Australia: Adelaide workers discuss Holden shutdown

This week, Socialist Equality Party (SEP) members have been discussing the consequences of the closure of General Motors Holden with workers at the assembly plant in the northern Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth, as well as local residents. The shutdown, which is scheduled to take place at the end of 2017, will directly destroy 1,600 jobs. The jobs of thousands of workers employed by car parts manufacturers in Adelaide and across the country are also threatened. Three out of four parts companies supplying Holden are predicted to collapse.

On Tuesday, the Liberal-National Coalition government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced a pittance of $100 million to investigate alternative “employment opportunities” for the many thousands of workers whose livelihoods will be destroyed. Yesterday, the South Australian state Labor Party government convened a “round table” to discuss the “transformation” of the auto industry, making no less fraudulent claims that new opportunities will be opened up for workers.

The SEP campaigned outside the Elizabeth plant yesterday. SEP assistant national secretary James Cogan, who stood for the Senate in South Australia in the recent federal elections, addressed workers via loud hailer on the political issues they face. Cogan condemned the actions of the Abbott and state Labor governments as an attempt to throw dust in the eyes of workers about the immense social consequences of Holden’s closure.

Calling for opposition to the closure, Cogan stressed that workers at Holden were “not alone.” The plant’s shutdown was “part of a global restructuring operation by the auto conglomerates,” he said. “General Motors has closed plants across the US and cut wages for new workers in half. It has shut a plant in Belgium, and is closing a major plant in Germany and cutting workers’ conditions. It has slashed jobs in Brazil and cut back production and wages in South Korea.”

Workers, he continued, “can fight against this by linking up across national borders, but that means taking matters out of the hands of the trade unions. For three decades the unions have said you must become ‘internationally competitive,’ which has always meant cuts to jobs, wages, speed ups and other concessions. All this has produced is a race to the bottom and now a race to the closure of the plant. The working class can fight against what is taking place, but it needs a new perspective and a new leadership. That’s what the Socialist Equality Party is advancing and fighting for.”

Workers leaving the plant took copies of the WSWS exposure of the role of the Labor Party and trade unions in the dismantling of the auto industry over the past three decades (see: “The role of Labor and the unions in the assault on car industry workers”). None expressed support for the union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), which covers Australian car plants. Several workers stopped to make comments.

An assembly worker had a lengthy discussion with SEP members. Like others who gave comments, he wanted to remain anonymous. “The union doesn’t exist,” he said. “They haven’t existed since the 1980s. All that they have been doing is bargaining away our conditions, and sometimes getting a bit higher wages. They gave away our right to schedule our leave and our rostered days off. They always say that they have bargained us a victory, but they haven’t.

“Labor and Liberal have the same agenda. They fight among themselves for who can form government but they don’t represent me. They stand for the rich. They’re the capitalists.

“What’s happening now is capitalism and it is not working. We’re going down the road of the United States. I’ve followed what’s happened in Europe, with the bailout of the banks and the cuts to workers’ pensions. That’s wrong. That’s money that they worked for.”

Other workers and residents spoke to the WSWS about the closure. Outside the Elizabeth Centrelink (welfare) office, Vicky, commented: “The concessions that workers and tax payers made to Holden have been taken and they [GM] have given it to themselves. They’re only concerned about profit.

“This is what upsets me, and it’s not just GM, it’s a lot of companies. They are going to other countries that aren’t so developed and in my opinion they are exploiting those people. They’re doing it because it will be cheaper for them, in terms of wages, health and safety and so on… It’s the fat cats that get it all. There is not a care for the workers, either here or where they intend to go.

“I think it’s morally wrong. I live in a house, I have neighbours, I have a community, and so it gets bigger and bigger until I’m a member of the world community. Shouldn’t we be looking out for one another?”

After hearing of the multi-billion dollar personal wealth of financial speculators, such as Warren Buffett and George Soros, who are buying up GM shares, Vicky said: “Why do people need that? It is obscene!”

Dale, a young worker, said: “I’ve got a lot of mates who work for the parts suppliers. They’ll lose their jobs.”

Dale previously worked as a casual employee at an auto parts supplier in West Elizabeth, but left his job in July. “I had to leave because the company announced that they wouldn’t be giving any pay rises to anyone. They said they were trying to make cutbacks.”

Dale said the rationale that taking wage cuts would defend jobs had been used at his workplace “but because they supply Holden, after Holden closes down they’ll close anyway.”

Laurent Kendrick, a steel construction parts boilermaker, explained: “It’s going to impact a lot of people and there aren’t going to be any jobs to go to. It’ll impact everybody, no matter what age.” Laurent doubted the government promises of a “transition” for car workers. “It’s one thing to give people a bit of training,” he said, “but people can’t get jobs that aren’t there.”

Michael, an unemployed worker, commented: “The government doesn’t care. Before election day, the parties lie and then after 100 days all they’re talking about today are ‘cuts, cuts, cuts.’ You only have to look at America to see where this is going. The whole thing looks like it’s going to crash and burn. The stock markets control the show, and when they crash they’ll ask for money and get it from the governments.”

On the role of the trade unions, Michael said: “The union officials get kickbacks. It’s not what it was all supposed to be about. It was supposed to be that you worked and could have a life. But now you get a job, work your ass off, and don’t get paid any overtime.”