Peugeot's announcement that it wants to close its Coventry plant after 60 years of car production is another sign of the market-driven massacre of British manufacturing.

Some will respond with a weary fatalism. The trade union movement will not. We will campaign alongside the workforce, the community and our fellow trade unionists in France. For a start, Peugeot must do what it has so far failed to do -talk to its employees and consult over its plans.

In the car industry alone, Ryton would be the fifth major plant closure in this century. And every other branch of manufacturing, from textiles to engineering, has suffered almost as much. One million jobs have been lost in manufacturing over the last nine years, and 50,000 more are likely to go this year alone.

Passivity could prove terminal. Some employers - like Peugeot - are looking to shift work to cheap-labour economies in eastern Europe. And the rise of India and China as manufacturing centres will accelerate the disappearance of industry. Indeed, an analysis done for the T&G last year shows manufacturing will be finished within a generation if this rate is maintained.

The run-down of manufacturing obviously threatens the livelihood of tens of thousands of working families. But it does more - it also threatens the cohesion and future of our communities. And it threatens the balance of our economy.

If unchecked, it will turn our country into a nation of lawyers, merchant bankers and PR wizards, supported by a low-wage, cut-price service sector. We cannot survive on that basis. We need a sound, growing manufacturing base to maintain overall balance in our economy, including providing a range of employment prospects.

Research shows that most workers made redundant in manufacturing never work again, and most of those who do get lower-paid jobs. Many of those who lost their jobs at Rover in Birmingham a year ago are still out of work, while those who have found employment are mostly paid considerably less than when they made cars.

The problem we face is the entrenched dogmas of the market economy - the cult of "non-intervention", of leaving everything to the "invisible hand" of the free market.

It is a dogma that has gripped British politics over the last generation, with disastrous results. It has been particularly destructive since the culture of short-termism, of quick returns, of make a buck and then move on, is much more entrenched in big business and high finance here than it is in other European countries.

We need to revive a culture of smart intervention, a belief that the state has the right and the duty to step in when the market is failing and the public interest demands it.

This is not a revolutionary doctrine. It would be accepted to some degree or other throughout Europe. Is it inconceivable that in France plants like Longbridge and Ryton could be closed while the government looks on with folded arms. That is why, for example, the French plant of train-maker Alstom remains open to this day, while the Birmingham factory was closed two years ago.

Temporary assistance, the government taking a stake - which could encourage private investment in struggling sectors; these are legitimate weapons in our arsenal and we should not be afraid to use them.

We must also advance the arguments for a public spending policy that prioritises support for manufacturing in Britain; for changes to those laws which make British workers cheap and easy to sack - a major factor in many closure decisions, including Peugeot - and for tax-and-aid policies which reward the good investor and punish the bad.

All this requires political action - we are going to take that argument to ministers and within the Labour party while we still have a manufacturing base to save.

Other countries have shown the will: In 2004 the US Senate passed a package of measures, including the use of public procurement to curb jobs flight and Germany's then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder described off-shoring as unpatriotic. I quote: "You cannot reduce things that are important to narrow micro-economic questions."

He was right - there is more to life than the short-term balance sheet. That lesson may never be learnt in the boardrooms of big business, but it urgently needs grasping in Westminster and Whitehall.



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