Socialist Worker

Labour fiddles while Rover burns

Issue No. 1689

What we think

Labour fiddles while Rover burns

THE CRISIS at Rover is the bitter moment of truth for all those who voted New Labour in 1997. Chancellor Gordon Brown says that Tuesday's budget was designed to reward "hardworking families". What a sickening insult to the workers at Longbridge and the dependent factories who face devastation.

They have worked their guts out for years and jumped through every hoop the government and bosses have placed before them. Their reward is betrayal. These "hardworking families" now face the dole. So do workers at Cowley, Ford Dagenham, and manufacturing industries like steel in South Wales and shipbuilding on the Tyne. Trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers is one of New Labour's most aggressive pro-business figures. He was part of the pro-Blair team which junked the Labour Party's commitment to public ownership in 1995, replacing it with a clause embracing the "enterprise of the market" and the "rigour of competition". He constantly lectures workers on how they have to bow down before the free market and make themselves more "flexible". Now Byers whimpers that the Rover workers are "innocent victims" of "global forces" that he can do nothing about. The chickens have come home to roost for this government. The trade unions must mobilise now and make it clear to the bosses and New Labour that we won't pay the price for their rotten system.

Action can save jobs

THE JOB losses at Rover are an issue for every worker and trade unionist in the country. As a car components worker said, "We supply Nissan, Toyota, Jaguar, Rover, Honda and Vauxhall. We can stop them all because of just-in-time production. Everyone is watching Rover because we know if they can do this to Rover they can do it to everyone." AEEU engineers' union leader Ken Jackson is talking up a boycott of BMW to hit the company "where it hurts". But a boycott is not the way to save the jobs of Rover workers.

How many ordinary people can afford to buy a luxury BMW in the first place? If the boycott is of the new Mini, still to be built by BMW, it could end up hitting ordinary workers at the Cowley plant in Oxford who are to build it. There is a way to hit BMW where it hurts. We need to push our union leaders to call mass strikes to save Longbridge and the tens of thousands of jobs in the region it depends upon. During the 1992 pit closures campaign the TUC refused to call a general strike that could have saved the mining industry. We cannot afford for that scenario to be repeated under New Labour.

As another Midlands car component worker says, "I remember the pits crisis in 1992. If Scargill had called a strike we would have been out at the drop of a hat. It is like that now. We supply Rover and everybody knows we have got nothing to lose. The unions have got to give a lead." The march on 1 April is a good start, but Rover workers must also occupy the plant and call for solidarity strikes across the West Midlands.

Such action would also step up the pressure on New Labour to get off its knees and seize Rover's assets. It could transform the situation from despair to hope. Every worker across Britain must argue, agitate and organise in their trade unions, workplaces and communities for the biggest fightback possible against Rover's jobs massacre.

What you can do Every trade unionist should:

  • BUILD THE mass demonstration in Birmingham, called by Rover unions, on Saturday 1 April. Call emergency union meetings and book workers onto coaches and trains now.
  • SUPPORT THE call for solidarity strikes with Rover workers.
  • FAX MESSAGES of support to the Longbridge works committee on 0121 482 5538.

Nationalise Rover now

IT IS not true that the government is powerless to save jobs. BMW has not quit Britain-it has still got massive assets in this country. It owns Rolls Royce motors and still has plants in Oxford and Swindon.

BMW is keeping control of parts of Longbridge as well as the brand new �400 million Hams Hall engine plant in Birmingham. These assets are worth a fortune. The government should seize them now, without compensation. Of course it is true that nationalisation of one car firm amongst many does not solve the problems of competition, and the madness of overproduction and duplication overnight.

But it could begin to challenge the power of the corporations which wreck workers' lives everywhere. It questions the rule of profit over people in the same way as last year's protest in Seattle challenged the right of the World Trade Organisation to build the world in its own corporate image. Rover shows in brutal terms the anarchy of the market and the need for a socialist alternative based on need, not profit. That is precisely why Rover is the right place to start the fightback.

People before profit

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Article information

Sat 25 Mar 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1689
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