The right approach to Brexit is crucial to the future of manufacturing
As the UKs largest organisation of working people and the biggest manufacturing union Unite are starkly aware of what this election means for the future of our country and people’s lives.
For decades manufacturing has been eroded — millions of good jobs lost and whole communities left behind, placed into economically ‘managed decline’. Headline GDP and employment figures have been used to casually dismiss the concerns of unions like Unite of the overdependence on speculative finance, the growing insecurity of work and soaring inequality.
The crashing of our economy in 2008 brought this into sharp focus. Since then there has been a spoken acceptance of the urgent need to rebalance our economy, but as we approach the Brexit negotiations these structural economic problems are being brought to the fore and there is an urgent need for real solutions.
But it has not come to more than spoken acceptance — remember the ‘March of the Makers’? It has been joined by the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine — all slogans with little substance.
And they will remain slogans because the Conservative Party continues to dogmatically hold onto the failed policies of the past. In contrast, Labour’s economic policy and industrial strategy is a walking away from this tired thinking and embraces a forward thinking approach. It is underpinned by the investment injection our economy desperately needs and includes the policy planks that business, industry and trade unions have long argued for.
This includes addressing the skills shortage that parts of manufacturing are struggling with and developing quality apprenticeships to ensure we have the highly skilled workforce of the future.
Unite have campaigned for many years for positive public procurement so to finally see a commitment to use the £200billion that government spends every year to support British based manufacturing and supply chains, creating quality jobs rather than public funds being used to help the race to the bottom, is a policy that British manufacturing and its workforce will welcome.
As the union that sits on the Automotive Council (originally set up by Labour) Unite has argued for its successful model to be replicated and it is gratifying to see Sector Councils that bring together business, industry bodies and trade unions being taken forward to develop structures that can make good on the promise of a more strategic approach to growing our economy and driving up productivity.
And of course for manufacturing, the approach to Brexit is crucial. The majority of the largest UK manufacturing plants, such as Airbus, Nissan, GE, Astra Zeneca, JLR, BMW, Prinovis, Siemens, are owned by global firms whose UK sites are part of a continent-wide network. What the Tories are proposing is a chaotic Brexit that puts our manufacturing sectors and wider economy at risk. Unite have argued that protecting jobs and investment, our economy and our rights must be the priority.
And it not just Unite saying that.
The main manufacturing trade and employers organisations with whom we work – in engineering, automotives, aerospace and defence, ceramics and glass, chemicals and science all concour that a hard Brexit will be a disaster.
And while the Tory approach has been to keep throwing trade union and worker rights into reverse, Labour’s plan is makes a strong commitment to secure and equal workplaces and creating decent jobs.
Labour is committed to an industrial strategy with measures such as investment in transport and housing, support for supply chains and growing our low carbon economy, which manufacturing is a key part of, and are forecasting their plans will create over one million decent jobs by the end of the next Parliament.
This is the right approach — a strategy that can deliver what working people and this country have been crying out for and will make this country’s future richer — and is why we have taken out billboards backing Labour, have launched a leaflet specifically for our manufacturing members, and are encouraging all of our members to vote Labour 8 June.
Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite
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