Over the past few weeks, we have seen thousands of well-paid, skilled manufacturing jobs lost in the shipbuilding, steel and glass industries. These are jobs that under current coalition policies will be replaced by low-paid, low-skill service sector posts.
In response, Unite’s new strategy document, Made In Britain, sets out the case for a robust interventionist manufacturing strategy, designed to grow and support this country’s manufacturing base. The strategy argues for a policy of public procurement to help manufacturing – a new skills eco-system that will attract more young people into top quality manufacturing apprenticeships with transferable skills to avoid skill shortages. It also argues for meaningful employment rights, decent pay and conditions, and collective bargaining and restrictions on the unfettered use of precarious agency work.
Despite George Osborne’s claim that Britain is on “on the path to prosperity”, based on a small improvement in growth in the last quarter, any recovery feels a long way off for many workers in manufacturing.
The reality for thousands of working families is that decent jobs are still hard to come by, one million young people are still out of work, and jobs that are on offer are short-term, precarious agency ones.
Of the 0.8 per cent increase in growth in the last quarter, 0.6 per cent of that increase came through the service sector.
Manufacturing figures show that we are still we are still 9 per cent below where we were in 2008. If you take out transport manufacturing (which includes the successful automotive sector) from the equation, manufacturing output is around 13 per cent lower than it was in 2008.
Despite talking up the “recovery” and talking about re-balancing the economy, the Conservative-led coalition lacks any long-term strategic plan to make the decisive shift away to the manufacturing sector.
The Tories and the Liberal Democrats are once again relying on the service sector for growth, with weak employment rights, long working hours, low pay and precarious employment. They are taking their traditional path to growth – increasing house prices and consumer borrowing, rather than borrowing by companies for future investment. Economists are predicting that a third of all future growth will be in London. Successful economies don’t work like that. Take a look at Germany, with strong employment protections, decent working conditions, where workers have a say in what happens in their companies and where the state helps and protects its manufacturing base.
Made In Britain is also aimed at influencing Labour in developing its manufacturing strategy. Among the 10 key recommendations to rebalance the economy, Unite sets out the need for an interventionist strategic manufacturing policy with a minister for manufacturing with a seat in the cabinet; a well-funded strategic investment bank; an interventionist public procurement policy; a new eco-skills system providing high quality apprenticeships; the need to defend British manufacturing the way they do in Germany and elsewhere through a strategic industrial strategy.
Remaining in the European Union is also crucial for manufacturing in the United Kingdom. The Tories have once again called into question our continuing membership of the EU. Made In Britain argues that the internal Tory row
is damaging the UK’s long-term manufacturing interests and manufacturers were right to criticise the idea that leaving the EU is a sensible option. In the coming weeks, Unite will be engaging with our members and activists, the department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Labour shadow ministers, MPs and employers to argue for a real alternative strategy to rebalance, build and grow manufacturing to make sure we never again face a catastrophe like that of 2008.
Tony Burke is Unite assistant general secretary