'THERE IS a stunned atmosphere in the plant. Some of the workers have been there all their working lives. Almost everyone in Burnley has some connection with Michelin. It was the place to work.'
That is how Nick, a worker at Michelin's Burnley plant in the north west of England, described the shocked reaction to news last week that it is to close, with the loss of 452 jobs.
'We always had new targets to reach, and our level of production was incredibly high if you looked at the number of people left working there,' says Nick. 'We jumped through all the hoops. We did everything the company asked.' Michelin and the engineering industries were the new hope for Burnley in the 1960s. Now the hope is gone.
Another 280 jobs will go at Michelin's plant in Stoke. The Nazi BNP in the north west has tried to scapegoat Asians for the region's problems. But it is plain that workers in the north west are suffering from major corporations using the events of 11 September as an excuse to slash jobs. Some Michelin workers found out from the Mirror that their jobs were on the line.
A worker at Michelin says, 'Every worker at the plant was sent a letter if they were not due to be working on Tuesday. 'It invited them to a meeting. All of us turned up. Some workers hoped that the meeting was to dispel the newspaper story.'
They were wrong. To add insult to injury, a New Labour government taskforce was visiting Burnley on Friday to assess how well the 'regeneration of the area' was going. Michelin claims the Burnley site is too small for modern tyre production. It says around £50 million would be needed to make the plant suitable.
However, a company boss admitted Michelin had been 'buying companies from around the world for a good couple of years'. Now its dash to grab market share has turned into a scramble to sack workers. News of the closure of the Michelin plant came just five days after aerospace company Hurel Hispano slashed 100 jobs at its Bancroft Road plant, on the same street as the Michelin factory.
TRW Automotive in Burnley also axed 63 workers last month. Already this year over 1,000 manufacturing jobs have gone in the town. In the nearby town of Barnoldswick 1,000 Rolls-Royce workers fear they are next in the firing line.
Burnley has suffered over 20 years of decline and has no way of absorbing the impact of these major job losses. Workers at Michelin have done everything the firm asked of them in a desperate attempt to safeguard their jobs.
This included taking on some of the responsibilities previously performed by a foreman. Workers haven't had a pay award this year. Michelin was one of the first companies to introduce continental shift patterns, with work taking place around the clock, and workers starting and finishing at 6am, 2pm and 10pm.
'The workforce at Michelin has been decimated over the years since the plant was set up in the 1960s,' says one worker. 'The few hundred of us that are left sort of rattle around this massive staff canteen designed for the 1,000-odd workers they once employed.'
In the days since the closure of the plant was announced, the workers' TGWU union has said nothing about combating the cuts plan. Tess McMahon, the Socialist Alliance candidate in a by-election in Trinity ward on 22 November, said, 'In Burnley, and at a national level, no attempt has been made to save these jobs. New Labour simply accepts the idea of capital flight, while the Socialist Alliance supports workers and trade unions fighting for their jobs.'
In Burnley job centre area there are no skilled or semi-skilled jobs available in the engineering industry. Harry, a joiner starting the nightshift at Michelin, told Socialist Worker, 'I've worked here for 16 years, and right now I can't see a future. I would like to see a fight to save the jobs but our trade unions just do not have any say. My mum and dad have both been laid off by Smith & Nephew. My uncle, a shop fitter, has seen his job go. The only thriving business around here is drugs and busy DSS offices. Inside the plant people feel very mixed emotions of bitterness and betrayal.'
It is little wonder that workers feel stunned. There has barely been a strike or dispute in the area against job cuts. Official unemployment is 3.1 percent in Burnley. In reality it is much higher. George Trimic, who is out of work, told Socialist Worker, 'The DSS tried to put me off registering unemployed in the last ten weeks. Because I am 60 they encouraged me to go on a book to get my benefit. That way I wouldn't count as a person seeking work-but I refused.'