Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Re-building the manufacturing industry

Vanguard June 2012 p. 8
Ned K.

While the big job loss stories like Toyota’s 350 make the headlines, there are thousands of stories of ruined lives caused by the decline of manufacturing that never make the news.
Whether you are a white collar professional, work in construction, a hospital, a school, local government or a so-called service industry, you encounter some form of manufactured item.
In fact even when cleaning your own house, you use a manufactured piece of equipment. Have a look at the brand name and see where the product was made. Chances are, most of the manufactured items you use every day are made overseas.
Ask your co-workers and your boss whether the items were once made in Australia, and what happened to the workers and their community when their jobs went off-shore. Or whether there is an alternative Australian-based manufacturer who could have supplied the item.
This is no academic exercise. Take the Commodore car manufactured in Australia by General Motors. Until a couple of years ago, the steering wheel the Australian citizen grasps and the rubber seals to keep the windows and doors secure were made by car component workers in Adelaide, in a factory owned by a Japanese multinational company with a workforce of several hundred. Now these car components are imported from the same multinational’s factory in Thailand. Now the workforce is down to about 150. Three weeks ago, the company sacked all the engineers, the company safety officer, production casuals and even the factory occupational nurse (a service worker).  It foreshadowed a further 30 production jobs to go in coming months. How can this be allowed to happen?
In most cases it is caused by multinational companies who both sack workers and move production elsewhere, or they source component parts and services for their own manufactured product from overseas on the basis of cheaper price.
Some state governments, especially in South Australia and Victoria (traditional manufacturing states), are genuinely concerned about the decline of manufacturing and are making efforts to do something about it, because of pressure from the people.
In South Australia, the government appointed a manufacturing ‘expert’ Professor Goran Roos as its 2011 Thinker in Residence, and subsequently published a Green Paper on manufacturing. In the paper, Roos emphasises the importance of manufacturing to a modern economy by stating, “Manufacturing now includes the whole chain of activities from research and development through to the manufactured product. This expansion of the role of manufacturing underpass its importance as a crucial component of any advanced economy”. The Green Paper adds that “while the mining and manufacturing  sectors account for similar level of economic activity in Australia (7% and 8% of GDP respectively, manufacturing – with almost one million workers across the nation – employs four times more than mining.”
Environmentally sustainable manufacturing
Where the Green Paper falls down is that it sees the role of government as creating the conditions for privately owned capitalist manufacturing, but there is no mention of government regulation, government ownership or part ownership or controlling interest over new manufacturing.
For many years, both ALP and Liberal-Coalition governments at both federal and state levels have poured millions into sections of the manufacturing industry, particularly the car industry, but ownership (and hence decision-making) has remained with the multinationals who control the industry.
Manufacturing unions, while not calling for nationalisation of key manufacturing industries, are at least demanding that governments require mining companies to source a significant proportion of machinery and equipment from Australia, as well as the value-adding processing of mineral ores being done locally. Only a sustained campaign led by workers and local communities will make this a reality.

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