Osborne discovers the North … 150 years late

November 2, 2015 at 8:57 pm (economics, engineering, Marxism, populism, posted by JD, Tory scum)

By John Cunningham (also published by Workers Liberty and Solidarity newspaper):

The sham of Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’

It is alarming and deeply disturbing to see that some people, many of whom should know better, have swallowed George “high-vis” Osborne’s fantasy-speak about building a “Northern Powerhouse”.

This is more amazing when you consider that ever since the Industrial Revolution there has always been a “Northern Powerhouse”, and it was the Conservative Party and Thatcher that destroyed it.

Without the coal, iron and steel, shipbuilding, engineering and textiles of northern cities like Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Newcastle (to which Scotland and South Wales must also be added), Britain would have remained, as in early Tudor times and before, a rather unimportant European offshore island. Take away the north, and the industrial revolution would have happened somewhere else, with British capitalism ending up a mere shell, reduced to making cuckoo clocks or stuck in an agrarian-based economy.

Instead Britain for a time was the most powerful nation on earth, with a huge empire backed up by the largest navy the world had yet seen. It was no idle boast that Britain was the workshop of the world. Manchester, for a time, became its second wealthiest city. Britain produced over half the world’s cotton, coal and iron and totally dominated manufacturing. Most of this came from the north.

According to an 1835 survey Britain had 1113 cotton mills. Of those 943 were in Manchester and the surrounding region. If today it has become a cliché to say that you can’t buy anything that isn’t made in China, think what the situation must have been like in 1870 when Britain produced 46% of the world’s manufactured goods. In 2007 Chinese products accounted for 17% of the world’s exports. When Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels penned the Communist Manifesto they wrote eloquently and with admiration for the dynamic thrust of capitalism and the way it had transformed the world (as right wing historians are always telling us, as if they are the only ones to have ever read the Manifesto!).

Yet, it is the north of England, probably more than any other part of the world, that inspired and informed the famous lines “All that is solid melts in the air, all that is holy is profaned”. While Marx wrote Das Kapital in the scholarly seclusion of the British Library Reading Room in London, its analysis, observations and rich detail are rooted in the Manchester of Friedrich Engels.

Clearly Osborne has latched on to the north at least 150 years too late. In a sense Osborne is talking about a phenomenon that has been around for a long time — regional disparities in development.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Volkswagan emissions scandal

September 24, 2015 at 7:43 pm (capitalism, corruption, crime, engineering, environment, posted by JD, United States)

From The World Socialist website:


The scandal at Volkswagen (VW) over the manipulation of emissions readings from its autos in the US has plunged the firm into a major crisis. The company, which along with Toyota is the world’s largest auto producer, faces the threat of up to $18 billion in fines, along with massive costs related to the recall of almost half a million vehicles and huge compensation claims. The US Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation and a congressional committee has announced plans for a hearing on the scandal.

VW has already acknowledged that accusations by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are valid. It has admitted that it deliberately deceived American customers and government authorities.

“Let’s be clear: our company was dishonest,” said VW’s American head Michael Horn at the unveiling of the new Passat model in New York. “We totally screwed up.”

In a calculated manner, VW broke the law in order to manipulate emissions readings. In diesel models sold in the US, the company installed specially developed software to enable the vehicles to determine when they were being tested and automatically switch to a mode that reduced the emission of pollutants. After the test, the cars automatically switched back to the normal mode, increasing their release of poisonous oxides between 10- and 40-fold.

VW used the low emissions test rates as a selling point for the US market, where diesel cars comprise just one percent of total sales, a far lower percentage than in Europe. Many US buyers decided to purchase a diesel car from VW or Audi because, in contrast to hybrid vehicles from Asian producers, which have low emission rates but are cumbersome, the German models were considered both environmentally friendly and sporty.

