Wednesday, 13 November 2013


Within minutes of BAE Systems announcing the savage loss of nearly 1,800 shipyard jobs on 6 November - 800 in Govan, Scotstoun and Rosyth, plus 940 with the complete end to shipbuilding in Portsmouth in 2014 - I was asked to text a reaction for the SSP website. My extremely condensed message was:
"Tories shut Portsmouth to stop us voting Yes. Labour's Ian Davidson wants work switched south if we vote Yes! Both holding workers hostage. UK capitalist rule equals devastation for 1800 shipyard workers. Need nationalisation and diversification of work b4 it's too late, to save ALL jobs."

Despite all the constraints of a text message, I still stand by that message today.


Since the announcement, some commentators talk as if the loss of 800 jobs in unemployment-scarred Glasgow and Fife is some kind of success story - because the Scottish yards avoided closure, unlike Portsmouth. These columnists and politicians presumably have never lived through the devastating turmoil for families facing redundancy - especially against a background of compulsory unpaid work or insecure low-paid and part-time jobs being all that's on offer to most of the unemployed.
This announcement is catastrophic for working class communities, who for several generations sweated profits for shipbuilding and shipping magnates.

Down in Portsmouth, bitter fury was vented at the closure - although the town will remain the centre of BAE's maritime services, equipment, and combat systems business, with the 11,000 remaining workers servicing the bulk of the Royal Navy fleet. Some of the fury was directed northwards, with the accusation that Portsmouth was 'sold down the river' to sweeten Scotland against voting for independence next year.


As subsequent comments from BAE bosses, government and the naval high command have revealed, this was a devastating cocktail of naked cash calculation mixed in with a dose of cynical political calculation.
The detailed allocation of the jobs massacre was designed not only to divide and conquer workers, but also help hold what remains of the British state together. It was meant to make Scottish shipbuilders and surrounding communities feel relieved it wasn't their yards that are to close - allegedly the benefit of staying in the UK, when in fact almost equal numbers of jobs are to be slaughtered north and south of the border.
BAE bosses, since privatization of the yards, have grabbed a virtual monopoly over the remnants of an industry that has been starved of investment and modernization for several decades, as successive Tory and Labour capitalist governments bowed to the demands of the banking class of parasites, rather than develop an industrial strategy, making the yards uncompetitive in the global war for markets and profits. 

Both the BAE butchers and military top brass have openly stated their decisions are based on where they stand to get the best profit! As Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nicholas Houghton put it, "We go and get our ships in the place where it makes most sense for the British taxpayer in terms of getting the right capability for the armed forces."

He added, "The UK government and BAE Systems made clear its decision this week was based on the fact Glasgow is the most effective location for the manufacture of the future [13] Type 26 frigates."


But in case anyone falls for the brutal line of blackmail - punted both by Labour MP Ian Davidson and new LibDem Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael - that provided Scotland votes NO to self-government and remains hitched to Westminster then jobs on the Clyde will remain safe, ponder the fact Westminster is currently in high level talks with the Indian government about the possibility of them building the same Type 26s. Physically in India, purely because it would provide dirt-cheap labour. 

Gone is all the guff about having to build military vessels within the UK itself (or in the rUK if we vote for Scottish independence) for protection of British military secrets - one of the several lies these same people have peddled as a scare story against independence.

And what an affront to democracy and to the livelihoods of workers: Labour politicians and Labour loyalists in the likes of the GMB union are arguing for a 'break-clause' that means the work on the T-26s would be taken off Govan and Scotstoun and transferred to English yards if we dare to assert our right to rule ourselves by voting YES. 

An unholy alliance of Tory Ministers, the MoD and BAE bosses massacred workers in Portsmouth partly to try and crush the demand for Scottish independence - and now they are aided and abetted by Labour MPs like Davidson and the GMB convener in Scotstoun with their blackmailing threats of 'vote NO or lose your job'. Shipyard workers truly have been taken as hostages, and the ransom demanded is that the rest of Scotland votes NO or thousands of jobs will die.


It is complete nonsense on several counts. Even the Tories, BAE bosses and military chiefs have to admit they are attracted by the skills levels and costs on offer on the Clyde. But if we all cave in to the blackmail and vote NO, supposedly to save Clydeside jobs, there is nothing to stop the government placing orders in India, or elsewhere. 

