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Year 2001 Number 5, January 12, 2001Archive Search Home Page

Sections of Workers Prepare to Take Strike Action

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Sections of Workers Prepare to Take Strike Action

For Your Reference:
What Is Meant by the Knowledge-Based Economy - II

The World In Brief

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Sections of Workers Prepare to Take Strike Action

This past week has seen many sections of workers prepare to take strike action in defence of their interests and against the effects of the anti-social offensive. Among them are the following.

Merseyside firefighters vote to strike

Firefighters on Merseyside have voted to strike in a dispute over staffing levels and pay. The Fire Brigades Union will decide later this month whether to name strike dates, following talks with managers.

Union members voted by 68% for an all-out strike in a row over staffing in the Merseyside brigade's fire control, transfer of firefighters and pay.

Andy Gilchrist, the union's general secretary, says he hopes a strike can be averted.

Tube drivers threaten to strike

Drivers on three busy London Underground lines are threatening to strike later this month in a row over safety training. Around 500 members of ASLEF who operate trains on the Hammersmith & City, East London and Central lines could walk out in two weeks.

Union general secretary Mick Rix said London Underground had broken an agreement on training drivers who work on routes which run alongside main railway lines. LU said it was giving the drivers extra training, but stressed it was not "safety critical".

Mick Rix said: "Unless the matter is put right within two weeks, we will instruct our members not to put themselves and the public at risk by driving trains when they do not hold the required safety qualifications."

The Health and Safety Executive said it had arranged an urgent meeting with LU and union leaders to discuss the dispute.

Bob Smallwood, HSE's Deputy Chief Inspector of Railways, said: "We have made it clear that if safety critical training has been compromised, HSE will take swift action, including the issue of an enforcement notice if this proves necessary."

Meanwhile, ASLEF and the Rail Maritime and Transport union began balloting all their members who work on the Tube about industrial action in a dispute over plans to part-privatise the service.

Steelworkers may strike over job cuts

More steelworkers could be balloted on industrial action in an escalating dispute over compulsory job losses.

Union members at the Scunthorpe plant of steel firm Corus have started voting on whether to stage strikes in protest at compulsory redundancies.

The possibility of similar moves in Wales is not being ruled out by the unions.

The Iron and Steel Trades Confederation announced that a mass meeting of steelworkers from Teeside will be held on January 27 to decide whether a ballot should be held. The date of the mass meeting has been put back because the company has asked for local talks. Mick Adams, the union's Teeside officer, said the meeting will either be a victory rally or one to decide on an industrial action ballot.

The union have held talks with Corus officials to try to persuade the company not to go ahead with compulsory redundancies.

The dispute is likely to escalate if Corus confirms speculation about a further round of job losses later this month.

Corus is already cutting 4,500 jobs across Britain and at some plants a lack of volunteers means the company is imposing compulsory redundancies.

In particular, the loss of the Llanwern plant in Wales would be a devastating blow for the Newport area. It is estimated Llanwern accounts for around 10,000 jobs – both at the site and in dependent businesses.

Last September news that Corus would spend £35m relining one of the plant's blast furnaces appeared to indicate that most of the plant's jobs were safe. But in December Corus said further radical action was needed because of weak British demand, oversupply throughout Europe and the strong pound, which was hindering exports.

Also in December John Bryant and his fellow chief executive Fokko van Duyne resigned. Analysts said the departure of Mr Bryant, who had been seen as a strong supporter of the steel industry in Wales, probably spelled the end for Llanwern.

Before Christmas Wales's First Minister Rhodri Morgan joined Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy at talks with Corus's chief executive at the Department of Trade and Industry in London.

