Over 3,000 car workers and office staff walked out at the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port on Merseyside on Thursday of last week. All three shifts at the Cheshire plant downed tools in protest at the threat of losing 1,000 jobs.
Workers were furious that as union leaders were negotiating over the future of the plant, comments by parent company General Motors’ European president Carl-Peter Forster said, “We know, thank God, that the English labour market is more able to absorb workers than that, for example, in Germany or Belgium.”
Workers, members of the Amicus and T&G unions, expected confirmation on Wednesday that 1,000 jobs would go.
New Labour’s employment laws make it easier to sack British workers than any other European Union (EU) workforce. Statutory redundancy payments are also a lot lower here than in other EU states.
Ellesmere Port union convenor John Featherstone told Socialist Worker that the workers had been betrayed. “To say we are angry is an understatement,” he said. “These negotiations have not been carried out in good faith—they clearly did not intend to listen to our proposals.
“We have improved efficiency beyond belief, but General Motors wants to pull out of Ellesmere Port because it is quicker and easier than cutting the workforce in other countries. We are talking to colleagues and looking for solidarity action.”
Talks will resume next week with a decision on redundancies and other cost cutting measures expected within a fortnight.
The company has presented the union leadership with a 90 point plan to cut costs and jobs. GM’s proposals include a pay freeze for five years and the introduction of mandatory overtime, with all extra hours worked paid at the standard rate. The package of reforms has outraged workers at the factory.
Tragically, in response the union leaders are proposing to spread the redundancies around all GM’s European plants, and seem likely to accept at least some of the attacks on conditions.
However, the walkout last week has shown that the Ellesmere workers are prepared to fight.
T&G rep John Cooper told Socialist Worker, “There has been no honesty or integrity in the way this has been handled. Thursday was a one-day walkout to show our anger, but it is too early to say what will happen now.”
Stores controller Liam Bowyer, who has worked at the Ellesmere Port plant for 14 years, said, “We have got mortgages to pay and kids to look after. We can’t believe it has come to this. We’ve bent over backwards for this company over the last five years and now they’re trying to introduce this crap.”
Tony Concepcion, who has worked in the body shop for 39 years, said, “This walkout was to show how strongly we feel about this, to show management that we won’t just roll over and die. The unions came up with a pretty weak alternative option but the chief executive made it clear he did not even want to listen to that.
“An end to the shift premium could mean we lose £140 a week. It wouldn’t be worth my while travelling to Ellesmere from where I live in the Wirral.”
The campaign at Ellesmere Port needs to be more than a token walkout. A dynamic strategy of protests and strike action can keep the mulitnational car firm in check.
It should be linked to the fight to save jobs at Peugeot in Ryton.
Alan, another body shop worker, said, “There is going to be a serious fight in the near future and we need everyone to know what is going on. Tony Woodley, general secretary of the T&G union, is a former Ellesmere Port worker.
“He should think back to whether he would have accepted 1,000 job losses and huge pay cuts when he was here. It’s easier to get rid of British workers than in France and Germany because their unions fight. Now we have no choice but to fight.”