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Another multi-national closes in pursuit of more profit

It was a question of ‘Walk, Walk’’ rather that ‘Talk, Talk’ as the telecoms/internet company of that name brutally consigned its workforce to the scrapheap the day before yesterday. Walk away from their 575 staff who had served them loyally. Walk away from the Waterford area which has experienced a number of similar shocking announcements over the past three years. And walk away also from the wishes of many customers who fear a lessening in quality of service and longer times hanging on phone lines waiting to have their problems dealt with.

This is coldblooded capitalism at its corporate worst. A corporation in search of bigger profits casts off its loyal workforce as if they were a tattered pair of overalls. Whether they had served for two years or ten didn’t matter to their bosses , the workers are just disposable pawns.

This is a company that has been sharply increasing its profits as TalkTalk’s financial results published in May show. In the financial year ended March 2009 TalkTalk recorded a profit of €95 million. This climbed to €106 million in 2010 and in the year to March of this year profits grew by a dramatic 24% to €122 million.

In commenting on these results in March, the company declares, ‘TalkTalk has grown rapidly and achieved substantial scale, and we are confident that we can execute our strategy successfully and continue to deliver strong, sustainable profit and cash flow growth. To reflect this from Financial Year 2012 onwards the Board intends to pay out 50% of headline earnings per share as regular dividends.’

This puts the brutal closure in Waterford in context. It’s simply about more profits for the major shareholders and moving in search of cheaper labour for this.

It was rather pathetic to hear Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday mildly rebuke TalkTalk, describing their jobs massacre as ‘discourteous’. Equally Industrial Development Authority Chief Executive, Barry O Leary, said TalkTalk’s disgraceful behaviour ‘is not what you would expect in business today’ and criticised the company for falling down on ‘corporate social responsibility(CSR).

I heard a lot about CSR when I was a member of the International Trade Committee in the European Parliament. It was a flag of convenience that was frequently raised by European based multinational companies operating in Asia, Africa and Latin America even as they exploited the local workforce and damaged the local environment.

Both Taoiseach Kenny and Mr O’Leary know well how ruthless the multinationals are. But both continue to support a policy that places huge reliance on foreign investment for job creation in this State. Against a background of new tremors in the world economy, this is a dangerous gamble.

No doubt the jobs of the more than 100,000 workers who are directly employed by foreign owned firms must be strongly protected. But surely the TalkTalk outrage, following on the heels of 1,700 workers receiving similar treatment by the Dell corporation a few years ago, should teach us a lesson that new strategies are needed.

The 575 TalkTalk workers are now destined to join the 440,000 on the unemployed register. It is futile to hope that this scale of a problem is going to be solved by multinational corporations which may well be retrenching on a global basis rather than hiring new workers.

Neither is a new Taskforce the answer to Waterford’s unemployed. Even establishment figures are scathing about the dismal failure of the previous Fianna Fail dominated government to implement a strategy to make up for the Dell debacle in the Limerick region with the Taskforce it set up at the time.

Urgent job creation for the needs of the newly unemployed in Waterford and their fellow unemployed generally, raises the need for an end to the disastrous policy of austerity being implemented by Fine Gael and Labour in government. The savage attacks on pay packets and living standards are devastating jobs. The pouring of billion into the black hole of Irish and European banks is disastrous.

Major programmes of public investment are desperately needed. These should be in the area of infrastructure and services. Taking tens of thousands of people off the dole and placing them in employment is how we remake this broken economy. Crisis ridden capitalism will never do this. In fact with the ongoing, shameless speculation in the financial markets of Europe the current system has only worse in store.

Meanwhile it is high time that workers who are thrown peremptorily onto the scrapheap refuse to be treated as so much disposable baggage. It is time that occupations and movements of resistance were organised and built to demand of the State the kind of urgent action and public investment that would be necessary to revive and relaunch many of the enterprises being closed by the anti social drive for profit before people. This should involve nationalisation of firms threatening closure in an appropriate way.

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