When Margaret Thatcher opened the Nissan car factory in Sunderland in 1986 it was presented as the birth of a new era for the north east of England after the ravages of the recession of the early 1980s.
It wasn’t. In fact it was seen by many people as a symbol of our defeats.
Thatcher was coming to gloat over the destruction of working people’s lives.
People heard rumours that anyone with a militant union past wouldn’t get in.
It worried me more that it would mean embracing “modern” ways of working—leading to even less organising at work and letting the bosses do what they want.
They used to go on about how the workers shared the canteen with the bosses—but that was a bad thing for me, not a good one.
Now some 800 permanent jobs and 400 temporary jobs are to be lost. The temporary jobs go from the end of the month.
One permanent worker said, “This all happened really quickly. We had heard a load of rumours before Christmas, but nothing seemed certain.
“It seems everyone knew before we did. I got a call from a mate who works at a supplier who rang up to check I was OK. But I didn’t know what was going on.”
“Part of the Nissan method was to have a high level of temporary workers. People were told that if they renewed their temporary contract they would get a permanent one eventually. It didn’t happen.”
Another worker explained, “When I was recruited by Nissan I was asked to come for a permanent contract after passing the tests. But at the end of the day they handed me a temporary contract.
“Nissan works you hard and then discards you like you’re nothing. I’m gutted to lose my job.”
There’s no redundancy agreement in place at Nissan. The workers had already agreed to more shut-down days and more training in the hope it would secure jobs, but jobs are still going.
Gordon Brown used Nissan as an example of the way forward—just days before the announcement of the job losses.
The unions welcomed his commitment to doing something—but it’s disarming.
Where is the call for a fight from the union?
The bosses at Nissan said they didn’t want to be bailed out—it’s easier to make workers pay the price.
This seems to be going on across the unions.
For instance, the GMB did a deal with JCB last year, but every concession the workers have given has led to more redundancies, with another 700 jobs cut this week in Staffordshire.
Instead of working with management and hoping they won’t do us over, people need to stand up for themselves.
The people I know in Nissan are angry but not clear about what to do.
Some people were talking about the families of the sacked workers protesting at the gate to shame the company, but this hasn’t come off yet.
We need some response or the bad news on jobs will just become so normal that we don’t even notice the destruction of people’s lives.