By KEVIN McNAMARA, MP
On Tuesday last week I did two important things. In the evening with a light heart and determination I voted for Tony Benn's Industry Bill, In the morning, with a heavy heart, I met a train.
A special Hull train came into Kings Cross carrying 400 people — men, women and some of their children, dressed in their best because they were coming to London to parade, to march, to meet their MPs at the House of Commons and to protest about one simple thing, their jobs had gone.
So we marched along the streets of London with our banners and our placards, singing our songs, "My Girl's a Yorkshire Girl," and "Come and Join Us, Come and Join Us, it might be your turn next." Bystanders were amused and the London policemen were "wonderful."
It is quite a simple story really. On Friday, January 17 the firm for which these people worked, Litton Industries, an American multinational corporation, said that on February 21, its factories in Hull and Leicester, Imperial Typewriters, were to close.
Of course, the workers were all to get redundancy pay. In fact, the company has, I understand, offered more than the statutory amount. Wasn't it good of Litton's to do that? No prior warnings, no indication that the closure was to take place, no consultation with the trade unions, just a straightforward notice "Your jobs have gone" — 1,400 jobs.
Not many jobs perhaps in the great sprawling urban areas of the Midlands or or the South East but in our tiny corner of what was old Yorkshire and is now North Ilumberside, there is already 7.5 per cent male unemployment, over twice the national average, and translated into real terms means as many as 7,000 families with just the dole money to support them.
Today the dole is called by posher names, redundancy benefit, wage related benefit, unemployment benefit and it is all covered by National Insurance but if the unemployment lasts for any length of time then the unemployed are back on to supplementary benefit, You don't have to recall the thirties to know the way that living on supplementary benefit, of being jobless, of having a skill and not being able to use it, or having a will to work and having it rejected, you don't have to go back to the thirties to see selfrespect being gradually eroded. it is happening now and it is a strong man or woman who is not bowed or cowed by the experience of unemployment.
But ours was a jolly march despite the rain. We went down to Westminster Great Halt and in the Grand Committee Room listened to Tony Benn. He was honest and frank. He said there was very little that he could do at this time.
The Government does not have the power to check multi-national companies at this time. There is no way a multi-national company can be prevented from just packing its bags and going and investing its money elsewhere.
Nothing to stop it from using a patent from England, a trade-name from England and transferring them to another country where it has a subsidiary and then importing the products back to England with the English trade name.
There is nothing to stop a multi-national going from country to country looking for the cheapest labour at any one particular time, the most easily exploitable workforce and by using different accountancy practices between different countries and allied companies, to make one company lose and another show a profit and to use the most advantageous tax havens. There's nothing to stop all these practices for the Government has no power.
What made the situation worse as far as Imperial was concerned was that there is no marketing agency in this country for Litton's Products, no research and development. Orders were merely taken from America by the management, produced as they were directed by the American parent company and now imperial in Hull will produce no more. Or will it?
The day Litton announced its decision was a Friday, a day chosen to give the workers at their work place very little time to organise and try and fight the decision. But over that first weekend trade union officials of the Transport and General Workers' Union, John Prescott, MP for East Hull, in whose constituency the factory is situated. and academics from the university produced a document laying out the market for English-produced typewriters, merely within the United Kingdom and looking at various problems associated with the factory closure.
It was placed in Tony Benn's hands by John Prescott the following Monday morning. Tony Benn ordered an immediate consultants' inquiry into the factory, the product, its potential. Because of the lack of a marketing agency or research development facilities there are tremendous problems. What are the legal and other restrictions affecting the workers' rights to produce typewriters with Imperial patents in the future? Is there a potential market for typewriters in this country, although after the decision to close Imperial there will be no native typewriting industry in England and machines will be imparted from America.
One would have thought that the answer to the market potential was self-evident. Who controls the patents? Can they be used and what happens if goods produced by these patents in England are exported to America? How can a marketing agency and research and development facilities be developed? These are the problems upon which the consultants had to do a preliminary rush report.
Perhaps the most significant decision of Tony Aenn was the one that said that the report had to be prepared not for the Government alone, and not to he presented to the Government alone, but to be presented to the Government and the workers at the same time. A recognition of the importance of work to individuals concerned, and their contribution to the success or failure of any venture.
The day the factory was to close the preliminary report of the consultants was delivered to the Government and is now subject to examination by Government and workers.
There is one little postscript to the story, Litton's, in its largesse, last Thursday evening, the day before the factory was due to close, delivered by hand to all its work force letters telling them not to bother to come into work on Friday, they could have it as a paid holiday? It would also prevent the workers staging a sit-in. On Friday morning representatives of the work force climbed over the locked factory gates and entered the factory. Litton's strategy had failed. The premises are now occupied by the workers, They are now awaiting the decisions which are going to be taken following the discussion of the consultants' feasibility study. 1,400 jobs lost is an awful lot of family misery found in Hull.
And so the reason for the vote with the happy heart and the light step on Tuesday night was because the Industry Bill will prevent arbitrary action such as Litton's being taken by any employer in the future, Among the other valuable provisions in Tony Renn's measure are provisions for full consultation by the employers with the trade unions and disclosure by the employers to the employees of information concerning their future plans, the financial, manpower and marketing proposals and past results. That knowledge would have helped the workers at Imperial Typewriters to know what Litton Industries was thinking and doing.
The Bill enables the Government to buy or prevent the outright purchase of British industries by foreign companies or foreign countries. That would have been an important power when Litton's purchased Imperial Typewriters, The Bill makes provision for planning agreements between the Government and industry, admittedly at this stage only for the larger companies but the smaller ones can come in too and this would have prevented the fiasco at Imperial.
There is, however, a postscript for Christians. What should be our attitude to the role of the multi-national company? What are the rights of people who have a "property in their professional skill," as it is termed in "The Church in the World Today," their trade, their expertise, and have it taken from them by the arbitrary action of their employer, Have they a moral right to take over the premises, the factory, the closure of which has resulted in their skill, their property being stolen from them? Are they morally entitled to assert their right to work, to maintain their dignity and their self respect? I think so.