Workers from Peugeot in Coventry, Land Rover in Solihull and MG Rover in Birmingham spoke to Helen Shooter
'WORKERS IN the paint shop downed tools and threatened to walk out. It was all about them having to work on Tuesday nights for nothing.'
That description from an Amicus union member at Peugeot's Ryton plant shows how bitter workers feel at the plant. Like many other workers they face ruthless bosses who want to ratchet up exploitation through 'flexible working'.
The paint shop workers were in D shift, who work permanent night shifts. The bosses have been forcing them to work extra hours, prompting the action three weeks ago.
The Ryton worker explained, 'With these stupid annualised hours the company banks the hours you work.
'Then they can lay you off in March when it's all rain and snow. And they decide when you have to work to pay back those hours you owe. It's worked out over two years, so if the company owes you for hours you have worked they don't have to pay it back for two years.'
The Ryton worker described how Peugeot bosses forced through the deal in June. They blackmailed workers into accepting a cut in pay and hours by threatening to scrap the D shift altogether.
'At the time we said you can't get rid of 700 jobs even though it meant us losing out on our shift,' said the Peugeot worker. 'The vote wasn't about keeping or getting rid of D shift. It was about cutting our hours and money. It was a total con. I'm very bitter. I have been for a long time. Workers on D shift are on different contracts to the rest of us, temporary contracts. People can be got rid of after 11 and a half months. Then we hear about other people they want to put onto these D shift contracts.
'One young guy with two children who he only sees at weekends has been told he has to go on the D shift contract, meaning he'll work Tuesday to Saturday night. Workers on that D shift work five nights for £1,100 a month, which is less than I get on my shift. To make up the money some of them work Sunday nights as well!
'We've had mass meetings with the leaders of the Amicus and TGWU unions-Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, or Wallace and Gromit as they're known. They say, 'You're the union. We'll back you.' But the union here is like an extension of the company. When we had our strike three years ago we were all out.
'Then we got letters saying the union was in talks, we should come back to work and it'll be sorted. But we're at least £3,000 down on what we were getting four years ago. I hope the unions get better. They just aren't strong enough when they go into talks. There's no such thing as fairness at Peugeot.'
Those thoughts were echoed by a TGWU worker at Ryton. He said, 'The trade unions are just nodding their heads. You feel like it's our own shooting us in the back. When D shift downed tools it took the convenors to come in to talk to them. They explained what annualised hours are. But you can explain all you like-people are still losing out.
'I think Woodley is awkward only when it suits him. We are not getting the service from our union. I feel when something goes wrong at work we should just say, 'Sod you, we're out'.'
Takeover hasn't saved Longbridge
WORKERS AT the MG Rover plant in Longbridge, Birmingham, face Christmas with rumours of the factory being run down and a fresh insult from their bosses.
The chairman, John Towers, and other directors have stashed away an enormous £12.95 million for their retirement fund. Towers was the head of the Phoenix group hailed as saving the factory after BMW threatened its closure three years ago.
Some 100,000 protesters marched through Birmingham in April 2000 against the closure. Sales dropped around 30 percent last month. Nick Matthews of the Warwick Manufacturing Group concluded in the press that Longbridge could be run down altogether.
'I can't see there being more than 1,500 employees and Longbridge would be unrecognisable,' he said. In fact it could be a hotel, and the business could be based elsewhere.'
A worker in the TGWU union at Longbridge told Socialist Worker, 'Towers' takeover was a load of crap. He's lining his own pocket. Five managing directors are getting £3 million each. We are not even told we're getting a pay rise. How can they talk about closing it down when they are getting £3 million a shot?
'They have been using these threats against us for years. BMW used to say the Mini is coming here, but only if we accept a pay deal or let them cut our bonus. We have been laid off for an extra week at Christmas from 12 December to 5 January. They didn't even give us four weeks notice. They lay us off and then get us in working at the drop of a hat.
'It has a huge effect on your life. They can say you'll be laid off on Thursday and Friday so you make plans to go out or be on holiday. Then on the Wednesday they can say we want you in on Thursday and Friday. They say it's about 'business needs'. One guy said he needed to go to Pakistan because his son was ill. They said no. His son died a day later and they said he could have one week off to bury his son and that's all.'
The worker also expressed anger and frustration at the union leadership.
'They say the shop floor isn't strong enough. But we need leadership. The management say jump and we have to say 'how high?' The union lets them get away with it. I think the buck stops with the government.
'Blair bullies people-he doesn't listen to those who are anti-war or against his policies. I think that rubs off on management. He sends a message that if they use bullying tactics they can get away with it.'
Ready to fight over pay
WORKERS AT Land Rover's plant in Solihull near Birmingham were due to find out the result of their strike ballot over pay this week. The 7,000 workers had rejected a two year pay offer-3.5 percent in the first year and around 3 percent the year after. More than 5,000 workers voted against the pay deal and only 1,117 for it.
The giant Ford multinational bought Land Rover in July 2000 and also owns Jaguar, Volvo and Aston Martin. The current ballot is to decide if the workers want to strike, or take action short of a strike, to force the bosses to pay more.
One of the main points of contention is the pay gap compared to Jaguar workers. Jaguar workers have different pay grade structures. But some are on £20 a week more than Land Rover workers.
A Land Rover worker in Solihull told Socialist Worker, 'The shop stewards from all the unions-TGWU, which is the biggest, Amicus, and the GMB-recommended that the workers vote yes to both questions in the industrial action ballot. Solihull workers make the most profits in Western Europe. There are some shifts that work around the clock.
'Workers have accepted changes in working and the unions are saying there should be rewards for that.'
A strike at Nissan?
A GROUP of workers at the Nissan car plant have voted for strikes against enforced job transfers. The vote raises the prospect of the first strike at the Sunderland plant since it opened in 1986. Nissan wants to move 60 workers to another site 240 miles away in a shake-up of its purchasing department. Nissan refused to hold talks with the Amicus union over the transfers.
A union spokesperson said, 'The way Nissan has treated its purchasing staff in refusing to even discuss with us their relocation is simply diabolical. We intend to back our members and call for the company to begin negotiations with us now.'
The Wearside factory has always been pointed to as a good example of 'partnership'.