The ultimate scale of the scandal is not yet known. The suspicion is that VW manipulated emissions figures not only in the US, but also in other markets. Germany, Switzerland, France and South Korea have all announced investigations into diesel vehicle manipulation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Portsmouth job losses: the GMB’s reaction

November 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm (capitalist crisis, engineering, posted by JD, unions, workers)

Clearly, there’s a lot more to be said, from a leftist point of view, about the closure of a defence manufacturing facility. But for now, here’s the GMB’s reaction (from today’s Portsmouth News):

 1,000 jobs to be lost as BAE systems shuts historic Portsmouth dockyard but saves Scottish sites ahead of independence vote

940 jobs to be lost as BAE systems shuts historic Portsmouth dockyard Photo: Alamy
    • by Sam Bannister

Union will ‘oppose each and every job loss’ in Portsmouth

The closure of Portsmouth’s shipbuilding yard is a ‘betrayal to the workers and the nation,’ the GMB union has said.

It comes amid the huge political and industrial row which has erupted today over news shipbuilding is to stop in the city.

Gary Cook, the GMB regional organiser with responsibility for shipbuilding, said: ‘GMB will oppose each and every job loss in Portsmouth.

‘The contempt shown to the workers by BAE and the Tory coalition by leaking stories to the media before the affected employees were informed is nothing short of a stab in the back and a national disgrace.

‘Shipbuilding has taken place on the south coast for hundreds of years and the GMB is not prepared to sit idly by and watch design innovation and highly skilled workers thrown on the industrial scrap heap.

‘If the government wants their second aircraft carrier, a large proportion of which still sits in the build facility at Portsmouth, they’re going to need to talk to us about how we preserve jobs and protect the livelihoods of hundreds of people.’

All shipbuilding will stop in the second half of next year, the defence firm announced this morning, with some of the remaining work on the second of its Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, due to be carried out in Portsmouth, moving to Glasgow.

Workers were told this morning.

‘If closure of the shipbuilding facility is allowed to go ahead it will have a devastating effect, not only on the local economy but on many hundreds of hardworking employees and their families,’ added Gary Cook.

‘The company embarked upon a massive apprentice and graduate recruitment programme during the destroyer and carrier orders.

‘Young people entered into training because they were told that shipbuilding in Portsmouth had a long term future, now all of this would appear to have counted for nothing and the government are prepared to export shipbuilding jobs to Scotland in their pursuit of retaining the union on a devolution vote.

‘We in Portsmouth are the victims of the squalid, underhand political game.

‘GMB are calling for all politicians regardless of persuasion to do everything in their power, and more, to fight for the retention of a shipbuilding capacity in England.

‘This is nothing short of a betrayal to the workers and the nation.’

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You been a good ole wagon…but you done broke down

July 6, 2013 at 1:01 am (engineering, jazz, Jim D, song, The blues, tragedy)

My old Ford Focus served me well for about ten years, and if I’m honest I have to say I gave it quite a thrashing one way and the other. A couple of weeks ago it finally expired with much juddering, wheezing and agonized whining. Something called the cam belt, so I’m told. It buggers up your valves: nasty. And expensive. It would have cost more to repair than the car was worth.

Happily (or so I thought), just at that moment my employer was offering a 2007 Mondeo diesel estate for sale at what seemed a very reasonable price, so I snapped it up. Just one week after buying it, the bloody thing has broken down and I had to be towed home in ignominy late on Thursday night . It’s something called the EGR valve and it’ll cost me over £200 to put right.

Bessie Smith, back in 1925, seems to have had similar troubles with an old vehicle: “You Been a Good Ole Wagon … but You Done Broke Down” she sang, presumably about a much loved but knackered Model T. Why this automotive song should be illustrated by a female backside (albeit shapely), I’ve absolutely no idea:

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150 years of the Underground (aka the “tube”)

January 10, 2013 at 12:55 am (cinema, engineering, film, history, Jim D, London)

Yes, I know the London “tube” / Underground is stressful, should be free and is a paradise for gropers (especially during rush-hour), but still: it’s a wonder, isn’t it? And the first such underground system of its kind, anywhere.

It also has a tradition of employing a well-unionised , political and militant staff.

So let’s celebrate the 150th birthday of  ‘The Tube’ with this recently restored 1928 Brit film, ‘Underground‘:

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