Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Unite for Jobs march

Thousands took to the streets in Birmingham asking for the Government to join other European countries in their support for manufacturing.

7,000 people braved the rain yesterday to march from Hagley Road to Centenary Square in a bid to call on the government to "halt the job crisis". Demonstrators joined in from all over the country, including steel workers from the beleaguered Teesside Cast Products.

Workers are calling for a temporary short-time working subsidy to keep skilled people in work and halt a "tsunami of job losses" and the permanent disappearance of skilled jobs in manufacturing. "We need factories and plants open for when recovery comes because if they go they will be gone forever," noted Unite joint leader Tony Woodley in Centenary Square.

While the usual suspects in the financial sector keep announcing "signs of recovery", manufacturing in the UK has claimed 67,000 jobs in the first three months of 2009 alone (compared to 29,000 in January-March 2008) .

Birmingham was picked to host the event as the West Midlands is amongst the worst-hit region by the recession with almost one person out of ten now out of work. 88 per cent of the region's losses has come from manufacturing. In turn these are the people who start defaulting on their mortgages - with a dramatic knock-on effect.

The UK secondary sector employs just short of 3 million people and the automotive industry alone makes for the third biggest market in Europe. Yet, the current hemorraging of jobs we are witnessing doesn't seem to be regarded as a top priority.

The Government rustled up massive amounts at the blink of an eye to bail out the banks. But, in the words of Tony Woodley, "It's no good putting £900bn into bailing out the banks if the banks are not releasing funds to keep cashload available. The Government has to show Mr and Mrs Ordinary in the streets here that [it] cares about their jobs [and] cares about people losing their homes".

The Birmingham demo netted the unexpected support of former CBI boss Lord Digby Jones. "I'm losing my marching virginity today", he said on joining the rally. "We've got to get the skills of this country in manufacturing kept, maintained, ready for the upturn. This government aren't putting anything into making sure that happens".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today, Jones, himself a Brummie, said: "It is the duty of a government to invest in the short term in the skills of the country to make sure that, when the upturn comes, the flexibility can return because you've got skilled people in work. You can have all the flexible labour market in the world but, if you haven't got anybody in work, what's the point? I don't want the investors in manufacturing in a year's time to say: 'Well, we haven't got any skilled people in manufacturing in Britain we'll go somewhere else'".

"On this issue Unite are absolutely right", he added.

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