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THE WORKERS PARTY

Conference discusses the future challenges for British industry

by Terry McCormick

A meeting was held on Saturday to discuss the Workers Party policy towards British industry and the challenges facing workers from AI, automation, vocational education and skills. Key contributions were given by Andy Hudd (a train driver) and Chris Winch (and educationalist). Following my attendance at the conference I felt inspired to note my comments as a contribution. (For the record, all comments are my own and not those of my employer or any other organisations which I am associated with.)

Luck

Personally, I have been ‘lucky’ to have done lots of different jobs in my life so far; clothes shop staff, Royal Mail letter sorting, customer services and manual work at a ferry port, fork lift truck & warehouse work, and bus driving for 7 years. None of these jobs required formal academic education, but all required training of one form or another. Whilst AI might sound frightening, I do not believe that it threatens these types of jobs where human interaction will always be required.

However, in all of those jobs, there was always a ‘ceiling’ which, regardless of a person’s vocational training, an employee would be unable to pass without obtaining academic qualifications. This leads to frustration, division, and mistrust. It also leads to the false perception that obtaining a university degree automatically means you will get paid more, and often out of touch ‘managers’ who haven’t got a clue how to actually do the job.

One of our Conference attendees asked of the audience “my kids are approaching the age where I need to advise them whether they should go to university, what do people think?”

The answer depends on whether ‘money’ is the motivation, and if it is, then don’t let it be.

From my own experience, after bus driving for 7 years I went to university and gained a Master Degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering.

When I finally emerged from university, degree in hand, riddled with student debt, and having sacrificed more than 4 years of bus driver salary – I got my first job as a graduate engineer earning less than what I would have done if I had stayed driving buses.

Displacement of Work

Following my transition into the ‘professional’ world of Civil Engineering, I have been exposed to a number of projects in many different sectors (water, road, heritage, structural, and rail). It has been apparent in all of these areas that work being won by UK-based companies has then been project-managed within the UK but often had the bulk of the work sent to those companies India-based offices for completion.

The companies would likely claim that the reason they do this is because they don’t have the skills or resources available in the UK. But that should raise the immediate question: If they don’t have the resources, then why did they bid on the project in the first place?

One particular example of this might be HS2. On the face of it, HS2 should have been a fantastic job-creation and skilling opportunity for the workers of this country. Yet sadly, many of the private consultants who won the work simply sent the work out to be designed in their Indian / other foreign design offices. Being based in the UK in order to win the work means nothing when the corporations can abuse the system. Furthermore, it has been alleged that some of these consultancies made redundancies to their CAD technicians whilst at the same time sending CAD work out to their Indian offices (did I mention that the staff in India get paid approximately a third of what the UK workers get paid?).

I witnessed as a bus driver how EU laws could be abused by unscrupulous employers trying to water down workers’ rights, but to see workers being made redundant whilst the work they would have otherwise done has been outsourced is simply unbelievable.

So my contribution to the question of rebuilding British industry is this:

BRING OUR WORK BACK, AND LET US BUILD THINGS

We must ensure, particularly in cases of projects of national interest, that the legislation regarding protection of jobs and the distribution of employment resources is strong enough and enforced explicitly to prevent corporations from using their base in the UK as nothing more than a tool for winning work, with their intention being to abuse foreign workers to maximise their profit whilst doing nothing for the British workers.