November 2011        

Job losses batter Co. Waterford

The catalogue of job losses in the Waterford region can be said to be a microcosm of the country in general. It is an area that is reeling from the haemorrhage of jobs caused by overdependence on transnational companies and the crisis in capitalism.
     In Waterford itself the general topic of conversation is the appalling blow to the local economy and to the lives of ordinary people. The main blow came with the closure of Waterford Crystal—later renamed Waterford Wedgwood. The company, which once employed 3,300 workers, had been slowly wound down over the years, and this process accelerated since the 1980s.
     Landmarks include the shifting of blank production abroad and the closure of the Dungarvan plant in 2005, with the loss of nearly 500 jobs. When the remaining factory in Kilbarry finally shut in early 2009, 670 direct jobs were lost.
     Most of Waterford Wedgwood’s production went offshore. Crystal production was subcontracted to Steklarna Rogaška, a glass manufacturer in Rogaška Slatina in Slovenia. Production at Dungarvan moved to Brazil; other production work has gone to Indonesia.
     The job losses at the Talk Talk call centre this September are the latest to hit the region. This premeditated closure of Talk Talk (which does not recognise unions) resulted in the loss of 575 jobs. According to the national media, the workers lost their jobs because their work can be done for a tenth of the cost in Asia. These jobs will be switched to the Philippines, where the workers will be paid €2,400 a year.
     This move to low-wage economises is characteristic of capitalism’s need to maintain its rate of profit at the expense of labour. The free movement of capital at the heart of the globalisation and neo-liberalism of the EU-IMF facilitates firms in moving to low-pay countries to exploit impoverished workers there.
     Meanwhile Rigney Dolphin, another call centre, which employs about a thousand people in three offices in Waterford, Dublin, and Dundalk, is to shed 130 jobs at its Waterford call centre for Christmas. And Gühring, a German firm specialising in cutting tools, faces closure, with the loss of 38 jobs.
     All of this follows other job losses in the Waterford area. Early this summer Glaxo-Smith-Kline cut its work force in Dungarvan by 130. In September 2009, 315 jobs went at Teva, one of the largest pharmaceutical plants in the area. In March 2009 Bausch and Lombe, makers of contact lenses, announced 195 lay-offs. ABB Transformer closed its plant in 2009, with the loss of 178 jobs.
     Listening to workers discussing the loss of other jobs over recent years is like listening to a litany of loss. These include outright closures or redundancies at Sanofi Aventis, Honeywell Turbo, Ellicksons, Nypro, Douglas Engineering, Hasbro, Hitol, GSK (Dungarvan), DFDS Container Line (Waterford Port), Belfry Hotel, Techniform, Kromberg and Schubert, Waterford Foundry, HP Chemie, NYPRO, and Honeywell-Allied Signal.
     These losses do not take account of the knock-on effect as local firms, such as electricians, plumbers, heating, construction, and maintenance, are hit. Little mention is made of the drip effect of single job losses from small contracting firms, the self-employed, hair salons, local shops, and part-time or casual work.
     Added to this is the privatisation and outsourcing of many jobs. Where jobs are controlled by the privateers they are usually lower paid, have little or no job security, and a lack of trade union representation.
     One woman told me of the loss of morale in many areas with the loss of jobs and the effect on the community. Some places are lucky to have a Spar, a pub, a bookie’s office, and a charity shop. Each job gone represents a blow to the hopes, dreams and futures of a family, children, and community.
     Young people have little or nothing to look forward to, while the elderly live in fear of growing older and more helpless amid the economics of sheer greed.
     It is against this background that resistance is slowly growing. But it is vital that such resistance be free from opportunism and the false idea that capitalism can be fixed. For how can capitalism be fixed when it is capitalism itself that is the problem?
     The alternative is to replace this rotten, corrupt system with one geared towards meeting the needs of the ordinary citizen. Instead it requires the construction of an economy for the common good.

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