British manufacturing has already lost 250,000 jobs this year and will suffer as many redundancies again by Christmas, a union leader warned yesterday.
Speaking at the TUC conference in Brighton, Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said Britain was fast becoming a "manufacturing backwater".
"I have to say my members look at their colleagues in our farming industry with some degree of envy," he said. "Manufacturing has lost far more jobs this year than farming has since 1997. Yet it had twice as much subsidy as the rest of industry put together.
"I know that farming workers have had a rough ride but I find it hard to accept why farming should get £30bn over just four years to produce less than 1 per cent of the gross domestic product. As Winston Churchill might have said – never have so many received so much for so little. And my members want their share as well."
Later this week delegates are expected to pass an emergency motion demanding more rights to information and consultation ahead of redundancies. The motion called for the intervention of the Government to ensure the survival of Marconi, which announced 2,000 redundancies last Tuesday without consultation.
A resolution passed yesterday urged the Government to form an "active industrial policy" to provide targeted support for specific industries and regions. It also urged the Government to provide greater protection for workers so that it is no longer "cheaper and easier" to sack British workers than those in Europe.
Referring to yesterday's speech by Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Sir Ken said: "There was nothing in what she said for manufacturing. There were a lot of warm words but nothing concrete. Our members are losing their jobs by the thousand."
In her speech Ms Hewitt said it was not the function of government to assist failing businesses. She said: "People want secure jobs. They know we can't write a blank cheque to prop up a company that is losing millions every week."