Socialist Worker

‘We stood up against redundancies at our car plant, inspired other workers and gained a victory’

Issue No. 2123

The fight against redundancies at the Jaguar car plant in Coventry in the early 1990s shows how workers’ collective strength can hold back the bosses’ plans.

Clive Dixon, the former senior T&G union shop steward at the plant, told Socialist Worker, “In the late 1980s and early 1990s car workers were under attack.

“The economic slump meant that production was down. The bosses tried to impose compulsory redundancies at Jaguar sites in Coventry.

“We started the campaign to stop these with a shop stewards’ meeting, where there was a debate about whether we could win. There were some hard arguments. A lot of the regular trade union activists couldn’t see the anger that was on the shopfloor.

“It makes a difference having socialists in the right place at the right time to put the arguments.

“We got leaflets out and started broadcasting our position – that we wanted to stop compulsory redundancies – and threatened industrial action. We had a mass meeting and won the vote to oppose compulsory redundancies by about two to one. We then had to hold that position.

“It was hard work. We had a pool of people coming in every day who had nothing to do and we had to send them to whichever sites needed workers on a weekly basis.

“We held onto this position for around 18 months.

“Eventually the bosses came back and said they had to make cuts. They wanted to outsource the whole of one section – the fire and ambulance people.

“There were around 80 workers and around 15 jobs would have been cut as a result.

“We had to vote again on whether to oppose the redundancies. This time we lost the vote by around three to two. Some people were worn down and had had enough.

“But the fire and ambulance section obviously didn’t want to be outsourced. So they struck for two weeks. Other sections supported their action.

“It showed that there was a group of workers who were willing to fight – and they won.

“They saved their jobs and they got a pay rise as well.

“They were cock-a-hoop. It reinvigorated the rest of the union membership and enabled us to bargain more forcefully.

“It also reactivated other sections and we had several one-day strikes after that.

“The main thing to do today when the bosses come for your jobs is to go and find out what the mood is. Find people who are angry and use it.

“Always be aware that you could be missing a mood to fight back. Don’t assume that just because the person next to you is not up for a fight then the person three down feels the same way.

“You only have to look at the news – all the talk is about the crisis and people asking if capitalism works.

“If you can’t go out and argue about fighting back now, you never will.”


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Features
Tue 14 Oct 2008, 18:24 BST
Issue No. 2123
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