Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Shipyard jobs going – who’s to blame?

Bill F.

Williamstown shipyard workers are the latest section of the manufacturing industry to see their jobs disappear. While neo-liberal policies in support of imperialist ‘globalisation’ have ground down Australian manufacturing and exported many jobs to low-wage countries, the situation in defence industries has a critical extra dimension.

It has almost nothing to with the defence of Australia, but a lot to do with the geo-political interests of US imperialism. More than ever before US imperialism wants Australia as an active participant in its ‘cold war’ contention with China. It wants the greatest possible integration of Australia’ military capacity into the US military under US command.

This process has been going on for some time under both Labor and Liberal governments. It started with the secretive Pine Gap spy base and the so-called “sharing” of intelligence data collected by Australian spy agencies, foreign diplomats and media sources. It now regularly co-opts Australian ground troops, naval forces, air squadrons, ports and military bases for almost any purpose the US wants – training exercises, repair and maintenance, and occasional assaults on other countries.

But Australia is not alone in this. Similar demands have been put on other US “allies”, particularly in NATO, as US ‘cold war’ contention with Russia is also ratcheted up.

In our region, the reactionary Japanese ruling class is being encouraged to once again engage in expansive militarism and will join the US and Australia in the huge Talisman Sabre military and naval exercises in Queensland in July. 

The take-over of Australia’s military capacity now extends to hardware and equipment, especially the big-budget items like war planes, warships and submarines. The US is not insisting that Australia only buys US equipment, but expects that all major items be easily integrated into its own systems – they call it “inter-operability”.

Hence, Australia is saddled with the frightfully expensive and problem-prone Joint Strike Fighter which fits in with the plans of both US and NATO commands.

Hence, the contract for the next fleet of Australian Navy submarines is written in such a way as to virtually exclude the Adelaide-based ASC (previously called Australian Submarine Corporation), but favour a Japanese model with less range and less suited to defending Australia’s maritime territory, if that was ever the intention. The rest of the Navy fleet is likely to be progressively replaced with ships and weapons and communication systems that can be seamlessly utilised by the US Pacific Command, such as the Air Warfare Destroyers and the Landing Helicopter Dock ships currently under construction.

Australian shipyards sabotaged

In their service of collaboration with US imperialism, successive Australian governments have sabotaged the ship-building industry by not awarding contracts to Australian shipyards. Contracts for two large supply ships have been awarded to shipyards in Spain and South Korea, while a new Aviation Training Ship has been contracted to a shipyard in Vietnam. 

The shortage of work in Australian shipyards has led to job losses in Adelaide, Newcastle and Williamstown, and threatens the livelihoods of thousands more skilled workers.

Williamstown dockyard workers employed by BAE Systems have been told by the bosses that no new work will be available at the shipyard beyond the end of the year, when the current contract for some of the work on the Heavy Landing Ships and Air Warfare Destroyers runs out.

Originally, BAE Systems had hoped to bid to build 21 new Pacific patrol boats which would be donated to various Pacific countries, including Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga. But the government is delaying issuing the tender specification until 2017 and the company has said it will not bother to bid as any work could not reasonably start before 2018.

The whole future of the shipyard is uncertain. 1100 workers face the sack, while 58 companies supplying the shipyard will also be affected. Workers grimly point out the theatre restaurant just across the road from the shipyard – The Titanic!  

Campaigns by the Australian Metal Workers Union and the industry coalition Australian Made Defence have alerted many people to the situation and have raised demands for defence of Australian sovereignty and jobs. While this is mainly targeted at the subservient Abbott government, the fundamental contradiction between the interests of US imperialism and the Australian people has also been exposed.

See http://www.amwu.org.au/save_australian_shipbuilding

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