A day after BlueScope Steel Ltd. announced on August 22 that it planned to close a blast furnace at Port Kembla (in the Illawarra region of NSW) and its Western Port (Victoria) hot strip mill, shedding 1000 jobs, the Socialist Alliance issued a public statement on its website and publishing it in the August 24 edition of the SA’s paper Green Left Weekly.
According to the SA statement, the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan “sets out a comprehensive action plan for green job generation and industry development in the Illawarra”. This document was produced in September 2009 by the Green Jobs Illawarra Project Steering Committee, which included the South Coast Labour Council, University of Wollongong, Illawarra TAFE, the Illawarra Business Chamber and the Australian Industry Group (the peak organisation of manufacturing companies, including Bluescope) Steel).
This “action plan” makes 20 recommendations aimed at increasing “participation in the green market and attract[ing] private sector investment”. It states that “A preliminary audit of the Illawarra’s existing renewable energy manufacturing and generation capacity carried out for this study shows that there is significant scope for profitable investment”.
The centerpiece of the plan is the “construction of a cogeneration power plant at the Port Kembla Steelworks, with an investment of an estimated $1 billion” that would create an estimated 2000 jobs over a three-year construction” and would abate an estimated 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year that would otherwise have resulted from coal-fired power generation.
The SA statement notes that “Earlier this year, [federal climate change minister] Greg Combet announced that there was no money available to fund the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan”. However, in the wake of Bluescope’s announced job cuts, the federal Labor government announced a $100 million bailout of BlueScope in the form of a funding advance for the Steel Transformation Plan (part of its $300 million carbon tax compensation package over five years), a $30 million innovation fund to support new businesses and high-skilled jobs in the affected areas, and a $10 million handout to Jobs Services Australia to train the sacked Bluescope workers for other jobs.
The SA statement notes this and goes on to argue that, “Rather than knee-jerk reactions to market failures, in the form of handouts to big business that don’t save jobs, we need industry planning to create green jobs and to protect workers and communities from restructuring by multinational corporations like BlueScope, intent on protecting their profitability at any cost. BlueScope Steel should immediately restart plans to build the co-generation plant that could save one million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. If BlueScope says that they require government assistance to get this done, then they must prove it by opening their books to public inspection. If they refuse to do this BlueScope should be placed under public ownership.”
The SA statement concludes by arguing that the “only way to ensure a just transition for steel workers and communities to a sustainable manufacturing industry is to free our [sic] national manufacturing industries from the impact of global market fluctuations by nationalising these key sectors in the interests of workers and the environment”.
However, it fails to provide any explanation how nationalising “key sectors” of the capitalists’ national manufacturing industries would remove them from the “impact of global market fluctuations”. Moreover, the SA statement’s call for Bluescope to be placed “under public ownership” by the existing pro-capitalist Gillard Labor government is about as likely to advance the “interests of workers and the environment” as the survival of a snowball in hell. Without the revolutionary replacement of pro-capitalist governments by a working people’s government – a government created by a powerful anti-capitalist movement and resting upon democratic organs of real working organisation power over the capitalist class ? such a scenario is a complete utopian fantasy.
Of course, it is not excluded that the statement’s call for Bluescope to be taken into “public ownership” might be realised under a capitalist government ? if Bluescope were to go completely bankrupt. This would be “public ownership” in the interests, not of its workers, but of the big Australian banks, Bluescope’s capitalist creditors. It would be “public ownership” in the same way that the administration of US President Barrack Obama took insolvent General Motors into “public ownership” – sacking GM CEO Rick Wagner, replacing him with another GM executive, pumping US$50 billion of government funds into the company and sacking at least 15,000 GM workers to return the company to profitability, and then relisting GM on the stockmarket to enable it to be returned to majority private ownership.
Nowhere in its statement does the Socialist Alliance draw a distinction between nationalisation that serves the interests of the capitalists and nationalisation that serves working-class interests. The assumption of the statement’s authors appears to be that nationalisation, irrespective of the class character and class orientation of the government that carries it out, will automatically serve the interests of “workers and the environment”.