The destruction of the car industry in Australia demonstrates the stark reality that capital has no loyalty to particular countries. In the age of imperialism and global competition, corporations set up production where they think they can make the most profit. In Australia, it suited General Motors and Ford to manufacture cars in Australia when tariffs and the scale of production plants made it profitable to do so. Now there are single car plants in China that produce more than the car plants of Toyota, General Motors and Ford in Australia combined in any one year.
There are similar trends in other industries with some unexpected, unpredictable shifts in production. On 23 December 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Chinese yarn spinning manufacturer, Keer Group, based in Hangzhou, is relocating its plant. You may think the relocation would be to Bangladesh or perhaps Cambodia? Wrong. The yarn spinning plant is moving to South Carolina!
According to the Journal, a growing number of Asian based textile manufacturers are setting up production in the southern states of the USA because production costs are cheaper. The yarn is then sent to clothing sweat shops in Central America and the finished items are then sent back duty free to the USA retail market.
In both examples above, in whose interests were the decisions made to close factories, whether it be car or yarn spinning production? Who made the decisions? Were they made by the workers through governments representing their interests? Or were the decisions made by a handful of owners of big capital seeking to maximise profit ?
These are the key questions to consider when contemplating what future lies ahead for car workers and car component workers in Australia with the closure of Ford and General Motors imminent and Toyota a real possibility to follow them.
Jay Weatherill, the SA Labor Premier, perhaps with the best intentions, is desperately seeking commitment from an alternative multinational company to set up production of something(!) in the soon to be vacant General Motors plant at Elizabeth. However this is unlikely to occur and even if it does occur, on what terms and conditions would a new multinational ‘player’ set up here and for how long?
There is an opportunity for the Premier to strike a blow for Australian independence from the ravages of internationally roaming capital by a government takeover of the Elizabeth plant and equipment and manufacturing either environmentally sustainable vehicles or public transport. This would have widespread support from the workers, northern suburbs community and locally based manufacturing and services related business.
Workers here have the skill base to make this a reality.