End Stormont’s Race to the Bottom -Fight for public investment and public ownership

Job losses, wage restraint, handouts for big business…

By Paddy Meehan

Headline after headline has announced further job losses across Northern Ireland. These redundancies, mainly in manufacturing, show the local economy is haemorrhaging better paid and more secure jobs. Stormont’s policy of public sector cuts and handouts for big business is demonstratively not working but the politicians on the hill are wedded to this neo-liberal, pro-capitalist approach.

In October, 313 redundancies were announced in the Antrim bicycle firm Chain Reactions. This followed their “successful” merger with Wiggles in February earlier in the year. Caterpillar have given notice of up to 250 job losses and the possibly closure of their Monkstown plant. Their third quarter report talks approvingly of their “restructuring and customer reduction actions paying off” – meaning protecting their $481 million operating profit. Bombardier is to shed over 1,000 jobs this year.

Stormont’s Voodoo Economics

The strategy of the Assembly has been to implement massive public sector cuts and increase the handouts to big business. Research by Unite the Union has revealed that less than half of the jobs funded by Invest NI grants pay the average NI wage – already the lowest average in UK figures. The jobs that are being created are low-paid, precarious and stressful positions in the service sector and the so protest-march-slidercalled ‘gig’ economy like Deliveroo.

The DUP and Sinn Féin aim to cut corporation tax to 12.5% in order to bring it in line with the South. Sinn Fein’s Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is an enthusiastic supporter of this. This cut will cost £500 million over two years, leading to the loss of even more already existing public sector jobs in hope of attracting more call centres and other low-quality positions. Those who conjure up visions of a Celtic Tiger-style boom are being wilfully dishonest or living in a fantasy, given the ongoing capitalist crisis and the collapse in investment.

Make the super-rich pay

An ongoing strategy of trying to appease big business and supplementing their profits will not work. We need a strategy of public investment to directly create employment in Northern Ireland, including in manufacturing. There is plenty of work that needs done in health, education and other public services. And there are plenty of resources to fund it – the wealth of the UK’s billionaires has quadrupled since 2008! Rather than paying companies to come here and super-exploit workers, the public sector should be creating socially useful jobs with living wages.

In the meantime we need to fight against every job loss. We can’t allow communities to be held to ransom by profit-hungry bosses, meaning an unending race to the bottom. When profitable companies threaten redundancies, the trade union movement should be calling for their facilities to be taken into public ownership – retraining and retooling where necessary – to safeguard jobs and skills for the future.

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