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Harry Peters

Defend nationalisation – No to the buy-out

(April 1989)

From Militant Irish Monthly, No. 171N, April 1989.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE OPTION of a management-employee buy-out of Harland & Wolff has been accepted by the government. Together with Norwegian shipping magnate Fred Olsen the management-employee buy out is being offered the yards assets for £6 million.

The cost to the government of this sell-off, through debt write-off, loans and grants, could be as high as £500 million. This is public money which is being doled out so as to allow private entrepreneurs like Fred Olsen to make a short term profit in the yard and then probably close it. Olsen has plans to build three ships. Beyond that the outlook is uncertain to say the least!

In the last two years £200 million of public money has been spent on Harland and Wolff. It is a scandal that this and the even larger sums now about to be spent have gone to beef-up the yard for privatisation. This money should have been made available to secure the future of the yard as a nationalised concern so that the returns from public investment remain in public hands.

A concerted campaign has been launched to try to persuade the workforce to drop their opposition to the buy out. DUP MP Peter Robinson has shown his true colours and came out firmly for this form of privatisation, Disgracefully some right wing trade union leaders, among them Gavin Laird, general Secretary of the AEU, have given public backing to this proposal.

Meanwhile the workforce has been kept in the dark as regards the details of a buy out package. Negotiations with the shop stewards were only begun after the government had announced acceptance of the proposal. It is strongly believed that among the conditions of acceptance demanded by management will be the scrapping of existing enhanced redundancy arrangements. Workers may be offered as little as 30% of their redundancy entitlement, out of which they will be expected to buy into the new company. The remaining 70% will be lost altogether unless the new company goes into liquidation within two years.

These terms are totally unacceptable. The shop stewards should maintain their position that the only viable course for the yard is to remain in public hands. They should demand that the money offered by the government to privatise it be instead used to develop the yard as a nationalised industry.

It is a scandal that the management of any nationalised industry should be working to undermine it by attempting to privatise it. The management of such industries should be elected on the basis of one third from the workforce, one third from the wider trade union movement and one third from the government.

If the buy out goes ahead it should be without any co-operation from the workforce. The only reason the workers are being asked to put up any money is so that the management can gain compliance for worse terms and conditions of employment. The shop stewards should maintain a united opposition to the buy-out and should campaign to stop one penny of the workers money going into this venture.

By linking their struggle with that of Shorts and workers in the public services they can succeed in defeating the Tories and the management.

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