Vauxhall's giant Luton car plant was silent last Thursday. The entire workforce had called in sick in protest at the plan by multinational owners General Motors to close the factory, sack thousands of workers and devastate the town.
For years big companies have tried to divide workers, to set one plant against another. But last week workers said that 'enough is enough'. Vauxhall workers at the Ellesmere Port plant on Merseyside walked out in support of Luton's fight. Their solidarity action was illegal, but nobody cared. 'We've got to do this,' said one Ellesmere Port worker. 'If they shut Luton, we are next in line. But we can stop them.'
Another told Socialist Worker as he walked out of the gate, 'We've got to stick together across Europe now. It's the only way we are going to get anywhere.' There were a handful of pickets at the gates of the Luton plant, but the action was so solid there was hardly anyone to turn back. 'We've done it today- we can do it again,' said one picket.
'It's not just about Luton-it's about future jobs. My lad works here. What about him? The Germans and Belgians have been out in support. It makes you feel stronger. The government have washed their hands of us. It is all wrong and I don't see why they should get away with it.'
BOB CROSS, worker at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant for 28 years
Union leaders dither
Mass meetings this week kicked off a strike ballot for action by Vauxhall workers. Every worker should vote yes. Union officials just want a yes vote to give them a negotiating tool. They are not talking about strike action to save the plant. Vauxhall workers can win more than just a better redundancy package. They can win the fight to keep their jobs, but only if they use their power.
Protests across Europe
The Vauxhall workers' action in Britain was part of a Europe-wide day of action to save Luton and to save jobs. Up to 40,000 car workers across Europe took part.
In Germany over 15,000 workers joined rallies outside General Motors's four Opel factories. At the Ruesselsheim plant around 7,500 workers joined a rally. Another 5,000 did the same in Bochum and over 2,000 did so at Kaiserslautern. 'This is a signal that the era of the Europe-wide strike has come,' said Peter Jaszczyk, president of the works council at Bochum.
In Spain 3,000 workers in Saragosa assembled outside the factory and marched through the town centre.
In Belgium 6,000 workers at the Opel plant in Antwerp demonstrated and staged protest strikes.
'We've got to stick together or they will walk all over us. We've made them £1 billion profit in the last 12 years and this is what we get. Today was what we used to call 'organised spontaneity', and it is about time we had a bit more of it.'
ELLESMERE PORT WORKER