Car bosses are drawing up plans to restart production at plants in Britain and Europe producing non-essential vehicles. They must be stopped.
PSA group, which owns Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant on Merseyside and the Luton van plant, announced two weeks ago that its European sites would close until 27 March.
This followed sustained strikes in France and other countries demanding that safety comes before profits.
Now bosses say a timetable will be drawn up to restart operations. Carlos Tavares, chair of Groupe PSA’s managing board, said, “We will not compromise on the health of our employees.”
But during the coronavirus crisis there is no safe way of running giant car plants. Ellesmere Port employs over 1,000 people and Luton 1,250. The danger is that some unions will back the plans.
Automotive World website reports that PSA’s human resources department “presented this project to representatives of trade union organisations who made their own contributions”.
Bosses will seek to play one plant off against another. They will dangle before union leaders the prospect of investment at sites that restart—and closure in the longer term at those that don’t go back to work. Bosses tried to agree plans to restart production at PSA in France last week. But workers’ action stopped them.
Vincent Duse, a CGT union member at PSA, said, “It was the anger and the mobilisation of the workers that imposed this postponement. “They refused the resumption of production at the height of the pandemic.”
In an article on the Revolution Permanente website he wrote, “How many sick and dead will it take for PSA, a company that has made billions from the exploitation of workers, to make the decision to leave their employees at home?
“And do not come to tell us that engine parts are necessary to fight the disease as suggested by the management to blame those who do not want to die for the profits of PSA.”
Unions, principally Unite, must refuse any resumption of production in Britain during the crisis—and workers must receive their full wages.
Keeping children and school workers safe builds union
Trade unionists fear that the Tories are putting the most vulnerable children at risk by failing to close schools for children with disabilities.
The government announced the closure of schools earlier this month, and said schools would only remain open to teach the children of “key workers”.
But many children with special educational needs, disabilities or behavioural problems are still going to school.
Sally Kincaid is Wakefield and District divisional secretary for the NEU union. She told Socialist Worker, “It’s a very mixed picture across the country.
“Some special schools and pupil referral units closed immediately. But others are still open.
“These schools have the most vulnerable children in them. For some, existing health problems mean that if they caught coronavirus they would be more likely to suffer complications.
“And much of the time, there can’t be ‘social distancing’. Some children need help with washing and doing other basic things.”
Sally said the best solution would be for vulnerable children to be at home—and stressed that parents must be given support to make that possible.
Across education, school workers are coming forward to volunteer to be on rotas to keep schools open for the children of key workers.
But in some cases, workers are coming under pressure to be in regardless of whether they feel it is safe to do so. “I had one union member ring me in floods of tears last Sunday saying the head teacher had asked her to go in and clean her classroom,” said Sally.
“Another has a daughter suffering from mental distress and she can’t be in work. But her head teacher is threatening to not pay her if she doesn’t put herself on the rota.”
But fears over keeping workers and children safe, and calls for parents with children at home to be properly supported, are also making more workers get organised.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, tweeted on Wednesday, “To the thousands of teachers, leaders and support staff who have joined the @neunion over the past 7 days—welcome!”
Sally said, “The union has stepped up to the mark and membership in our area is going up every day. And people are also becoming union reps.
“We set up a Wakefield NEU WhatsApp group and people piled in. Now we have sub-groups responsible for different things.
“Rather than just getting angry, people are finding collective responses to issues that might have seemed individual.
“Everyone is unionising.”
PCS union rep says we can still organise and win
PCs union activists in a civil service department have channelled anger by workers to make bosses give in over health and safety demands.
One PCs rep told socialist Worker that the union had pressured foot-dragging bosses into giving guarantees over pay and home working. “First of all we have got everyone working from home,” she said.
“People had previously been told that home working was impossible because there wasn’t the tech. Those people are now working at home, with the tech.
“We also have assurances that time off due to coronavirus won’t come from annual sick allowance. Pay won’t be halved after six months off, and the time won’t trigger a disciplinary process.”
She added that the union had also made some gains for outsourced cleaners and agency workers. “We’ve had offices closed except for appointments. We want cleaners and agency staff to continue to be paid,” she said.
“That’s now sorted in some offices.”
The rep said, “The pressure is coming from members. “They’re going to managers saying, we can’t do this, we can’t do that.
She also said the union had already had three meetings for all members over the skype video conferencing programme, with big turnouts at each.
There were over 200 members on the first meeting, and even more over two meetings held on the same day a week later.
She said reps used these to come up with lists of demands to put to senior management. “The fact that so many members are involved is really good,” she said—adding that the campaign had helped to recruit agency workers to the union.
And there’s still more to fight for. “It feels like we’re turning the tanker,” said the rep. “The biggest demand now is that parents and carers cannot do full time hours.
“Some people have to look after very young children at home during the day, and they cannot be expected to make up that work in the evenings and the weekends—this is working people to death.
“We also want agency workers and cleaners to be directly employed.
“This is something we can push further down the line. We’re not going to let this go.”