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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Workers’ Notes

by New Worker correspondent

THIS WEEK we look at the manufacturing sector in Britain, particularly the motor and aerospace industries, and the effects of the coronavirus crisis on it and its workforce.

Despite the decline of British industry, Britain is still the ninth leading manufacturing country in the world. In the 1970s it contributed 25 per cent of Britain’s GDP, now it is 17.5 per cent. It has grown by an average of 1.4 per cent since 1948 and despite its declining importance it accounts for about 45 per cent of exports.

Sorting out what is manufacturing and what is the service sector can be confusing. A pizza pulled off a supermarket shelf would be produced by the manufacturing sector whereas one purchased from the deli counter would come from the service sector. It is likely that a considerable part of the decline in the relative importance of the manufacturing sector can be accounted for in this way.

In many industries the lower end of the market has surrendered to cheap imports, but those at upper end of the market have survived and sometimes thrived. This can be seen most dramatically in the textile industry where making tweeds for the gentry is just about the only part of it left now that the mills of Lancashire have closed. A similar tale can be seen in the motor industry.

Career transitions

LAST Friday luxury car manufacturer Bentley announced it was seeking 1,000 voluntary redundancies from its present 4,200 workforce at its Crewe factory.

Unite the union’s national officer for the sector, Steve Bush, deplored this as “another heavy blow for our automotive industry and its dedicated workforce.

“To ask 1,000 of them to leave the company, albeit on voluntary terms, is heart breaking for the workforce and their communities. We are determined to support our members during this process to do what we can to mitigate the jobs lost.”

He added that this “is another sorry reminder of the battering this sector is taking, caught by a downturn in global demand which has then been supercharged by the global COVID-19 pandemic” and demanded: “It is absolutely essential that the government works with the automotive industry and Unite to bring forward the sort of sector specific support we are seeing other governments deliver, in France and Germany, because for every automotive job that goes, four more will go in the wider supply chain.”

According to Management this is all part of a “Beyond100 strategy, a programme that will redefine Bentley for the next 100 years”, which was supposed to be launched in March but was delayed because of a bug going around. Bentley politely say: “To make career transitions easier, Bentley is also providing financial support towards career guidance for all colleagues that choose to pursue a new professional direction” – but to demonstrate what “career transitions” actually means they warn that: “However, Bentley cannot rule out future compulsory redundancies.”

After a complete two-month closure it presently has about 1,700 workers in the recently redesigned plant where the average start time from one manufacturing stage to the next has doubled. It claims to have a strong order book, with around eight months of customer orders to manufacture. The cars are actually quite acceptable if you cannot afford a Rolls Royce. Earlier, another upmarket car manufacturer Aston Martin announced plans to cut 500 jobs because of drastically declining sales.

Further down the motoring food chain, suppliers of parts are also imposing job cuts on their employees. Coventry based Arlington Automotive has gone into administration whilst smaller suppliers Sertec, Envision and Nifco have lost nearly 800 jobs between them, according to calculations from Unite.

The car bosses’ organisation, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, has claimed that a distancing policy was “not viable in the long term” for Britain’s car factories to remain competitive.

It is the Chinese that are coming to the rescue of the British car industry. Bentley’s production is almost entirely going to China whilst over at Jaguar Land Rover only its main plant at Solihull is open for the purpose of supplying eager Chinese customers.

Rumours that the government were considering a scrappage scheme that would give buyers £6,000 to exchange their petrol or diesel car for an electric model were given short shrift by Unite, which said its introduction now could simply delay consumers purchasing existing models, including hybrids, which keep the UK industry alive and provide the investment necessary for the transition to fully electric vehicles.

It points out that Britain does not currently have the charging infrastructure in place to make electric cars an attractive proposition for many drivers.

Of even greater concern is that the UK does not currently produce an electric (transit-sized) van, which given the type of journeys these vehicles undertake is a huge missed opportunity to contribute to meeting the climate change challenge.

Unite’s assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner said: “While as part of an integrated approach to transitioning the automotive sector this could be a game changing initiative, for that to be achieved the government will need to announce a rapid expansion of the charging infrastructure and, in particular, the provision of fast charging points.

“It is essential that the government provides leadership right now and introduces any incentives, as the French have done, with measures targeted at promoting UK manufacturers and component suppliers. Incentivising the industry to produce an electric van here in the UK would be a good start.” One hopes the bosses are grateful to Unite for making the suggestion.