Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Who should get help?

Yesterday was a particularly grim one in terms of employment news with big job losses at steel maker Corus. But, given that government funds are constrained, who should get help? Steel unions have asked for the kind of aid that is given to supplement the incomes of those on short-term working in France, Germany and the Netherlands. The UK Government is unwilling to do this, but might give money for 'training'.

Steel workers were complaining yesterday that money is given to 'top hats' but not to 'hard hats'. However, if we learnt one thing from the experience of the 1930s recession in the United States, it is that one doesn't allow banks to collapse.

In fact there may be another bias in the way in which aid is given. Women are losing their jobs faster than men in the recession and women MPs are complaining that too much emphasis is being given on helping male-dominated industries such as finance and motor vehicles, whilst 'soft' industries such as retailing and catering are ignored.

When I used to work on industrial policy, I was struck how many books were written about motor vehicles and steel, but relatively few about food processing. But, of course, food processing is an industry that employs large number of women workers. All the talk about 'real jobs' and 'making things' often conceals an implicit gender bias.

Of course, recurrent major crises of the capitalist system are a reorganisation device out of which it emerges leaner and fitter and able to grow again. Not everyone's job can be saved or subsidised, but the flip side of that is that the pain of recession falls harder on some than on others.

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