Thursday, February 8, 2024

News: Vauxhall closes at Luton, Fishing quotas (2001)

From the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Vauxhall closes at Luton

General Motors’ plan to close its Vauxhall plant in Luton is a devastating blow to the workers involved. Many will be thrown on the scrap heap without hope of ever working again – poverty being their lot.

Despite all the howls of shock, surprise and indignation from certain sections of the bourgeois media, this did not just come out of the blue. It is part and parcel of GM’s rationalization programme to cut production capacity in Europe and North America by 10 percent in an industry which is suffering from chronic overcapacity, ie there is a glut of cars on the market. GM, of course, are not the only ones. We are all too familiar with the tales of woe from Rover (Longbridge), Ford (Dagenham) and South Korea’s Daewoo.

The overall context of all this is the current crisis of capitalism and the increasing concentration of capital into fewer and fewer hands. The last couple of years has seen a wave of mergers and ‘alliances’ in the automobile industry the result of which is that five companies (GM, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Toyota and Volkswagen) account for more than two thirds of global car sales.

Such action has failed to prevent sagging profits. GM lost $l8lm in Europe in the third quarter, which is expected to double in the final three months of last year, according to the Economist.

The Economist also says that as such profit reports have damaged GM’s share price “by rolling together a bunch of radical announcements, GM hopes to show Wall Street that it is serious about bringing its problem children to heel”. The class struggle has not gone away.

Let’s not forget that the working class has also had to endure belt-tightening and ‘social partnership’ (‘we’re both on the same side now’). The workers at Vauxhall in Luton increased productivity and ditched militancy, and their reward was to be sacked for producing too many cars. In short, they have worked themselves out of a job!

The only way to make any sense of this madness is via Marxian economics. Overproduction is a natural part of capitalism’s accumulation cycle, not its antithesis as pro-capitalist economists like to argue. In their competitive search for profit and market share, capitalists over-invest, only to find later that the market is not as big as they first thought.

The bourgeois media hacks may refer to this phenomena, but they cannot place it in any coherent theoretical framework, which is why it is mentioned in the same breath as peripheral things such as fluctuating exchange rates and monetary/fiscal policy. No reformist solution can he found to the madness of capitalism, while the central contradicdon of capitalism remains ie that between socialised production and class monopoly of the means of production.

Fishing quotas

The “invisible Hand” of the market has proved its efficiency once again. On 15 December, EU ministers agreed to heavily reduce fishing quotas within European waters to combat over-fishing. This hasty action takes place after fishing stocks have steadily fallen since records began in 1963. There are reckoned to be 70,000 tonnes of cod in a sea where, in 1970, there were 250,000. The cuts represent the biggest reduction in the EU since the quota system began. The allowable catch of cod in the North Sea has been reduced by some 40 percent, down to 48,600 tonnes per year, and catch of hake has been reduced from 226,000 tonnes per year to just 42,000 tonnes.

Despite having reduced fish stocks to below half the level scientists reckon necessary to ensure recovery of the species, the partisans of business resent having to ease their exploitation of fish. Elliot Morley, British Fisheries Minister, boasted that he had managed to mitigate the scale of the cuts, saying he had saved “£20 million” worth of catch for British fishermen. Meanwhile, industry representatives complained that the cuts were too severe. Representatives of chippies maintain that old fashioned cod ‘n’ chips is not threatened.

So that’s all right then.

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