From Militant Irish Monthly, Supplement 1976.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
Reading the list of those firms in NI which have recently announced either cut backs or impending closure is like reading a who’s who list of major industry. It used to be said that whenever England sneezes Ireland catches pneumonia. Certainly today, in relation to jobs, the crisis of capitalism is sending particularly icy blasts across NI.
The percentage of jobless in NI has always been double that of the rest of the UK. Presently there are 58,000 people registered as unemployed, a figure which represents over 11% of the insured population. Particular areas are and have been employment black spots. Newry, Derry and Strabane have unemployment way above the average. Strabane has over 33% male unemployment. Parts of Belfast, particularly West Belfast, show the same pattern. It is little wonder that unemployment has been featured as one of the major targets of the trade union campaign.
For the future, job prospects look miserable indeed. Even if the economies of Europe begin to pick up at the end of this year it is probable that the British economy will be largely bypassed. In NI, no matter if there is a temporary world upswing we face, on the basis of capitalism, a permanent large pool of unemployed.
Already the point has been made by some union leaders that, if present trends continued, there will be little or no industry left in NI. to pick up in the event of a revitalisation of the economy. IEL has gone; Rolls Royce, STC, Harland & Wolfe and other industries are implementing cuts and looking forward to an extremely uncertain future.
Minister of State, Stan Orme has already gone on record as stating that he never envisages there being less than 5% unemployment in the province has announced that 1976 “will be a very difficult year”. Pointing to the fact that unemployment is at its highest level for 35 years he has stated that new investment is “urgently needed”.
The Government in Britain as a whole are not optimistic about investment. According to the Dept. of Industry manufacturing in 1975 fell by 12.8% and in 1976 is expected to fall by a further 6.6%. Investment in the distributive and service industry last year fell by 11.7% and is expected by the Dept. to fall by 3.5% this year.
All this is at a time when the Government, egged on by the capitalist press and the ruling class, are announcing drastic cuts to take place over the next few years in public expenditure. In NI where the public service has provided some fall back in terms of jobs these cuts can only add to the general gloom.
So long as our present economic system continues to exist there can be no solution to this problem. The Trade Union leaders have been attempting to pressurise the politicians to do something about the particularly high unemployment. They have demanded that industry here be made a special case. More than this is required! The Stormont Government had for years a policy of subsidising private enterprise to attract it to this country. This policy was a fiasco.
So long as industry is run on the basis of the quicksand road to the highest profit, areas like NI which are far away from the major markets of Southern England and Europe will remain underdeveloped. Within NI, areas outside the immediate industrial conurbation of Belfast, will not be able to attract long term industrial investment.
All the schemes of the Labour Government to create jobs by subsidising capitalists are failing in Britain, as the figure of one and a half million unemployed clearly shows. It is predicted that unemployment in Britain will not fall below 1 million until the 1980’s. Instead of simply asking for NI to be made a special case, in other words for us to be brought up to the level of misery that exists in Britain, the TU movement here should be linking arms with the TU movement across the water, and with the rank and file of the British Labour Party, around a programme to solve once and for all the question of unemployment.
The movement should be demanding an end to redundancies and work or full pay. If there is not enough work let it be shared out among the employees with no loss in pay! Instead of the waste of resources of dole queues let the government institute a programme of public works, particularly in NI with a massive drive to solve the housing problem. Instead of closure and cut backs being answered by subsidy they should be answered by the taking into public ownership of those firms which control the economy. With all industry run on the basis of need, deprived areas such as the West of the Bann could be developed.
Unemployment, low wages, the worst housing conditions in the British Isles, greater depths of poverty than in any other part of Britain – these are problems which the TU movement must answer. It would not be surprising to people living outside NI that the average life expectancy here is less than is Great Britain. However, it is not the violence of the bomb or the bullets that accounts for this fact. Shorter life expectancy is due to the other violence, the violence of poverty.
Poverty knows no flags. Different ghettos may portray different slogans. But the damp causes the same discomforts, the lack of social facilities gives rise to the same aggression and the rats carry the same diseases, not tricolours or union jacks.
The TU campaign can and is drawing working class people together on these issues, especially on the question of unemployment. It is necessary for them to provide the socialist solution to the problems of the economy. To do this the task of building a party of Labour which can campaign on these issues becomes urgent. Instead of merely pressurising the people who misrepresent NI at Westminster, the trade unions must now prepare to replace them with socialist candidates who can join with the rank and file of the British Labour Party and the British trade union movement in fighting for the government to stop trying to make capitalism work and instead implement a full socialist programme.
Last updated: 2.5.2013