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Issue #1557      25 July 2012

Ford sackings underscore need for change

Ford’s announcement of 440 sackings from its Broadmeadows and Geelong plants confirms a dismal trend. It joins Holden and Toyota in scaling back its Australian operations despite receiving large piles of assistance from Australian governments and, to a lesser extent, their transnational headquarters. The decision was sprung on Ford’s workforce and unions are scrambling to ensure that job losses are achieved through genuine, voluntary redundancies.

Happier times – in 2009 Ford’s Broadmeadows Assembly Plant celebrate their 50th anniversary.

There are no silver linings in the announcement. Everybody expects savage knock-on effects through the supply chain feeding the Ford plants, especially when the Falcon model disappears in 2016. The example of the Mitsubishi’s closure in Adelaide in 2008 is still fresh in people’s minds. That event left an enormous gap in the job market in the city’s southern suburbs that is yet to be filled. Government programs failed spectacularly to turn the situation around.

The Mitsubishi closure provoked an angry response at the official level. The then state premier, Mike Rann, bellowed in the media about getting taxpayer handouts back from the carmaker. He never did. Ford’s recent announcement, on the other hand, has been met with resignation. Prime Minister Gillard accepts it and said it would have been much worse without the injection of taxpayer dollars in recent months.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver made an appeal for renewed support for the industry last week:

“Consumers, business and government need to back the Australian car industry. Australians support government co-investment to ensure manufacturing is sustainable, but more assistance could come from government and corporate fleet procurement of locally made cars to support the domestic industry,” he said.

“Manufacturing employs a million people in Australia. It is essential Australia continues to have a sustainable and diverse economy with an innovative manufacturing sector playing its part.”

Mr Oliver also said employers should act responsibly and not axe jobs where other options existed.

Unfortunately for advocates of such an approach, decades of commitment to the rules of capitalist globalisation have seen tariffs and other forms of preferential treatment of local manufacturers drastically reduced or scrapped. Corporations feel less constrained by national government policy than in previous decades.

The federal government’s economic “vision” is fixed on the rapid development of the resource sector at the cost of manufacturing. While the heads of car manufacturing will say nice things to visiting state premiers from Australia from time to time, there is no real obstacle to their relocating operations to low wage centres overseas. “Co-investment” might buy a brief reprieve but it is not going to prevent it.

If Australian governments are truly committed to maintaining the jobs of the one million Australians employed in manufacturing, they will need to get much more hands-on with the car industry.

Conversion of current plant, re-tooling for the production of public transport vehicles and infrastructure, for example, must be examined. The car making transnationals won’t do this. It will require public ownership and control.

The present federal government won’t take the necessary initiatives without enormous pressure from the community and the trade union movement in particular.  

Next article – Darrell Lea’s future

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