“We are in a major fight with a multinational that has made a decision to pull out of Britain.”
Those were the words of Paul Shevlin, a TGWU union steward at Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant in Coventry.
They came as workers voted overwhelmingly to ballot for strike action to fight the plan by owners Ford to cut 1,150 jobs at the plant.
The fight at Jaguar will be a major test for union leaders, many of whom welcomed Tony Blair’s “most union-friendly speech yet” at last week’s TUC conference. He claimed to be concerned for “Britain’s hard working families”.
But by the end of the week his warm words had turned to ash as his government announced the first wave of closures in the civil service—throwing around 2,000 out of work.
New Labour said nothing as Ford announced plans to throw 400 assembly workers and 750 white collar staff on the scrap heap.
It also intends to transfer 425 jobs to a different Jaguar plant in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, leaving just 310 workers at Browns Lane, where Jaguars have been built since 1951.
Paul Shevlin told Socialist Worker, “These plans threaten the complete closure of the Browns Lane plant and the future of car manufacturing.”
But Jaguar workers are determined to fight to save the jobs.
“The stewards’ meeting said we should oppose the closure and defend the plant. We took that to the workforce in mass meetings and we got 86 percent backing for it,” says Paul. “People feel let down, and they are worried for the future.
“They realise that their own and other people’s jobs are under threat. They showed their overwhelming support to stand firm and resist the closure.
“Now we need to launch a major campaign to save Jaguar. We have many friends outside Jaguar who will support that campaign.”
Workers at Browns Lane feel betrayed by management, having “jumped every hurdle to build cars to the highest standards and hit every target”.
Paul says, “Browns Lane is the most efficient plant in the world according to Ford.
“It’s not the fault of the workforce that management haven’t been able to sell the wonderful cars we have produced. It’s senior management’s fault. Heads should roll at the board level.”
The call for resistance at Browns Lane was immediately backed by workers at other Jaguar plants in Castle Bromwich and Whitley.
Clive Dixon, the branch chair of the white collar section of the TGWU in Browns Lane, told Socialist Worker, “There is certainly a mood among workers to give backing to people to build the biggest possible campaign to stop the closure.
“Workers at the Castle Bromwich plant have accepted the argument that this isn’t a recovery plan.
“It’s a plan for closure. Other Jaguar plants are threatened.
“People are starting to wonder if Ford are pulling out of Britain. The evidence is there to suggest this. Ford have already closed their Dagenham assembly plant.
“The TGWU has to think seriously about what it has to do next. The leaders have to carry it among the workers.
“It has to go out nationally across Ford. There is a lot of sympathy for Jaguar at the Bridgend plant that makes Ford engines. That could hit Ford across Europe.”
The Coventry area has already been hit by a wave of manufacturing job losses.
“These plans are deadly for Coventry,” says Clive. “When the announcement was made, people from the area went up to the plant to vent their anger. We had everything here—Massey Ferguson, Rolls-Royce Parkside, Dunlop, Coulthards and many others. They’ve all gone now. Marconi used to employ 13,000 people. Now it’s down to around 900. My wife was made redundant from Marconi. Now she works as an organiser for the PCS civil service workers’ union. These plans will also affect all the suppliers and the shops around Coventry. Manufacturing seems to dwindle and dwindle in Britain. The government has no strategy whatsoever.
“My wife went with people from Marconi to lobby trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt. She just offered blather and did nothing. They’ve already let the steel, coal and the docks go. Now it’s the car industry. We’re losing skilled trade union jobs, with hard fought rights and good salaries. Multinationals are saying we’ll start again in another part of the world. The government are saying that’s ok. They should be saying that these workers are the people who voted for us, they’re in our constituencies and we’re not going to let it happen. Labour is not doing anything. There is general anger. The government should be standing side by side with us.”
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