The Guardian August 8, 2001


How to protect workers' jobs

The immediate future of the Mitsubishi car manufacturing plant has been 
decided and Adelaide workers will have heaved a sigh of relief. However, 
the long-term future and the whole corporate setup has to be considered by 
the trade union movement and any government that is responsible, in a real 
sense, for the workers of this country and for the genuine national 

For many years the Communist Party has pointed to the fact that foreign 
ownership of major industries puts workers' jobs and the best interests of 
the Australian economy at the mercy of the foreign owners. 

What happened last week in the case of Mitsubishi once again dramatically 
indicates the reality of the danger. Not even the government is in charge 
of the situation and the Prime Minister has to go, cap-in-hand, and with 
millions of dollars in bribes to the foreign masters ($200 million in the 
case of Mitsubishi) to try and ensure that the enterprise stays in 

And what will happen in 2005 when the issue comes up again? Will more 
millions of taxpayers' money be forked out to bribe Mitsubishi? 

And what about other foreign owned companies that use the threat of closure 
and transfer of operations to another country unless they get handouts, tax 
concessions and other "rewards". 

The same threat faces the workers in the steel industry. The BHP-Billiton 
merger has signalled the closure of the steel industry in Australia unless 
some other (foreign-owned company?) buys BHP's steel plant. Is it in the 
"national interest" for Australia to have its steel industry closed down or 
even foreign owned and to become reliant on imports? 

This is what corporate ownership and control means. Jobs are at the whim of 
foreign boardrooms. Profits flow out of the country into the pockets of 
overseas shareholders. The government pays out more millions in an 
endeavour to bribe the same board of directors to stay. Whole industries 
may be closed and transferred to another country where pickings are more 

As a result of this process, sanctioned by successive governments, 
Australia's manufacturing industries have been gutted and tens of thousands 
of workers have already lost their jobs. 

Furthermore, just so long as foreign-owned corporations are in command of 
the Australian economy and can manipulate compliant governments, our 
national independence and sovereignty are limited. 

The cry goes up from governments  we have to have foreign investment and 
private ownership is the only way to go. Both arguments are false. 

Australia is a rich country in many ways. We have a skilled labour force, 
huge natural resources and very profitable exports. There is considerable 
wealth in the vaults of banks and elsewhere, including the huge accumulated 
workers' superannuation funds. All of this wealth could be used as a 
national capital resource. 

It should be used to establish publicly owned enterprises as the first 
priority. It is only when major industries such as natural resources, 
banking, communications, energy, and other major infrastructure and 
manufacturing enterprises are in public hands that the necessary decisions 
can be made which protect workers' jobs and livelihoods  and the national 

Some will say that this is an impossible dream. Is it? If tiny Cuba can 
preserve its predominantly publicly owned economy in the face of over 40 
years of boycott and trade embargo from the United States, what is to stop 
Australia doing the same? Australia is much more favourably placed in terms 
of geography and resources. 

What is lacking is the political understanding and the will that this 
course is both possible and desirable for a country to take. 

It is a fundamental responsibility of trade unions and left political 
organisations to protect the jobs of workers but the private enterprise 
system, and particularly, foreign ownership makes this difficult. Tens of 
thousands of workers have lost their jobs in both foreign owned and other 
private enterprise companies in the last few years. 

It is for this reason that trade unions and left political parties have to 
concern themselves with the wider issues of public ownership and foreign 
corporate domination of the economy.
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