Letter: What is to be done with employees made redundant in manufacturing?

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The Independent Online
Sir: The article by Hamish McRae ('Manufacturing, who needs it anyway?', 18 November) and letters from correspondents (19 November) concerned with the needs or otherwise of a strong manufacturing base skirt the real issue, which is that materialism is no longer an adequate base for economic stability, so the political polarisations based on capital and labour are no longer relevant.

Fewer people are needed to achieve the current levels of manufacturing or indeed any other tradeable activity than ever before. This means that fewer people are employed and fewer people buy goods or services. This limits the further opportunities for employment and increases unemployment at the same time. The only way most unemployed people are likely to get a real job is by taking over someone else's. Many new companies merely displace old or inefficient ones.

Increases in productivity are necessary to survive, that is, maintain a reasonable trade balance. Yet, increases in productivity reduce the value of the economy to the wider community unless economic activity increases in scale or scope at a compensating rate. This it is patently failing to do.

We are self-sufficient in agriculture, which now employs only a minute fraction of the workforce. Something approaching self-sufficiency in manufacturing at a similar small fraction must be achieved for competitive reasons. But, short of a return to domestic servants and incredibly large differentials in pay, where is the way ahead?

The way ahead lies in more positive exploitation of job sharing, which will decrease differentials, make certain types of work attractive for its own sake and put pressure on society to develop values based on creativity, music, philosophy and the rest.

It is disappointing that the political parties have not managed to understand and explore these opportunities. Now we all agree on some form of capitalist system, could not the political polarisations devolve around the values our society wishes to pursue? Or do we settle for joy-riding and bigger prisons?

Yours faithfully,

DAVID RHODES

Nottingham

20 November

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