Ford's decision to close down its Geelong engine plant will have a catastrophic effect on the town. It's not just the 600 jobs at Ford that will be lost; hundreds of jobs will probably also be lost in the car components factories and various supply companies. This flow-on could mean up to 2400 more unemployed workers in Geelong.
Socialist Alliance Senate candidate and Geelong resident Jeremy Smith told Green Left Weekly, "Ford and other car companies have been propped up with millions of dollars of government subsidies over decades. The company has no right to destroy the lives of so many when public money has been used to prop it up. People who have worked for the company for 20 or 30 years were told the plant would definitely close only after the company made the decision."
Smith, who is also Ballarat University branch president of the National Tertiary Education Union, is calling on the state and federal governments to reveal exactly how much public money has been given to Ford over the years. "There is a public interest issue at stake here. The future of 600 workers and their families should not be decided purely by Ford's shareholders", he said.
"Governments can't just throw up their hands and say they can't do anything because it is up to private companies to decide how to invest. We're not calling for more government subsidies for Ford; experience shows that companies just pocket the money and carry out sackings whenever they see fit. But there are things that governments can do.
"For example, the Ford factory in Geelong has been retooled many times to produce many things. During World War II it was used to produce tanks and tugboats. That means that the factory could be retooled again to produce something other than cars."
Smith added, "The workers don't care what is produced, as long as it is useful and they get to keep their jobs. They would be just as happy if the factory produced fast trains, or components for windmills, or something else."
The government could compulsorily acquire the land the plant is situated on and employ people in a retooled plant, Smith said. "The Victorian and federal governments have already set up a $24 million fund to encourage new jobs and investment in Geelong. Instead of that money being used to fund redundancies, or subsidies, or incentives to businesses, it should be used to provide alternative jobs using the same factory. Workers don't want redundancies, they want permanent, secure jobs."