Article Index

For Your Reference:

What Is Meant by the Knowledge-Based Economy - II

Part I appeared in yesterday’s WDIE [No.4]

But if no goods are produced, how is it possible to speak of any sort of economy? Why should the working class accept that companies that are evaluated as most important by the stock market because of their "intangible knowledge assets" take precedence over industries and public services that are vital to the needs of the national economy and to meet the needs of the people? Why, for example, if Vodaphone is one of those companies that top the FTSE 100 should Vodaphone be seen as the future of our national economy? Who is Vodaphone producing for in the global market? Not the interests of the national economy, where the priority is that investments should be increased in public services – social housing and the economic and cultural wellbeing of the people. Neither is it for any other economy abroad when most of the world’s people do not have enough food or shelter let alone public services, or even access to an ordinary telephone.

The aim of the stock market is to determine for the bourgeoisie which companies will secure them the maximum profit in the global market. Increasingly it is in this speculation about intangible assets, which is increasingly the source, the area for maximum profits, rather than anything to do with production. The bourgeoisie floats many bubbles. For example, they floated the dot coms even though they are making huge losses. But then the dot coms bubble bursts for the time being and then there come the biogenetics, which have their own bubble and reactionary slant, and so on.

In addition to this definition of the knowledge economy as the facilitator of the global economy, the further point the Minister for Science made was that Britain cannot compete in the global market simply on low labour costs, raw materials, or land. Increasingly businesses must generate competitive advantage by "exploiting capabilities", which its competitors cannot easily match or imitate. These distinctive capabilities must be knowledge, skills and creativity, which help create high productivity business processes and high value goods and services.

This is the excuse for smashing up manufacturing, agricultural and other services which are vital to the national economy, and making the economy dependent on these so-called knowledge industries. At the same time, here is the whole imperialist logic. The government is saying that people should forget about the national economy and use the "exploiting capabilities" of what they also define as the "digital divide" so that they can enslave the people of developing countries by penetrating these countries and dumping on them high tech commodities, high tech weapons of destruction. These commodities which have dubious value for these countries but which place them further in debt to the financial oligarchy and rich countries.

One of the most revealing comments on the "knowledge economy" was what Tony Blair said at the 2000 Conference on the "Knowledge-Based Economy". He said that he strongly believed that the knowledge-based economy was Britain’s best route for success and prosperity. He asserted that this new, knowledge-driven economy was a major change. "I believe it is the equivalent of the machine-driven economy of the industrial revolution," he claimed.

But how can such and assertion and claim be made? The industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, that is, the technical scientific revolution or the rise of the use of modern machines, opened a path for progress in society. For the first time there arose a need on a broad scale for modern production to utilise those who were capable of carrying out modern production. As a result the conception slowly arose that the entire population should be provided with education, and providing public education became an obligation of society. In the same fashion this goes for health care and provision of pensions and social welfare and so on. Then society comes to a stage when these same means of production do the opposite. Lord Sainsbury, the Science Minister, is in fact saying that education needs to be narrowed not broadened and has to be geared very particularly to serve the demands of the monopolies in the global economy. Education is becoming so narrow as to mean simply computerisation. In other words, far from broadening education so that it facilitates the empowering of all the people to fully participate in the development of society, the present "knowledge-driven economy" is a brake on the further education of the working class and people. It is a factor in the destruction of the productive forces and of knowledge itself.

Marx predicted that capitalism cannot develop the productive forces on an uninterrupted basis. It especially cannot use the technical and scientific revolution for the benefit of society. At a certain stage, the same technical and scientific revolution which spurred the development of capitalism will actually become a factor in the destruction of capitalist society.

By putting the scientific-technical revolution in the service of the pay-the-rich society and the globalisation of the economy, the bourgeoisie is doing precisely this. For Tony Blair to suggest that the "knowledge-driven economy" is the equivalent spur to progress of the machine-driven economy of the industrial revolution is completely wrong, and the opposite will occur. By linking the scientific and technical revolution to the pay-the-rich system and the globalised economy will lead to even more and systematic destruction of the productive forces. Rather than a road to progress for the economy it is the road to disaster.

