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Posted on 8 November 2013 at 17:02 GMT

Nationalise to defend the shipyards

Defend every job

Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland

Working class communities in Portsmouth, Glasgow and Fife have been dealt a devastating blow by the announcement on Wednesday that 1,775 jobs are to go in the shipbuilding industry.

BAE Systems bosses have in one fell swoop axed more than 40% of their workforce. Jobs will also be lost at the company's office near Bristol.

For Portsmouth, it will mean the end of shipbuilding and the loss of 940 jobs. In Scotland, around 800 workers will go - most of them at the Govan and Scotstoun yards on the Clyde - but also some at the Rosyth dockyard in Fife.

At the two Clyde shipyards the discussion immediately turned to the issue of redundancies with more than one in four of the workers being told they are surplus to requirements.

Voluntary redundancy may suit some, but it's unlikely this can cover for the loss of 800 jobs. Compulsory redundancies are very likely and must be fought, alongside a campaign to defend all the jobs and all the yards.

Workers pay price

Workers are again being told they have to pay the price for both government cuts and the refusal of BAE Systems to invest its profits in shipbuilding.

Increasing dividends to shareholders, up by more than 4% last year, takes number one priority compared to the livelihoods of the workers.

This is a company that specialises in defence, building both ships and aircraft, making an overall operating profit of 1.64 billion in 2012.

Ian King, BAE Systems chief executive and one of the highest paid CEOs in the UK, pocketed a massive 2.2 million in 2012. Company chairman Dick Olver had to make do with a mere 745,000.

What a contrast to the way in which the workforce have been treated, mere pawns to be discarded at will on the altar of profit.

For a united campaign

The trade unions at Portsmouth and on the Clyde have a particular responsibility to ensure a united campaign of opposition to fight the job cuts.

An urgent meeting of the stewards and convenors must take place and immediate plans should be made for joint protests at the both the MoD and at BAE Systems HQ.

A united struggle of all the workers and communities affected to fight the savage job cuts must be built by the trade unions.

The demand that the shipbuilding industry be nationalised to defend the jobs and skills of the workers should form a central part of the campaign.

BAE has been happy to rely on profitable contracts from the UK government but has ignored the potential to invest and diversify production in other areas, including offshore vessels for the north sea oil and gas industry and in the civilian maritime sector.

Through democratic nationalisation the highly skilled workforce could have their jobs secured. A plan for investment and diversification could be drawn up with the full involvement of workers and the trade unions.

Discussion on organising a mass campaign of opposition to the job cuts and effective end of the Portsmouth yard is vital.

Strike action, occupation of the affected shipyards and demonstrations are vital and should be prepared urgently.

No to divide and rule

Capitalist politicians, whose cuts and austerity agenda have contributed hugely to the job losses, have consciously sought to play off one group of workers against another.

Within minutes of the announcement by the Tory defence secretary Philip Hammond in the House of Commons that the Glasgow yards were recipients of the MoD contract for building new frigates, local Tory and Lib Dem politicians were claiming that Portsmouth was the victim of a political stitch-up.

Christine Dineage, Tory MP for Gosport, said: "The fact Scottish jobs have been protected at the expense of those on the south coast ... is very upsetting".

The Lib Dem leader of Portsmouth council echoed this: "Shipbuilding jobs are being protected in Scotland and not in Portsmouth".

It seemed to be lost on him that rather than Scottish jobs being "protected", 800 workers on the Clyde had just been told that their jobs had gone, as well as almost 1,000 in Portsmouth.

The idea of Scottish workers being given preferential treatment was partly reflected by the comments of some of the workers at Portsmouth.

They, with some justification, believe they have been victims of a political arrangement to award the contract to shipyards in Scotland because of the independence referendum next year.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson described having been told by a government source: "We did not want to give Alex Salmond a gift a little less than a year ahead of the independence referendum". And that: "The government was acutely conscious of the politics of the Clyde".

This last comment exposes a fear that the government and the company may have faced the potential for an explosive struggle by workers in the Clyde shipyards, with the 1971/2 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders occupation as a template.

And that the SNP would use the possible closure of the Govan yards to bolster the case for Scottish independence.

There is a danger that unless a united campaign of opposition is built by the trade unions, nationalist divisions can emerge over this issue.

A trade union campaign to fight to save all the jobs at all the yards, linked to a demand for the nationalisation of the industry is essential to unite workers and cut across the potential for division.

Independence referendum

Scottish capitalist politicians have also scandalously used the issue of the loss of almost 2,000 jobs to bolster support for their own position on the independence referendum.

The Con-Dems' Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael commented: "If Scotland were to vote yes then the rest of the UK would be looking for shipyards within their own jurisdiction and Portsmouth would be well placed".

This out-and-out blackmail was taken up by the Labour MP Iain Davidson: the MoD could "place the order with the provision that if Scotland separates it would revert back to the MoD where to place it".

It's clear that the narrative of "Project Fear", the name given to the Better Together No campaign, will be that the orders for the ships will be withdrawn by a UK government if Scotland votes Yes in September 2014.

The SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon rather than condemn BAE Systems and the Con-Dem government for the devastating loss of jobs and propose a joint campaign to fight the cuts, instead rubbed salt into the wounds of the Portsmouth workers by claiming: "The Clyde is the best place to build these ships because of the investment we've seen in those yards, because of the skill mix and because of the value for money".

It's clear that the pro-big business political elite can offer no way forward in this battle. The trade unions must ensure that the voice and interests of the workers' movement is heard loud and clear in the struggle to defend all the jobs, yards and communities.

Statement from Portsmouth Trades Council

The following is an agreed statement from Portsmouth Trades Council that met on 7th November. BAE workers and representatives of their trade unions were present.

The loss of 940 skilled shipbuilding jobs in Portsmouth will be a disaster. It is not just the workers and their families who will suffer.

The knock-on effects for the local economy will be huge and will trigger even more job losses.

We should not follow the lead of local politicians who argue to cut jobs in Scotland to save jobs in Portsmouth.

We should fight to save all shipbuilding jobs, wherever they are. BAE and the government can be put under pressure to keep all the shipyard jobs, if there is a concerted campaign.

This Saturday, 9 November at 1 pm there will be a rally to save shipbuilding jobs at the Fountain, Commercial Rd, Portsmouth.
On Saturday 16 November, there will be a march to save shipbuilding jobs starting at Trafalgar Gate at 12 pm and marching to Victory Gate.

Please tell people about these events. We want them to be huge!


A Facebook group set up on Wednesday had over 40,000 supporters within a day which shows the strength of feeling.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 8 November 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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