'THE BOSSES bleed us to death, then say, 'Thanks and sod off'.' That was the reaction of a worker in Peugeot's Ryton car factory after the multinational announced 700 job cuts with the scrapping of the D, or night, shift.
Last June the workers were conned into voting to accept a pay cut supposedly to save the shift. 'That cost me £52 a month,' says the Ryton worker. 'The ones who have been here less than two years are likely to go. They are not classed as 'core workers', and they can be laid off easier. They came thinking they had a chance of a full time job. Others travel from Crewe and Liverpool to do shifts here. What kind of state must they be in?'
The workers feel let down by their TGWU and Amicus unions. Both leaders, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, were elected with high hopes that they would stand up to attacks from companies like Peugeot.
But there is no smell of fight over Peugeot workers' jobs from either of them. 'In here the union is really run more like a business,' said the Peugeot worker. 'The officials pleaded that a pay cut would save the night shift, and people fell for it. I disagreed and argued against that. Now the management want the unions to soften the blow over the job cuts. They just say, 'We have to get the best deal we can.' I don't want to be making decisions about people's lives. We can't allow that to happen.'
With the unions refusing to voice workers' anger, some have resorted to sending e-mails and letters to the local press. One of many printed in the Coventry Evening Telegraph reads: 'My partner is a worker for Peugeot. When he first applied for this job two years ago he told them he could not work nights or weekends. They said he didn't have to. They said they were family-orientated. So he took the job. In November 2002 there was a fire outside our block of flats. I've got two young children in a top floor flat. I panicked and phoned my partner, and asked him to come home. After that he got blackmailed to go on the night shift. His contract said that if you decline you are jeopardising your future with the company. Last year he asked me to marry him. We booked the wedding for July. But now he may lose his job we don't know if we'll be able to afford it. He hates the hours he's doing, and hardly ever gets to do anything with his children. On the D shift he's lost two and a half stone in weight and has not been sleeping properly. It just proves how much that place cares about workers.'
Big firms guilty
'IT IS horrible for migrant workers. Their wages are cut, they don't get paid overtime, there is no health and safety.' So says Hsiao-Hung Pai, the undercover journalist whose exposé of the treatment of Chinese migrant workers in Britain made the Guardian front page last Saturday.
'I was very interested in how migrant workers are treated in Britain, and the Guardian approached me to do the piece,' she told Socialist Worker. 'Many of them had worked as cocklers like those in Morecambe Bay. They knew people who were among the 20 who died. Migrant workers are ordinary people who want to make a better life, and society does not give them a chance. They are cut off from society, and suffer racism in the workplace and in life. The big companies and supermarkets know exactly what is going on. I am very angry about that. The government is totally hypocritical. They talk about gangmasters as being the only issue. But it is a symptom of the whole problem, which is their immigration laws. I kept in contact with the workers I met, and told them that I had been undercover and was writing an article. Some were worried about work, but they were happy that the companies were being exposed. I hope the unions will get involved. I hope the article helps people realise that working conditions and wages have to be improved for migrant workers.'
Killer dust scandal
FIRST they were poisoned. Now they are outcasts. That's what's happened to 200 workers in East Anglia thrown out of work when their factory shut due to asbestos contamination. 'When potential employers found out where they have worked, they would not take them on,' says John Simnett of the TGWU union. The workers where thrown out of work when the Yarmouth egg-packing plant Omni-Pac shut last October.
They are scared for their own and their families' health. John Simnett said, 'For all we know, staff were bringing asbestos home. Their overalls may have been picked up and washed by their wives and been in the laundry with their children's clothes, which is a horrifying thought.' Now those fears are being added to, as other employers refuse to take them on. 'Everyone is very worried about their health, and while most people are now looking for jobs, many are finding it tough,' says John Simnett.
'As soon as potential employers find out where they have worked,' he says, the workers get turned away 'because they are concerned they will take a lot of time off sick.'
Workers fear contamination could be on a much larger scale than previously thought, with rumours that asbestos was buried under the factory. The workers are now awaiting a Health and Safety Executive report before deciding on further action.