Union officials back monster march call 'We want everyone in Birmingham' Saturday 1 April
SAM ASHMAN reports from Tuesday's Rover shop stewards meeting in Gaydon, Warwickshire
COACHES PACKED full of stewards arrived from Longbridge and Solihull in the Midlands, Cowley in Oxford, Swindon, and other Rover plants across Britain. Some 400 representatives of workers whose whole future is on the line eventually packed into the meeting. Union leaders gave stewards the full grim picture of the immediate job cuts planned in the next five weeks.
Longbridge will see 2,500 go, Cowley 500, Swindon 1,500, Gaydon 2,000...the list goes on. In all, 9,500 jobs will go in five weeks-with thousands more under threat. That gives just five weeks to build a fight to save jobs. Tuesday's meeting was angry and determined. There was unanimous backing for the demonstration now planned in Birmingham on Saturday 1 April.
Tony Woodley, national official of the TGWU union, says he wants the march to be a quarter of a million strong. "We want the largest demonstration of British workers seen for decades," he argued. The Birmingham Evening Mail's banner front page headline on Tuesday was, "Will you March For Longbridge?" Duncan Simpson, national AEEU union official, said, "I would encourage all trade unionists and local communities to attend."
A Rover Solihull worker argued, "We should go straight through the city centre, block all the roads and stop everything." The meeting was also clear on what the solution to the crisis was. "We want Rover back in public ownership. We want renationalisation. Labour has got to step in and stop washing its hands," was how one steward summed it up.
Trade union leaders are talking of finding a new buyer for Rover and getting government money to support such a bid. But some stewards know that the only way to guarantee jobs is full renationalisation. "We're not going to find another company to stump up the money at this stage. We want the money from Gordon Brown's war chest," said one steward.
Not just Rover
IT IS not just Rover car workers who face a jobs massacre.
WORKERS AT Rover's Cowley plant in Oxford were told they would escape lightly from BMW's pullout. But this week BMW ordered huge cuts in the output at Cowley.
FORD WORKERS at Dagenham in east London are under renewed threat. The body and assembly operations at Dagenham, employing 4,000 people, have been earmarked for possible closure. Halewood on Merseyside could also be hit. Ford has already announced that 1,500 jobs will go at Dagenham. The trade unions planned mass meetings this week.
"NO STEEL plant is safe" was the recent headline in the South Wales Evening Post. Corus (the former British Steel) is considering further plant closures and massive job losses. Up to 6,000 jobs are under threat at the plants of Port Talbot and Llanwern, near Newport.
The whole future of shipbuilding on the Tyne is under threat. Shipyard workers planned a march through Newcastle on Friday demanding the government acts to save the industry from devastation. "Something has got to be done or they might as well join the piers together, pump the river out and build over it," says Dave Shaw, union convenor at the A&P Tyne yard. "We're supposed to be a manufacturing country, but look at Rover, Ford and here. It's all going the same way as the mines." It's not only on Tyneside that shipyard jobs are under threat. In Belfast's Harland and Wolff yard almost 1,800 workers are working on redundancy notices due to expire in June.
Message from miners
CAR WORKERS in the West Midlands face the same devastation visited on the miners under the Tories. Former miners know the price of the jobs slaughter now threatened in the car industry.
That is why a group of former miners sent a message of support to Rover workers last week. The announcer at last Saturday's Birmingham against Barnsley football match read out the message, urging Rover workers to keep up the fight, from ex-miners who are Barnsley fans. Thousands of Birmingham fans broke out in cheers and applause.
Germans fighting BMW too
SOME OF the press are using the Rover crisis to blame "Germans". They forget the key role played in the Rover crisis by the "British" BAe (see page five). And workers in Germany are now battling the same BMW bosses who wrecked the future for workers in the West Midlands. Engineering employers, including BMW, are offering only a 1.5 percent pay increase for each of the next three years.
That is really a pay cut which Klaus Zwickel, leader of the IG Metal engineering workers union, rightly says is "laughable". The unions have warned of strikes.
Tesco or starve?
WEST MIDLANDS car workers could be the first to face the government's "take a minimum wage job or get no benefits" scheme. The government is merging the employment service and the benefits agency. The plan is to force the unemployed into a minimum wage job with the threat of their benefits being cut if they refuse.
Skilled car workers will be told to take jobs in call centres or collecting supermarket trolleys. As one worker at the Longbridge car plant said, "All the talk of getting other jobs and a 'taskforce' is sickening. I have worked in the car industry all my life. What do they expect me to do-go and get a job stacking shelves in Tesco's? The only jobs will be minimum wage and below. I look at my street and every family has a mortgage. We face disaster."
Grim results as jobs go
When the Tories announced their pit closure programme in 1992 it sent a shudder down the spine of every worker in Britain. Closing the pits saw 160,000 jobs go by the mid-1990s. It devastated entire communities.
When the main employer went, so did the related industries, shops and services. Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire was a typical example of the devastation. The crime rate doubled after the pit closed in 1993. Household incomes in the area were just 55 percent of the national average. In some streets two out of three houses were boarded up. Unemployment went over 30 percent. Working people's health declined and the use of drugs rose. Vic France, who ran the community centre, describes what the pit closures meant: "What we have now is violence, ill health and debt."
At the time of the closure Robin Cook was New Labour's opposition spokesperson on trade and industry. He called the Tories' decision to shut the mines "criminal". Now who is the criminal? New Labour may wring its hands but it will not step in to stop the West Midlands bleeding to death. Only action will save the West Midlands from the fate of the mining communities.
"Thatcher got rid of the miners. It looks like Blair's getting rid of the car workers. We're under threat too. Our fight is the same fight. We support the Rover workers and the march all the way."
- Shop Steward, Ford Dagenham