Build on this magnificent protest
The great jobs revolt
"EVERYONE'S future and everyone's job is at stake. We're in this together. It's all for one and one for all. We've been betrayed by everyone-BMW, Labour, the unions." That's how workers from Land Rover's Solihull plant summed up the feeling on last Saturday's magnificent demonstration through Birmingham.
Tens of thousands of people from every working class community in the West Midlands flowed through the streets, bitter and angry at the jobs massacre looming over the area. Delegations of workers travelled to join the protest from right across Britain. The fury was directed at the multinational car bosses who are threatening to wreck people's lives, and also at the Labour government for refusing to act to save jobs and communities.
Mixed with the anger was a feeling that a fight is needed to force the government to act. "Blair has completely betrayed us. Renationalisation is the only way. We have got to do whatever it takes or this will ruin the Midlands," was how Chris Morgan, a TGWU shop steward at Rover's threatened Longbridge plant, put it. "The government has got to wake up," agreed Mickey Malone, a TGWU shop steward at Birmingham's HP Sauce factory. If Rover was in government hands it would never have happened. They gave it away for a song-now they should buy it back for next to nothing and put some money in. Otherwise we face slum areas across Birmingham. Let's hope today is just a start. Ordinary people have got to fight."
Across the West Midlands people know that if Longbridge goes thousands of other jobs will follow. "We know it could be us next," said Chris Kenny, the TGWU union convenor at Ford's Leamington Spa plant. Ford treat us just the same as BMW-terribly. Whatever we do, whatever we give them, they want more. We'd support a fight at Rover, definitely."
Neil Edmunds is chair of the West Bromwich TGWU district committee. "We face the same fate as the mining communities if Longbridge closes. Engineering factories in the Black Country have already started the layoffs." "I work in a little company which does sandwiches for Longbridge and the area round it," said Margaret Hamilton. If the plant goes then my job goes-and there are thousands of others in the same position. We're all individuals, with families and hopes for the future. But now it's all worry about what is going to happen. I decided that I wasn't going to just sit back and watch the news, I was going to do something. So I put a little note about the march on the label of all the sandwiches I sent out around the other factories. People saw me the next day and were saying it was great and that we should all get behind the longbridge workers. The Labour government has let us down badly."
Mick Grant is a firefighter in the West Midlands: "Everyone is on a knife edge in Birmingham. You're talking tens of thousands of jobs. The Labour government is supposed to be for the people. But they're continuing where the Tories left off. And some things are turning out worse. It's alright Blair saying we'll get more jobs, but what's the point of working in a burger joint for �100 a week? You can't support a house and family on that. I'd support the Rover workers if they occupied. This demonstration is great. We want some of the spirit of French and German workers' demonstrations here."
Many on the march were questioning longstanding support for, or even membership of, the Labour Party. "I come from Bradford where the Labour Party was founded," said Terry Britton, branch secretary of the TGWU union's textiles trade group. I've just left the Labour Party after being a long time member. I've been chair and secretary of my local Labour Party. But I'm sick to the back teeth of Blair."
And behind the immediate targets for people's anger there was also fury at the system which threatens to throw whole areas on the scrapheap. "People need jobs to survive," argued Matt Conker, a TGWU shop steward at Ford Dagenham, who had travelled with a delegation from the Essex factory to join Saturday's march. Everyone believes in social justice in society. But all we get is capitalism going rampant. Everywhere it's part time, temporary, short term and casual work. The gap is so big between the top and the bottom in society. People have not got a chance. But Seattle was the one bright light. The ideas of those protesters were right. We've got to fight globalisation."
"GENERAL MOTORS, Ford, BMW-they are all ruthless. They don't care about people. None of our jobs are safe. You've got to stand up and be counted. Tony Blair doesn't care about working class people. The workers have got to have a go."
STEWART, TGWU member, Vauxhall motors, Ellesmere Port
"SOME PEOPLE do see the whole issue as about the British versus the Germans. We have thoroughly British bosses, "royal" ones even, but they are bastards out for profit just like BMW. These people at the top lead a different life to us whatever country they come from. The demonstration showed the working class is not just going to lie down. There could be a fight."
ALAN, Royal Mail worker, Coventry
"FORD DAGENHAM workers came today to support Rover workers. It's completely wrong that they are facing closure and massive job losses. Our future is not safe either. The fight at Ford is the same fight as at Rover-it's all multinational manipulation for capitalist greed."
STEVE RILEY, TGWU convenor, PTA, Ford Dagenham