Flying circus

The GMB union reports that manufacturing in the UK is still in a desperate state. But is Government intervension really the answer? Dave Wilson thinks so.

These days, old man, nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we? – The Third Man (Graham Greene & Alexander Korda).

This month, the GMB union reports that manufacturing in the UK is still in a desperate state.

Contrary to some other reports that have posted rosier pictures of our industry, the GMB says that over 2,000 manufacturing jobs were lost last month, ranging from 10 folks at an aircraft factory in York to a whopping 330 at a photographic factory in Cheshire.

The August figures, compiled for the GMB by Labour Research, show that things have got decidedly worse since July, when ‘only’ 1833 jobs were lost. According to the GMB, the new figures bring total manufacturing job losses in the UK for this year up to 38,763.

All this, despite the fact that statistics from the European Commission show that here in the UK, we’re all working harder than ever! They claim that approximately four million people, or 16% of the UK workforce, currently work more than 48 hours per week.

So while we all work longer than the slackers in mainland Europe, why are factories are still being shut and workers laid off?

It’s Economics 101. Manufacturing is now a moveable commodity that can exist anywhere in the world and is usually performed where the costs are the lowest.

And, of course, the reason that costs are lower in China, India or Eastern Europe is that the workers over there don’t enjoy all the benefits and facilities that workers here in Britain do. Just think about our highly efficient National Health Service that’s available to all upon demand, our polite self deprecating police and fire officers, well built, yet inexpensive, low cost social housing and tremendous recreation and cultural facilities, not to mention our super road and rail infrastructure.

So what’s the solution? GMB General Secretary Kevin Curran thinks the answer is Government Intervention. And so do I.

The obvious, yet unspoken, solution to making manufacturing competitive here in the UK is simply to set aside an ‘EU free zone’ that’s dedicated to the task at hand.

Of course, the rules and restrictions in the New Enterprise zone might seem a little lax to some. But they would have to be, to match those of our competitors overseas.

Working hours, for example, would be totally unrestricted so workers would be free to sleep at their workplace and never go home. And there wouldn’t be any pollution laws or heath and safety regulations either, relieving companies of huge financial burdens they can ill afford.

Anyone living in the zone would also be relieved of the expensive unnecessary benefits of being a UK citizen – they wouldn’t be able to claim unemployment benefits, get any get hospital treatment or social housing. But think positively. They would have a job that pays the same amount as their counterparts in the Far East.

With the future firmly decided, the only thing left to do is to decide where the new manufacturing zone might be headquartered. Sedgefield and Rosyth are two places that immediately jump to mind.

<b>Editor’s note: The CBI today (Wednesday 22/9/2004) said that Britain’s business community would fight “tooth and nail” against proposed EU restrictions on working hours, published today. For more information, click <link>here=</link>. </b>

<b>Read the EU press release on working hours <link>here=</link>. </b>

A reader replies:

Sir: I suppose this is just stating the obvious and being totally naïve but isn’t the government missing a moral point? Surely if the labour content of any EU production should be supported by social standards then, by definition, no EU organisation should legally be able to import anything from a country that does not have the requisite social standard. Thus all of our jobs might be safer!

Chris Cook

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