Car workers in Merseyside and the West Midlands are furious at Labour’s response to the closure of the Peugeot plant in Ryton, near Coventry, and the announcement of 1,000 job losses at the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port.
Chancellor Gordon Brown visited Ellesmere Port last week, saying, he wanted to “give support” to the workforce.
The Vauxhall job cuts were announced to workers just after Brown and trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling arrived to meet senior managers.
Andy, a worker at the plant, was not impressed by the visit. “We knew the job cuts were going to go ahead – but they didn’t even have the honesty to tell us so up front,” he told Socialist Worker.
“While Tony Woodley [general secretary of the T&G union] and Brown chatted with the bosses in front of the cameras, nobody could even be bothered to come and tell us whether we have a job or not.
“We tried to go round and talk to them – but we couldn’t get past the security. It’s our bloody jobs on the line but nobody wanted to hear what we had to say.
“Brown can fuck off back to London to row with Blair about who gets to screw the country. All the suits can have all the handshakes they want – we need to make them listen.”
Workers were also furious at the disgraceful reaction to the job cuts from Andrew Miller, the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port & Neston. He said the job cuts would benefit the plant’s workers and create “a robust future for the plant”.
Car workers are in no mood to hear government ministers stress their “support”. Mass meetings were held at the Peugeot Ryton plant and at Ellesmere Port last week to decide the next moves against job cutting plans.
The mass meetings both unanimously rejected company redundancy offers. Workers at Peugeot Ryton have started a ballot for industrial action. The results of the ballot will be known on Monday 5 June.
Peugeot management responded by threatening to cut severance pay and speed up the factory closure.
In a letter sent out to the 2,300 strong workforce, the firm spelled out a stark message. “The group will not understand the logic of any protests that are intended to damage the group’s finances or undermine its commercial reputation,” it wrote.
“In these circumstances, there is a significant risk that the group will change its mind about the level of financial packages and the two stage approach to [Ryton’s] closure.”
Ryton worker Frank said, “We have done everything they want – and now they dump on us. This plant has been a goldmine for Peugeot. I would rather be going all out than give up without a fight.”
Jim O’Boyle, plant convener for the T&G in Ryton, said the company’s threats won’t scare workers who already know they are likely to lose their jobs.
“We will be balloting for strike action because we need the firm to acknowledge that we are serious about fighting to ensure Ryton has a future,” he said.
There is a similar mood of defiance in Ellesmere Port. “I’ve worked for Vauxhall for 25 years, the last five with constant threats shoved down your neck,” said Michael. “Management are constantly pushing the workforce into corners with threats of closure.
“Over the last two years they’ve taken everything – and in return they’ve given nothing. This is the worst company I’ve had the misfortune to work for.”
Another worker echoed this view. “I have worked for Vauxhall for nearly 30 years and the way we are treated is disgusting,” he said.
“The men and women in this plant have bent over backwards for General Motors [the US firm that owns Vauxhall]. We’ve had enough. You wouldn’t treat a dog the way they treat us.”
Jimmy, another Vauxhall worker, said, “I blame the government, because the laws here mean that British workers are the easiest to get rid of in Europe.
“We need united action from the Vauxhall and Peugeot lads, and solidarity of car workers from Europe. We are showing we are not going to be pissed on.”
Walkouts at Ellesmere Port earlier this month have boosted the mood for a fight across both car plants.
Patrick, a father of two, has worked for Peugeot for more than 16 years. “It lifted us when the Vauxhall lads walked out,” he said. “The unions talk of boycotts – of course, nobody should buy a bloody Peugeot. But if we don’t fight hard then we won’t have a job and we won’t even be able to buy a toy car.”
Despite the walkouts, many Ellesmere Port workers are critical of their union leadership. “Woodley is ‘awkward’ only when it suits him,” said John. “He used to work here, but he was a lot keener on meeting Brown and the managers than us.
“We should just say, ‘Sod you, we’re out.’ We’re angry and disgusted because we’ve worked really hard to improve quality and production – and this is what we get.”
Dave, a Peugeot Ryton worker, says, “Most of the time the trade unions are just nodding their heads. You feel like it’s our own shooting us in the back.
“They say the shopfloor isn’t strong enough. But we need leadership. The union just keeps letting them get away with it. I think the buck stops with the government.”
Simon, another Ryton worker, said, “They say it’s the economy and at least there’s no compulsory redundancies. Lots of us have heard that before.
“Some of us want to make a stand and walk out. But certain people in the union keep calming things down. I wish they wouldn’t – the bastards need to know how people feel.”