AROUND 3,500 workers at the massive Ryton Peugeot plant near Coventry walked out on strike for 24 hours last week. They brought the plant to a standstill. The first shift to strike began picketing at 5.30am on Thursday of last week, the day after the car giant announced yearly profits of £1.2 billion.
Peugeot bosses are determined to deny the workforce a decent pay rise. They offered 7.3 percent over two years, some of which would be clawed back in increased pension contributions. One of the TGWU union convenors at the plant explained how angry workers feel. 'We work anti-social shifts in there. The bottom line is that shifts here are worse than elsewhere in the industry,' he said.
'They are making a lot of money and we want our share of it.' The car plant is very modern and high-tech, but working conditions are more 19th century than 21st. One worker, Kevin, told Socialist Worker, 'I work on the tracks. We call it the iron horse. I have been here for 15 years and it has been getting worse every year. Profits come before everything. It's just us and them. We work 37.5 hours a week, getting up in the middle of the night. It means getting up at 4.15 in the morning on some shifts or getting home at 12.30 at night on others, so you have no social life. During those shifts you get three ten-minute breaks with just 25 minutes off for dinner. There's no partnership in there. They say it's a democracy, but it's a dictatorship.'
Another picket, also called Kevin, described the atmosphere in the plant: 'Management keep pushing and pushing, taking and taking. People don't realise what we have given this company over the last few years. They say we should be grateful for just having a job. We have people coming in who don't last a day or even an hour before they pack it in. This strike isn't just for now. It's for the future, for the young people working in there.'
Bas has worked at the Peugeot plant since 1968. He told Socialist Worker, 'It is oppressive in there, dictatorial. Management don't live in the real world. In 1968 there was a playing field where we are standing and you could bring your family here for a day out. It's not like that now.'
Frank added, 'We have done everything they want and now we want a bit back. 'We have been the most obliging workers in the industry. We have cooperated all the way, but they still want to put the boot into us. Working those shifts plays havoc with your family life. Our basic pay is only £14,000 a year. They try to play on people's fears about closures, but this plant is a goldmine. I would rather be going all out than just a one-day strike.'
Bas added, 'In there you stoop all day, shoving seats into cars and stuff like that. There are a lot of industrial injuries. If you get a headache you have to use your own money to buy pills out of a machine. If you are five minutes late in the morning they ring you at home and even come round knocking on your door to pressure you to come into work. Sometimes they get people to follow someone off sick, to check they aren't skiving. I have seen people working on the track with their arms in plaster because they are so afraid of losing their jobs. I had pneumonia once and they gave me two 'FU' pills. I ended up in hospital with blood clots. They didn't even take my temperature. One bloke's daughter was being bullied at school. He asked to be put on earlies so he could pick her up from school. The company just said, 'It's not our problem, it's yours. If you can't come to work you will be disciplined. That's that.' So much for family-friendly policies. The people who are pushing us lead nice, normal lives. They come to work in daylight and get to see their kids. We were in a meeting with a manager and he suddenly said, 'I have to leave now to go and look after the kids.' Imagine if I said something like that.'
The workers have called a second one-day strike. It will affect all shifts and last over a long weekend from Friday 7 March to Monday 10 March.