From Socialist Voice, April 2005

Northern manufacturing in sharp decline

According to research carried out by students at Kingston University Business School in England, the number of people employed in manufacturing in Belfast has fallen by a staggering 76 per cent in the last thirty years, from approximately 69,000 in 1973 to 16,000 in 2001—that is, almost 9 per cent of those in employment. The decline has been sharpest in Belfast, with manufacturing outside Belfast changing little.
     The decline in manufacturing has been sharper in the North of Ireland than in Scotland, Yorkshire, or Humberside, with the rest of England also experiencing a drop in manufacturing jobs. The director-general of the bosses’ group CBI has stated that in the last three months we have witnessed a widespread fall in export orders. This is the result of a strong pound and a slow-down in the world economy.
     It is clear that so long as the policies being pursued by the current British government, like its predecessors, continue to favour finance capital over manufacturing capital, there will be little or no recovery in manufacturing industry in the North.
     A number of points arise from these figures. Firstly, as the Northern manufacturing base was built and developed with the connections, and in relation to the needs, of the British Empire, the reverse is also true. The British manufacturing base has shrunk with the decline of the empire, with the City of London becoming the most dominant sector, which is controlled by parasitic bankers and finance houses. Billions of pounds flow through these speculators’ hands every year.
     Secondly, to stop and begin to reverse the decline in manufacturing in the North of Ireland what is needed is the return of local governmental structures: that is, the re-establishing of the Assembly and the Executive, with powers to control budgets, raise their own revenue, set economic targets, and determine investment priorities. In addition, Northern manufacturing should be part of an overall strategy for building a manufacturing base in the whole of Ireland. Central to this must be the re-establishing of the cross-border economic committees as agreed under the Good Friday Agreement.
     As the manufacturing base was built with its connection to empire, that option is now gone. It can only be re-established with an all-Ireland economic strategy, tied to a policy of building up an indigenous manufacturing base, closely linked to research and development and to the new bio-technology industries.
     It is only with the development of cutting-edge technologies, developed and sustained on an all-Ireland basis, that we will begin to rebuild and renew and, most importantly, sustain manufacturing jobs in the whole of the country.

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