t be checking down the back of the sofa for any loose change to pay the electricity bill. His motivation in demanding higher taxes for the rich probably has something to do with trying to save the capitalist system from the anger of poor workers and the dispossessed.

Exporting death

Armaments are probably the last thing people in north Africa and the Middle East need but that hasn’t stopped a surge of British arms exports this year to these regions.

According to the Times, £30.5 million of arms were exported to Libya, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia between February and June 2011 (30% up on the same period in 2010) when these regimes were carrying out repression against pro-democracy opposition.
These exports coincided with David Cameron’s trade tour of the Middle East where he defended UK arms sales. Eight of the 20 companies accompanying Cameron were defence and aerospace firms.

Costly wars

The living standards of workers and the jobless in the USA are being hammered as Congress embarks on savage federal spending cuts to plug the government’s multi-trillion dollar deficit. The deficit is the result of bailing out corporations and financial institutions during the recession and giving huge tax breaks and economic stimulus measures to the rich and corporations.

Another source of the debt is waste and fraud by US defence contractors who have made a fortune during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

According to a US government commission an astonishing $60 billion has been lost in fraud and mismanagement in the last decade by defence companies. At least $31 billion was lost through mismanagement – the equivalent of $12 million since the invasion of Afghanistan by US-led forces in 2001.

The biggest contractor KBR earned $40.8 billion, ‘winning’ a $36.3 billion army logistics contract as the sole provider. KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton whose chief executive was none other than Dick Cheney, US vice-president under George W Bush.


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