The announcement, by Holden Australia this month, to cut another 270 jobs from their South Australian workforce in May has come as no surprise to the trade-union movement. There is, however, a great deal more to this sorry tale of the fate of less than three hundred workers than initially meets the eye. It amounts to a thin end of the wedge.
While Holden management have stressed they intend maintaining their Australian operations until final closure in 2017, how much of the total will be left to close at that time remains as yet to be established.
The fate of the two other Australian-based auto-companies, Toyota and Ford, has also already been sealed. They also will shut Australian operations in the next two years.
Over two hundred Australia-based component companies together with other related business organisations also await their fate. They have, historically, maintained profitability and viability through tightly-knit networks with close cooperation with the major car companies. While a few component companies may continue through diversification of production, most will close by a death of slow strangulation.
A serious legal question has arisen about entitlements: many workers facing redundancy remain highly vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who will attempt to line their own pockets with money intended for pay-outs. That is also not the only problem: subsequent welfare payments for redundant workers will also be means-tested on the amounts they were intended to receive, not what was actually paid them on becoming redundant.
As many as 200,000 Australian workers may lose their jobs in the next few years, often in urban areas already experiencing high levels of unemployment. The northern suburbs of Adelaide where Holden is based already resemble an industrial wasteland: unemployment is widespread, youth unemployment the norm. Even business-led consultancies have stated unemployment levels are likely to increase dramatically across the whole country in coming years.
Imperialist FTA’s make the problem worse
The economic problems of globalisation have had far-reaching implications for the Australian working-class. As the economy has been opened to round-after-round of so-called free trade agreements (FTA's) foisted upon Canberra by the United States and their international financial institutions, a previously highly protected economy has been opened to unfair competition, often from Asia with very low labour costs. Round-after-round of de-regulation, liberalisation and privatisation together with the flooding of the Australian market with cheap foreign vehicles from countries whose governments provide subsidises and protection has created major problems for Australian workers.
Australians are still buying cars, for example, although Holden production will fall from 290 vehicles per day to 240, next month.
With clear signs the so-called Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) regional trade agreement linking a dozen Asia-Pacific countries with the US will be signed mid-year, one more level of protection will be removed from the Australian economy. The timing of the Holden announcement was not coincidental. They expect further problems later after the TPP is implemented later in this year.
The implementation of FTA's has produced little benefit for ordinary working people. To the contrary, the working class are experiencing a rapid erosion of their traditional life-style, life-chances and opportunities in what was, historically, called the 'lucky country'.
It is not happening by chance, but has been carefully planned.