Michael Kidron

The Answer to Redundancy

(September 1956)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 5 No. 12, September 1956, p. 4.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

WHEN the present boom conditions give way to slump the struggle for work will become a struggle for the retention of the jobs we have. There will be no others to move to even if we accept a cut in earnings. We shall be able to work only if we mobilize all our forces to fight for no sackings and for a cut in the workweek without loss of pay. This is the only final answer to capitalist redundancy. It is one which we shall have to put forward now, before general unemployment overtakes us.

At the moment, however, we have full employment or nearly full employment. Automation has been applied sparingly so far. There is no doubt that the struggle for the right to work in these conditions will be sporadic, limited and too weak to stop the bosses. Although we cannot relinquish the slogans of ‘no sackings’ and ‘shorter work-week without loss of pay’ (or ‘sliding scale of hours’) as the only real answer to unemployment under capitalism, we must hammer out a policy to deal with sackings as they are bound to occur before they become general. Today our fight must centre on reducing the price paid by the worker for redundancy, and getting the capitalist class to shoulder the burden.

No Victimisation

Within the individual plant, the first principle must be: if sackings are inevitable, if we haven’t the strength to prevent them outright, then at least let us guard against the bosses’ attempts to use redundancy to weaken the factory organisation. We can’t allow the management to sack union members and retain ‘nons’ or sack the older worker and keep their blue-eyed boys. More important than everything else, we can’t have them victimizing the works leadership – the convenors and the stewards.

The answer to the bosses’ picking and choosing is for the works organisation to enforce definite ground rules to deal with sackings. Last-in-first-out is the traditional union method of dealing with the problem. It is good, but not enough. The convenor, the stewards, may not be the ones with the most seniority. They might have been victimised elsewhere and become the last ones in their new employment and therefore the first ones to go out despite the fact that they might be the most competent leaders of the fight inside the factory. Besides, although last-in-first-out was imposed on the bosses only after a tough struggle on the part of the organised workers, yet, as a policy, it treats all workers equally – those that took part in the struggle as well as the ‘nons’ – the ones that cashed in on the results but had nothing to do with achieving them.

Last-in-first-out is not enough. The elected representatives of the shop floor must be protected by special seniority rights (as happens frequently in American plants). They must have top seniority as long as they serve as elected officers of the shop floor. (Of course, as soon as they lose their positions they also lose their special rights and have to take their turn on the basis of their own seniority.) And whatever firing procedure is to be used must make the distinction between unionist and non-unionist clear.

Thus, if sackings are inevitable, the ‘nons’ must be the first to go, the elected workers’ representatives – the last. Last-in-first-out will apply to all the rest.

In this way we question the bosses’ unilateral ‘right’ to man-age – a first step in questioning their unilateral right to control production.

Controlling sackings is not enough. Some workers will be fired. They must be protected. The bosses must be forced to take the responsibility for their support until they can find other employment.

Part of the answer has been given by some of the American unions – it is the Guaranteed Annual Wage (GAW). Every worker laid off receives a certain proportion of his normal pay for a stated period depending on his seniority with the firm. In this way, the management takes into account not only the immediate costs of technological change but also some of the costs of compensation to the workers made redundant. Management would then tend – if they can – to think twice before introducing automation. They will try to time the changeover while production is increasing and to locate their new plants in the vicinity of the old so as to minimize unemployment.

Learn from Others

Here we can learn from American experience. The GAW was first gained by the United Automobile Workers’ Union. It is called Supplementary Unemployment Benefit and consists merely of additions to State unemployment insurance to cover a maximum of 65 per cent of previous wage rates for a maximum of 26 weeks, it was to be financed out of a special fund which the motor firms were committed to build up. In the event, when unemployment hit the American motor industry in the middle of 1956, the fund was not built up yet and very few workers benefited for more than a few weeks.

The GAW must be more than a bosses’ addition to a dole. It must be a firm commitment to pay full wages for a definite period, fund or no fund. It must be paid from profits. In this way the GAW can be the first step towards work on full maintenance.

Last updated on 16 February 2017