8 Days Remaining

Wednesday 15th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Brexit, the skills gap and the digital economy are some of the biggest challenges we face if we’re to build a successful economy, writes TONY BURKE

UNITE delegates from across UK manufacturing companies will meet in Brighton today to discuss the future of UK manufacturing along with other key issues such as the chaos created by the government’s Brexit negotiations, automation and the digital economy; skills and apprenticeships and the future of our important strategic industries upon which thousands of highly skilled Unite members and their families depend.

Delegates will be focusing on a new strategic plan Shaping the Future of UK Manufacturing, which sets out a robust strategy for our manufacturing industries and how we will defend our members and their communities.

On Brexit, Unite has been campaigning for continued access to the European single market, access to a customs union and to skills, continuing investment and protection of workers’ employment rights. 

Equally they will be discussing the impact of automation and the digital revolution and how Unite needs to develop a response to the potential job losses that could come our way through Industry 4.0 and the digital economy.

The technological change we face means we either take part in a “race to the bottom” or become a global leader.  Unite’s manufacturing combine of shop stewards has argued that only by having an industrial strategy, backed up by investment to create jobs, plugging the skills gap, reshoring the supply chain and continuing growth across manufacturing will ensure we maintain the strong manufacturing base upon which any modern economy depends.

The current Brexit chaos and uncertainty coupled with right-wing Tories arguing for a “hard Brexit” will lead to manufacturing in the UK being completely jettisoned.  

The likes of John Redwood, Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg want to finish the Thatcherite project by developing a “race to the bottom” economy based on low-skilled, low-paid jobs with minimal employment rights.

Although many workers voted to leave the European Union, they did not vote to destroy their jobs and communities, neither did they vote to see their employment rights won through the European Union taken away by a government granting itself “Henry VIII” powers which would take away protections that we have enjoyed over the past 40 years.

Unite’s strategy document sets out the case for UK manufacturing and the case for protecting well-paid, skilled employment, along with government support for UK manufacturing and defending strategic industries including the steel, automotive, aerospace, engineering, science and graphical sectors.

It is pleasing that under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has now adopted a robust and interventionist industrial strategy based on many policies proposed by Unite and we are pleased that Labour’s front-bench business, energy and industrial strategy team really understands the need for the UK to have an industrial manufacturing strategy as part of the manifesto “For the many, not the few.”

Unite reps will debate many issues at their specific sector conferences and a number of our senior reps will be reporting back from the shop stewards combine which has drafted the strategic plan for manufacturing as well as the document Brexit on our Terms.

Delegates will also be discussing such vital issues as skills and apprenticeships, and how to get more young people, women and people from ethnic minorities to see manufacturing as an option for the future.

Health and safety is another key issue for us in industries such as chemicals and oil and our international guests including those from the United Steelworkers will add to those debates.

Unite is the largest trade union in UK manufacturing with over half a million members whose collective voice is without equal.  

We intend to ensure that we remain at the forefront of defending and promoting our vital manufacturing industries — that’s what our reps will be doing today.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite.