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Year 2001 No. 121, July 12, 2001 ARCHIVE HOME SEARCH SUBSCRIBE

BAe Systems Job Cuts

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

BAe Systems Job Cuts

Reaction to the Job Losses at the Clyde Yards

Further Announcements of Job Losses

Editorial:
Shipyard Redundancies: What Is the Alternative?

International News:
Philippines: Deadly Legacy of US Military Bases

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BAe Systems Job Cuts

Union leaders have pledged to fight the cuts announced by BAe Systems who want to axe almost 1,100 shipyard jobs concentrated in the company's Govan and Scotstoun yards together with150 from the Barrow-in-Furness plant in Cumbria. The cuts were revealed on the day Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the BAe had secured work on six Royal Navy destroyers.

GMB Scotland regional secretary Robert Parker said: "We are shocked at the suddenness of the redundancy announcements, and of course GMB will fight any compulsory redundancies."

Govan union convener Jamie Webster said: "They have announced 1,000 redundancies from a workforce of 3,000, that is severe."

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB Union, said he was "shocked and devastated", adding: "Workers were expecting an announcement which would secure jobs, not result in 1,000 jobs being axed. They were preparing to party but it has turned into a wake."

Danny Carrigan, national officer of the Amalgamated Engineering & Electrical Union, said: "We will not take these job losses lying down. I am calling for an immediate meeting with the company so that we can challenge its case."

Emerging from a mass meeting at the Govan shipyard on the River Clyde, one young worker, Gary Meenen, a charge hand and plumber, said: "We’ve been told there is a long-term future but no short-term future."

The announcement has also come at a time when hundreds of job losses were also mooted at hand-held computer maker Psion, shipbuilders Cammell Laird and US computer monopoly Compaq.

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Reaction to the Job Losses at the Clyde Yards

Comedian Billy Connolly, who used to work in the Clydeside shipyards, said: "The government could have done more and should have done more years ago. They should have got behind the Clyde. The Clyde was brilliant and we built stunning ships, it takes my breath away how little they value it."

John Edmonds, general secretary of the BMG union, said: "This is turning into one of UK manufacturing’s blackest weeks. Manufacturing is bleeding to death in front of our eyes."

Scottish National Party MSP Nicola Sturgeon, commenting on Tuesday’s announcement, said: "This is a devastating blow to the workers and their families at the BAe Systems’ Govan and Scotstoun yards. It is extremely disappointing that the Ministry of Defence and the UK Labour Government have failed to safeguard the workers from the shortfall in their order books." She continued: "I have no doubt that workers at the Clyde shipyards will feel let down by New Labour this evening." Nicola Sturgeon said that the SNP "are fully supportive of the AEEU’s calls to oppose any compulsory redundancies in the Govan or Scotstoun yards. I am calling on the New Labour Government today to provide a cast iron guarantee that no compulsory redundancies will be imposed on the workers at the two Scottish yards."

The SNP MSP called for a government-led taskforce to be established immediately to work constructively with BAe Systems to ensure that there are no compulsory redundancies in the Clyde yards. She called the claim by the Labour government that it had secured the future of the shipbuilding industry in Scotland whilst BAe was announcing 1,000 job losses "sickening and insulting". She said that a government-led taskforce would be the only way to "ensure that the Govan and Scotstoun yards will retain the skills required to deliver existing contracts – which is the only way to secure the long-term future of the industry."

Article Index



Further Announcements of Job Losses

Telecommunications monopoly Marconi has announced plans to cut 1,500 jobs, including 500 at its factory at Poole in Dorset, which is expected to close. Union leaders say the cuts, part of 4,000 jobs world-wide, are outrageous and that workers are paying for bad boardroom decisions. Union representatives met Marconi managers on July 11 to discuss the proposals.

Although Roger Lyons, MSF general secretary, understands that Marconi's bases in Merseyside and Coventry will remain open, he implored Marconi chief executives to rethink the job losses or face possible industrial action. He said: "We don't feel the job losses are justified. We feel that the employees have shown good faith and worked very hard to develop new products. We feel the board and the company have let them down.''

It was announced on July 11 that Compaq is cutting 4,000 jobs world-wide, hundreds of which could be in Scotland.

On July 10, it was reported that electronics manufacturer NEC are in the process of restructuring and that up to 800 jobs at their plant in Livingston, West Lothian, could be threatened.

Article Index



Editorial

Shipyard Redundancies: What Is the Alternative?

Simon Kirby, managing director of BAe Systems Marine, which announced the 1,150 redundancies at Govan and Scotstoun on the Clyde and at Barrow, said that the monopoly had "done everything we can to address this situation but regrettably have been left with no alternative other than to announce these redundancies".

Now that BAe Systems has done everything it can, but has no alternative but to announce the redundancies, they "recognise the concern that this announcement will cause our employees, their families and the local communities and we are determined to handle this restructuring sensitively and professionally". It will try to minimise the effect of the cuts by offering early retirement, voluntary redundancy, redeployment and help with relocation.