As to closing the Clyde yards and moving work south in the event of a Yes vote, which particular English yards will they take out of 'mothballs', and at what exorbitant cost?

On the other hand, what is to stop BAE (or a government of the rUK) placing orders with yards in an independent Scotland, when for instance they're already cooperating with Australia to design these T-26s?!
It's a bit rich, to put it mildly, for Ian Davidson, Better Together and their Mini Me offshoot 'United with Labour' to spout scaremongering doomsday warnings that unless we keep Westminster rule we face the loss of shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde, when the same Westminster Ministry of Defence - BAE's only customer for building warships - is slashing 800 jobs on the Clyde!


Workers across all shipyards need to develop a united strategy to save ALL jobs, not falling for blackmail, lies and threats designed to divide them and turn their gaze away from the root causes of this latest in a long line of devastating crises.

The root causes include decades of underinvestment and utter failure to build or retain a manufacturing base. Cheap labour in developing capitalist nations like South Korea or China might attract capitalist shareholders as a source of a fast buck, but countries with far higher wages than the UK have far stronger shipbuilding industries, simply because they've invested in them. Norway, similar in size to Scotland, has 42 shipyards, and built 100 ships last year - with far better wages than here.


To seriously fight for every job, unions also need to challenge the toxic dependence of the industry on the war machine - the military industrial complex. The drop in orders for warships, in part due to changes in the modes of modern warfare, inevitably threatens jobs and livelihoods if that's all the yards depend on. But there's plenty of scope for other use of the skills of shipyard workers, and indeed expansion of jobs, apprenticeships and skills. 

Thirty years ago, back in 1987, when the Barrow-on-Furness Vickers shipyard faced devastation on not getting the contract to build Trident nuclear submarines, the shop stewards combined with other local trade unionists to form the Barrow Alternative Employment Committee. They produced an expert Report, entitled 'Oceans of Work', showing how the workers' skills and the available existing technology could be diversified away from weapons-construction to exciting new work to harness tidal and offshore wind power energy systems. And that was long before today's widespread acceptance of the need for investment in renewables to combat fuel poverty, pollution and the havoc of climate change.


But just as with the scandalous holding of Scotland to ransom by gangster capitalist Jim Ratcliffe, one-man dictator at Grangemouth, so too the shipyard crisis confirms the old socialist adage that 'you can't control what you don't own'. Rather than squabble and divide over the jobs that remain, courtesy the capitalist shareholders of BAE Systems, the shipyard unions need to mount a serious fight for re-nationalisation of the yards, and the wider shipping industry too. 

But not the old bureaucratic form of nationalisation: one where committees of workers' elected representatives and appropriate specialists are tasked with devising an alternative plan of production, building on existing skills and technology, but shifting production from destroyers to constructive, socially useful and peaceful purposes - including building equipment for a publicly owned renewable energy sector. Building for the merchant navy, and ferries for an integrated free public transport system, would seem other likely means of retaining jobs and producing for social need.

So this is not just a constitutional issue. The future of jobs north and south of the border depends on workers' unions uniting in action, but also rising to the challenge to fight for new forms of democratic public ownership, with massive investment in the likes of renewable energy. We can't rely on capitalist firms nor pro-capitalist governments to meet that challenge. For instance, for every £1 of government funding for research and development on green energy, £34 is squandered on the equivalent R&D for military work.


The abominable role of the Tory/LibDem Coalition is entirely predictable. The role of Labour on this has been even more treacherous, given the £millions poured into their coffers by shipyard workers' unions. They've combined spineless failure to raise any coherent alternative to savage job losses, with shameful blackmail, using shipyard workers and their communities as hostages to save their beloved United Kingdom, ignoring the brutal fact that the same UK and its profit-crazed military-industrial overlords are the ones plunging the knife.

The SNP's attachment to capitalism, to the interests of multinational profiteering over people and planet, hamstrings them from advocating public ownership and diversification of the industry.
That political task is left to the socialists of the SSP; we will not shirk in our duty to argue this case in the trade unions and beyond, as the only realistic foundations for saving jobs, skills, young people's futures, and indeed as a contribution to the health of the planet itself.

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