Such a path to disaster and loss of jobs can be seen. Globalisation and inward investment, and exporting commodities, which were hailed as the saviour of the car industry has pushed the car industry in Britain into further crisis with closures and cut-backs. In the North of England, the clothing industry is being virtually destroyed by the globalisation policy of these companies. Agriculture too is in increasing crisis. The knowledge economy, the new technology, is going to make the situation worse in that it destroys more jobs than it creates. This reflects capitalism in its final parasitic and moribund state.

In sum, the actual programme which is called the "knowledge-driven or knowledge-based economy" is about narrowing knowledge and education and aiming it specifically to serve the interests of companies in obtaining success in the global economy. It is linked to the maximum profits on stock markets and the most parasitic definition of what is a successful company. It is about exploiting the digital divide and is imperialist logic. It is also a fact that such a phenomenon as this "knowledge-driven economy" will intensify the capitalist crisis and become a major factor in the destruction of the national economy and manufacturing base. It is attacking the jobs of the workers in all sectors of the economy and it will intensify the problem of jobless growth. At the same time, it is an ideological weapon that the bourgeoisie is using to act as a cover, a "Third Way", to give the impression that the political parties of the rich are taking the economy in a progressive direction.

If there were such a thing as a genuinely knowledge-driven economy, then it would be for developing a national economy to meet the needs of all and not a globalised economy to secure profits of the monopolies. Such a line of march starts with the demand of the working class that society stops paying the rich and an end to the globalisation of the economy by demanding that more is put into the economy than is taken out. It would include the broadening of education for society, a knowledge-driven society as it were, the development of the human factor/social consciousness, where the level of education and culture is raised so that the working class and people can fully participate in the development of society in all its aspects under the leadership of the working class.

Article Index

The World In Brief

January 9-16 INDIA: Chinese parliament head Li Peng visits, leading high-level 118-member delegation. He is holding talks with senior parliamentarian and government leaders.

January 13-14 JAPAN: Finance ministers of Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) meet in Kobe to discuss expansion of ASEM Trust Fund and approve the Kobe Research Project, a joint scheme aimed at enhancing co-operation between the two regions in stabilising foreign exchange markets and preventing future currency crises.

January 14-18 TURKEY/ISRAEL/USA: Joint naval exercises codenamed Mermaid take place in the Mediterranean. These are the third exercises of this kind, which are said to focus on search and rescue operations.

January 15-16 ARMENIA/AZERBAIJAN: NATO Secretary-General George Robertson visits Yerevan. Scheduled to visit Baku in second half of January.

January 15-30 AZERBAIJAN: IMF mission visits Baku in second half of January.

January 16 RUSSIA: French Defence Minister Alain Richard pays two-day visit to discuss peacekeeping operations and US plans to deploy the national ballistic missile defence system. Macedonian and German defence ministers are scheduled to visit Russia following the French Defence Minister’s visit.

January 17 AUSTRIA: OPEC meeting takes place in Vienna. Oil production is expected to be lowered by 1.5m to 2m barrels per day.

January 17 CAMEROON: French President Jacques Chirac opens the three-day French-Africa summit in Yaounde.

January 17 IRAQ/KUWAIT: Tenth anniversary of the start of Operation Desert Storm.

January 19 POLAND: The presidents of the Visegrad Four countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – meet to discuss results of renewed co-operation and integration in the EU.

January 20 SPAIN: Representatives of political parties, trade unions and numerous social associations hold march in Algeciras for immediate removal of the British nuclear submarine Tireless which has been docked in the nearby port of Gibraltar since May 19, 2000.

January 20-22 CHINA: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan visits at the invitation of the Chinese government.

January 20-26 IRAN: Tehran-Palestine Solidarity Week takes place with some 50 artists and scholars from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, Iran and Kashmir taking part.

January 21-23 LITHUANIA/BRITAIN: New Lithuanian parliamentary chairman, Arturas Paulauskas, makes official working visit to Britain at the invitation of Britain’s ambassador to Lithuania, Christopher Robbins.

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