All this of course follows from there being "no alternative" but to announce redundancies. If workers were to accept the logic that they must be part of the solution and not part of the problem, then within the perspective of "no alternative" they would work out with BAe sensitively and professionally how to minimise the effect of the job losses and not prolong the agony by fighting against the company’s restructuring plan. Although they may register their "opposition" to the company’s stand, if there is "no alternative" it would be against their interests to turn their opposition into action.

But workers do not accept that there is no alternative. The question is: what is the alternative? The first thing about the alternative is to reject the logic of there being "no alternative".

There is "no alternative" if it is to be accepted that maximum capitalist profit is the motive force for production, if it is to be accepted that making businesses competitive in the global marketplace is the first priority, if it is to be accepted that the government has no responsibility to ensure a livelihood for every member of society. This is the logic of "no alternative". In other words, there is no way out of this crisis.

The alternative, therefore, is to fight, discuss, organise, make preparations, within the perspective of opening the path to escaping the crisis, to setting a different agenda for society. Heroic battles have been going on, just to take the last twenty years, against the decimation of the mining industry, the steel industry, the car industry. Inward investment has been shown time and time again to involve a surrender of rights for the workers on the one hand and no long term security on the other. The new industries in the telecoms, computer and e-business, the knowledge based economy, have been shown to be built on quicksand. All this underlines the necessity for workers to explore the alternative, to reject the logic of the status quo, to build the workers’ opposition based on the alternative.

Article Index



International News

Philippines:

Deadly Legacy of US Military Bases

The US military began pulling out of the Philippines in 1991 after the country's Senate voted against letting the Pentagon continue operating its naval station at Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base, once the largest overseas US military bases. The eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano that same year hastened the Air Force pullout from Clark. The Navy closed Subic Bay a year later.

The volcano's eruption forced more than 30,000 people to seek shelter on the Clark base grounds. The refugees built a community there with the assistance of the Filipino government. Environmentalists and government officials have since found out that the area, which contains crops for food as well as shallow wells as a source of water, was the former Air Force motor pool. Fuels, solvents and other toxic chemicals were used in the repair and maintenance of vehicles. For decades these chemicals seeped into the ground and groundwater.

Studies by US and Filipino scientists have also detected dieldrin, a pesticide banned in the US, as well as jet fuels, mercury and arsenic. The toxins are known to cause birth defects and other illnesses such as leukaemia. Local activists calculated that more than 100 people, many of them children, have died from leukaemia, cancer and other illnesses linked to environmental contamination.

Many of the refugees have been unable to afford to leave the former base, even when the contamination became known. Residents of the town of Madapdap, within the Clark base's former boundaries, say the water they drink and use for bathing and cooking reeks of fuel. Many of their children have cerebral palsy, while some have unexplained rashes on their faces and arms.

The environmental destruction at Subic Bay is similar. Eugene Carroll, a retired US Navy admiral who commanded fleets which docked in Subic Bay, said US forces routinely repaired and maintained ships and aircraft using toxic chemicals that were often mishandled. "The legacy was one of malign neglect in terms of abusing the land and waters of the Philippines," he said.

Subic Bay was also used extensively for US military testing and wargames training. An untold number of residents have been killed or maimed by unexploded ordnance littering the area. Most recently, in March 2000, fishermen were collecting tropical fish when they found a four-inch capsule. They were trying to figure out what it was when it exploded. A 19-year-old youth was killed and another fisherman lost his eye. Such incidents are common, say residents of the area.

According to activists, just a preliminary assessment at Clark and Subic Bay could cost up to $3 million. A comprehensive cleanup could cost more than $2 billion. Filipino Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez said the Filipino government has asked the US to clean up the bases. "Why this is not being addressed is befuddling to me and many Filipinos," he said. The former vice chair of the Filipino Senate's environment committee points out, "Traditionally, Philippine government officials are scared of crossing the path of the US government. They're worried about trade relations. They're worried about foreign assistance."

The Pentagon maintains there is no proof that the US military caused the widespread contamination at Subic Bay and Clark bases, despite the existence of a 1992 report by the US government General Accounting Office which said the US forces caused significant environmental damage. Defence Department spokesman Lt Dave Gai said that under a "hold harmless" clause in a 1988 agreement with the Filipino government, the US military was not required to return the bases in their original state. Paul Bloom, a professor of soil science at the University of Minnesota, has pointed out the US's "main concern is setting a precedent". He said, "They are worried about Okinawa. They've got Panama and other bases around the world." Lt Gai said, "Upon our departure, responsibility reverted to the Philippine government. We expect those reaping the benefits of the infrastructure to also take responsibility for any necessary remediation."

Subic Bay is now an international free port with operations by such US companies Acer Computers and Federal Express. The Clark base is being turned into an international airport and has become a business complex including a large operation by America Online. Activists say they hold out little hope that these companies "reaping the benefits of the infrastructure" will take responsibility for the cleanup.

Last year, a Filipino environmental group filed a suit on behalf of more than 100 victims seeking more than $1 billion from the US and Filipino governments for the deaths and illnesses at the bases. Another lawsuit is being planned for US Federal Courts naming the US military as the defendant.

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