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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

manufacturing or bust « Previous | |Next »
July 24, 2009

Paul Howe, the anti-climate change unionist, is calling for an manufacturing policy to ensure that Australia continues to make things rather than just digs rocks. He says that in the middle of the worst global recession since World War II, Australia must do everything we can to support manufacturing and position the industry for the future.

The future, we should add, means adaption to global heating and an emissions trading scheme to deal with greenhouse gas emissions. Howe has run a campaign against an emissions trading scheme in the name of protecting jobs ( job security) from the extra costs of electricity under an an emissions trading scheme.


It is fair enough to defend manufacturing as opposed to Quarry Australia. However, what sort of things does Howe have in mind? Howe has come across as defending old Australia in the face of the new in the past.

Recently, Howe has been talking about a 21st century Steel Plan---a stratagem to save a key industry in the face of the global economic crisis. Howe is advocating motor vehicles, of course. And the steel industry. Howe says:

we need to build on the new steel plan launched earlier this year by the AWU. Steel's position as a strategic sector of the economy, with vital capability to meet infrastructure and defence requirements, should be recognised with greater accountability in the tender procurement process -- that is, if a project does not source Australian steel, it would need to explain why not -- to keep foundries busy supplying nation-building projects.

Buy Australian steel is the message here. It implies subsidies to encourage private sector buyers to take Australian steel over cut-price steel from global conglomerates. Does Howe's suggestion that a national manufacturing policy should build on progress in steel and automotives plus adding value to Australia's natural resources through investment in downstream processing mean something like an uranium enrichment plant? A national action plan, according to Howe, would build:
on progress in steel and automotives, elements include how best to add value to Australia's natural resources through investment in downstream processing; integrate trade and industry policy more effectively by getting the Industry Capability Network, Austrade and Enterprise Connect working together. We also could encourage the emergence of a new generation of global firms anchored in Australia, including in the $6 trillion environment and low-carbon industries; forge organisational design and skills formation into a competitive advantage; educate and inform so that manufacturing attracts the best and brightest students; and deal with the consequences of the next boom and an appreciating exchange rate to ensure the nation retains a viable manufacturing sector.

Now Howe does mention the $6 trillion environment and low-carbon industries. What does "green technology" mean in terms of manufacturing in new forms of renewable energy, a knowledge economy or sustainable cities, given Howe's antagonism to an emissions trading scheme, the shift to a low carbon economy, and greater use of renewable energy rather than coal?

Howe's argument is that the impact of the economic crisis is starting to bite. Steel plant furnaces going offline from reduced demand from steel, and they may not be started up again, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. Without significant government intervention, regional centres such as Wollongong and Newcastle would be devastated.

The AWU's steel plan for the 21st century does appear to be centred around production subsidies, guaranteed sales to government infrastructure projects and extra protection from foreign takeover bids under an industry "survival strategy".It is about helping struggling steel manufacturers to adjust and restructure from reduced demand.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:28 AM | | Comments (10)


Hey I'm with Paul. Why would a billion Chinese want to make steel if they can just come buy it here?

BHP obviously knows NOTHING about the iron and steel business to send it all offshore. What we need are lots of Industry Plans, so uncompetitive manufacturers and their employees can live in the style to which they have become accustomed thanks to public subsidies.

I hope Rudd's mob has the fortitude to resist this kind of nonsense but I would not put a lot of money on it.

Ken, am not sure I agree entirely.
Am fed up with ordinary people, to an extent brainwashed by the system into accepting "reform" as an alibi for the reality of a new feudalism, being forced to carry the can for trans national capitalism and its local lackeys playing off both ends against the middle.
Am indeed sickened by collusive formations like the one ruining Tasmania and agree there is a huge problem with corporatism and embryonic fascism.
But it important to apportion blame fairly.
Let's start with the international Corporate Psychopath and its toadies and the piratical raids on communities, lest folk think you are attacking the mislead victims in the Rust Belt, cheated of the lives they were promised in return for their efforts, and forced to live under the thumb of a frankly vicious social security system and as prey for a deregulated financial system in the form that it applies to the "undeserving" proletariat and unemployed; migrants, women, the young and aborigines, in particular.

gotta protect those steel workers and coal fired power stations that fuel the steel plants from the environmental state of the greenies.

Let me try and put a face to "those steel workers" types.

That would be ME... Of and off since I left high school. Currently on... but, given the GFC, it looks like I'll be off before long.

Port Kembla. Son of a steelworks labourer. Educated at TAFE and not exactly rolling is the $$$. Well-and-truly middle aged. Living in an area of high unemployment and bugger-all in the way of alternative industry.

Not a "greenie-hater" by any means. Concerned about the future of the planet and the safety of my (teenage) children. But not really having anywhere to go for these last few years of my working life. If I end up on the scrap heap, it won't be because the greenies sabotaged me. It will be because the company wanted to cut costs and keeps shareholders happy.

I'm a cog in the machine, but I am not a part of it. And there are hundreds like me in this corner of the swamp. Contrary to the media image, most of us are not rich, lazy slobs. Please understand that we didn't sign on, all those years ago, just so we could wreck the atmosphere. Nor did our fathers. But here we are... for now.

Sorry for the disjointed comment. It's just too close to home.

My brief is with Howes----he should be out fighting for his steel workers by trying to get the large renewable energy wind mills--eg the Barunga Range in South Australia – designed and made in Australia by Australian steel workers. Same for the steel frames in the large solar energy farms that need to be built.

Instead of attacking climate change as completely negative on his industry Howe should be devising ways for the steel industry to adapt and prosper in the shift to a low carbon economy.

No having a go at anyone. Really.

I've worked in it or near it for decades and it's obviously a crappy industry. Frankly, I don't see how it can "prosper" in the face of o/s competition. And slapping together a few windmills doesn't make the steelmaking process any less filthy.

It's just disappointing that so many people are being held "hostage" by the industry while the govt does nothing... offering no realistic employment alternatives.

if that is the case, and the steel industry can only be competitive with lots of subsidies and protection from international competition, then Howe ought to be advocating the Rudd Government provide free places and allowances to enable steel workers to get a university degree and reskill themselves.

It is what Keating did with Working Nation after the last recession and his opening the economy up to greater competition as opposed to a buy Australia campaign.

Is the steel industry an economically unviable industry?

a steel industry in transition during an economic crisis means an industry making upgrades in their machinery, continuing to part of the global supply chain or becoming part of the global supply chain.

you say "I hope Rudd's mob has the fortitude to resist this kind of nonsense but I would not put a lot of money on it".

No such luck. Unions and job protection in an economic crisis are too strong to resist.

Hey Nan, you might want to explain the function of "unions and job protection in an economic crisis" to those at the Centrelink offices around here. They've certainly got plenty of time to listen.