Leading Article: Will anyone provide work for redundant Clyde shipbuilders?

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The Independent Culture
TWO MERCHANT shipyards are to close on the Clyde - cue a bagpipe lament on the decline of the Scottish shipbuilding industry. But is there anything that can be done about the decision by Kvaerner, the Norwegian construction group, to sell its interest in Govan and Clydebank, other than hair-pulling and clothes-rending?

There has been talk of finding a buyer for the two shipyards. Unfortunately, that seems like a dim prospect. Owning British shipyards amounts to dropping sacks of cash straight into the sea. Wages are too high for jobs that can be done just as well in India or Indonesia.

Nor does there seem to be an alternative to the disciplines of the market. Any manufacturing business that fails to generate a profit will always be operating with a sword of Damocles hanging over its head. Government intervention by way of subsidies can be sensible only as a temporary expedient. The fantastically complicated European Union rules on subsidies allow governments to provide hand-outs here and there, as long as they do not become provocatively obvious. It makes sense to be flexible about bail-outs, but in the end there is little point in throwing good money after bad.

This is not to say that every effort should not be made on behalf of the 2,000 workers who will be losing their jobs. As long as capital is more mobile than labour, there will be an imbalance of power at the heart of capitalism. The decision to sell the Scottish yards comes as part of a worldwide review of Kvaerner's business, in which some 25,000 workers will lose their jobs. It is therefore unlikely that the Clydeside shipbuilders will be able to get other jobs within the company. Furthermore, as straight- talking ship workers they are unlikely to fit cosily into the booming service sector and its telephone call centres staffed by sweet-talking twentysomethings.

The Government has reneged on promises that the Labour party made in opposition to enact legislation to stop discrimination against older workers. At the same time, the so-called New Deal (a travesty of Roosevelt's struggle to pull the US out of the Depression) has done little for the over-fifties. If the Government is to endorse the line of Eddie George, the Governor of the Bank of England, that the end of British manufacturing industry is inevitable and desirable, it must provide older workers with some alternative to The Oprah Winfrey Show and a pint of heavy.

The forthcoming Scottish parliament has the opportunity to develop an industrial policy that copes with some of these problems. Manufacturing industry will have to remain a large part of the Scottish economy. Without expensive and sustained retraining, 5 million Scots cannot yet live on the proceeds of microchip factories and the service sector.

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