Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lest we forget – workers in Australia can manufacture as well as workers in any other country

Ned K.

As a recent article posted on Vanguard web site demonstrated, policies of federal governments over the last 40 years have contributed to the decline of many manufacturing industries in Australia.

One of the arguments for the acceptance of the decline repeated by politicians and media alike is that manufacturing in Australia has been so expensive that Australian made products were not only more expensive than imports but that they were too expensive to sell for exports. Since we now live in a ‘globalised' economy, Australian manufacturing on a mass scale is not economically viable and Australia should concentrate on exporting resources, agricultural products and services like tertiary education.

However history tells a different story about Australia's manufacturing capacity on a world class scale.

Between 1948-49 and 1970, the value of production of all manufacturing in Australia increased by more than 600%. The largest investments and production growth were in the more technically advanced and capital intensive industries - vehicle, chemical, electrical, iron and steel.

During this period, exports of manufacturing products from Australia were on the rise, despite most countries having high tariffs. By 1970 iron, steel, motor vehicles and chemicals contributed 17% of the total value of ALL exports from Australia.
The most significant trend in manufacturing in this period was not that Australian manufacturing was too costly to be viable (in capitalist terms) on the world stage. Rather it was the significant changes in ownership and control of Australian- based manufacturing industries.

"Foreign firms investing in Australian manufacturing, mining and minerals frequently took over Australian firms. Takeovers reached their peak in 1971-72, when 40 % of the value of companies removed from the Australian stock exchange lists was accounted for by the foreign takeover of Australian firms. The combinations of capital concentration with foreign ownership meant that by 1968-69 30% of all company income in Australia was earned by foreign owned companies" (Jim Hagan, The History Of The ACTU).
The subsequent decisions to close or decimate whole industries from textile, whitegoods, vehicle, iron and steel to chemicals to name a few was made primarily by foreign owned companies.

Successive federal government policies have provided the legal framework for this to occur through parliamentary legislation on tariff reductions and industrial laws by bringing in laws preventing workers from taking industry and cross industry wide action to keep manufacturing in Australia. Imagine what workers would have been faced with if, when the big car companies announced closure of car plants, the MUA put a ban on unloading any imported cars until these big foreign owned car companies reversed their decision to close plants! Workers would have been gaoled and fined and accused of holding the country to ransom!

Why are these facts about who made decisions to decimate manufacturing in Australia important to remember in 2015?

They provide a timely reminder that the so called 'new' manufacturing industries connected to renewable energy and even naval defence will only be secure in Australia if they are controlled by the Australian people through laws of a progressive government that fights with the people to build and maintain Australian based industry.

This can only be guaranteed as a minimum standard by majority government ownership of joint ventures with private capital of foreign owned firms in particular as a first step towards economic independence in industries of the 21st Century in Australia.

That is why handing over the manufacture of naval vessels to foreign owned firms whether they be from Japan, France or Sweden or Germany is no real solution and a repeat of the decades gone by.

There is no solution where industry decisions are in the hands of foreign owned capital. Australian history teaches us that.

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