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Merthyr Hoover workers: ‘We won’t let town die without a fight’

The announcement of massive job losses at the Hoover plant in Merthyr Tydfil has sent a shockwave through South Wales. Siân Ruddick spoke to the people affected – and found burning anger at both the bosses and the government.

Issue No. 2129

“I worked at the Hoover plant for 18 years until 1980,” says Huw. “It was good solid work. My whole family worked there – my father, uncle, two brothers and myself. There wasn’t a family round here that wasn’t connected to that place.

“Now it’s closing, the whole town will be devastated.”

On Wednesday of last week, Hoover announced that 337 workers out of a workforce of 500 are to be made redundant, with production being moved to a factory in Turkey.

In the same week South Wales was hit by a raft of manufacturing job losses. Some 250 jobs are threatened at the Bosch factory in Miskin, near Cardiff. The Corus steel works in Port Talbot has announced a 30 percent cut in production.

Campaigners against job losses set up a stall last Saturday in Merthyr town centre. “The response from local people was amazing,” said Jonny, who grew up in the town.

“Local people are really angry at how they’ve been betrayed. Hundreds of people signed the petition and left contact details.”

Hoover workers queued to sign the petitions and talked with campaigners about their futures, and their fears.

“I’ve been working here seven years and I’ve never seen the mood so low,” says David.

“We used to have a lot of laughs and jokes on the shop floor, but that’s all gone now.

“And even though we’ve been told our jobs are going, the bosses say that we have to maintain full production until the last day.”

The official “consultation” on the rundown of the plant will continue until 13 February, but most workers feel management has already decided the outcome and that the process is a farce.

Labour Party member Malcolm Browne, who used to work at Hoover, is disgusted at the way workers there have been abandoned by the government.

“It’s a disaster that these companies can take so much money out of a place like Merthyr,” he says.

“The Welsh Assembly should be forcing these firms to stay in the area and keep the jobs, but it’s doing nothing.

“The government’s priorities are all wrong. It’s bailed out the banks, but the shareholders aren’t playing by the rules. It is nationalisation with no control from the government or ­ordinary people.

“Working class people are being hammered by this government – it’s a disgrace. Labour needs to get back to its roots. Nowadays all the leaders seem to have been to public school. They’re nothing like us.”

The South Wales valleys have borne witness to the rise and fall of British industry over many decades.

In the 1920s and 1930s miners joined hunger marches against unemployment and fought in huge industrial disputes that included long periods of strike action.

Merthyr’s Hoover factory was built in 1948 grew rapidly in the years following the Second World War.

By 1973 over 5,000 people were employed on the site. The Hoover plant was known for having strong union organisation.

Workers’ strikes of the 1970s and 1980s, particularly those of the miners, still have a large resonance in the area.

Today there is a strong feeling that the devastation the last major recession of the 1980s brought to South Wales must not be allowed to happen again.

Campaigners plan to build on that feeling and they are organising a public meeting and a march to demand the government and the Welsh Assembly move to protect jobs in the area.

“Margaret Thatcher started all this,” says Carol, who came to the stall.

“I did all this – leafleting and petitioning – for the miners. We’ve still got fight left in us, you know.”

Some names have been changed at the interviewees’ requests


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Tue 25 Nov 2008, 18:29 GMT
Issue No. 2129
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