With car industry facing catastrophe, Blair sits on his hands and does nothing…
THE CAR industry in Britain is on a knife edge. The two biggest car factories in the country face closure in the next month. Thousands of workers’ livelihoods are on the line. Workers at Ford’s Dagenham plant in Essex expect an announcement at any time that car production at the giant factory will cease.
Rover workers don’t know whether they are coming or going. The bid by the Alchemy asset strippers to take over Rover’s Longbridge plant in Birmingham collapsed spectacularly at the end of last week. Now workers do not know whether the rival Phoenix bid, led by former Rover executive John Towers, will go through, whether the Alchemy bid will be revived or whether Longbridge will close all together.
There is no need for such uncertainty. Labour should step in, renationalise Rover now and not give present owners BMW a penny of compensation. Across the West Midlands workers are reeling at the latest twist in the saga. “I was relieved when I heard that the Alchemy bid had collapsed,” says a Rover worker. “They are crooks and asset strippers. But now it could mean total closure in four weeks time. We have leapt from the frying pan into the fire.” Another Rover worker says, “It is premature to celebrate. The Phoenix bid will still mean thousands of job losses.
“But we could all end up being worse off. We could be completely finished. We don’t know what is going to happen next. I feel bewildered, bitter and frustrated.” The closure of Longbridge will mean devastation. The factory supports some 50,000 jobs across the Midlands, from the car components industry to cafes and sandwich shops.
The knock-on effect will spread beyond the Midlands. Steel plants in South Wales which supply Longbridge already face closure. The Welsh Automotive Forum estimates that up to 5,000 jobs could be lost in the car industry in Wales if Longbridge shuts. Calsonic Radiators in Llanelli has already axed nearly 100 jobs and the remaining 1,100 are threatened. Camford Pressings, also in Llanelli, has laid off 100 workers.
And Alloy Wheels in Cardiff is to close with the loss of 250 jobs because it has lost a Rover order. In east London and Essex Ford’s Dagenham plant plays the same role as Longbridge in being vital to thousands of other jobs. If most of the Dagenham plant is shut, the effects will be felt right across the area. Ford’s suppliers, local shops and housing estates will all suffer as jobs go. “This is the only country in Europe where they can get away with this kind of thing,” says a Ford Dagenham worker. “They want to sack us because it’s cheaper to sack us than anybody else. And Blair is sitting on his bloody hands. It’s a damn joke. Labour and the unions are letting them walk all over us. But we must resist.”
‘Make a stand to force Labour to renationalise’
SOME 100,000 people marched through Birmingham to save Longbridge from closure only a month ago. That feeling has not gone away. People on Birmingham’s streets last Saturday were still angry, and disgusted with the government. “My dad works at Rover. My cousin works at Rover. My whole family has always worked there,” says Sally from Kidderminster.
“My dad is 51. He’s been at Longbridge since he left school. He is not going to find another job. Yesterday I was made unemployed. My company went into receivership because it supplies Rover. People should make a stand over this. We have got to force Labour to step in.”
Anger over Longbridge is combined with a general feeling that New Labour has betrayed working class people. “This is going to affect a hell of a lot of people,” says Matt Renehan, a machine driver on a building site. People will be forced into low paid, unskilled work. It will mean pressure on all workers to accept lower wages. I earn the same today as I did ten years ago. After rent, bills and council tax I am lucky if I get one night out a month. People are working for a pittance. The government is screwing everyone. They are holding ordinary people down. But if they don’t watch out they will have a riot on their hands.”
Mohammed Ilyas is a car components worker. He says, “We don’t know what is going to happen to us. They have cut back one shift already. “We face having no job and no money. People will be suffocated. Blair has not kept his promises. Everyone is saying at the factory, ‘Where have Tony Blair’s words gone?’ Look at the minimum wage. It is nothing for people. I would like a union at our factory. We want our rights. It’s a small firm and they push people about. Students don’t get grants any more. My daughter was crying about the cost of going to college. It feels like things are getting worse all the time-not just for me but for everybody.”
Pensioner Sylvia Gregory says, “I think it’s despicable what is happening. I’ve voted Labour all my life and yet we are treated terribly. They have given us pensioners just 75p. It’s a damn insult.” Hospital worker Linda Mulrooney says, “Labour should renationalise. Otherwise this is going to be a national disaster. I’ve voted Labour all my life, but I will never vote for them again. Tony Blair is so right wing. He is a shit.”
Don’t throw away the anger
UNION leaders seem determined to waste the anger people feel over Rover. They are putting all their efforts into boosting the Phoenix bid for Rover, which is led by a former Rover boss and the millionaire head of Birmingham’s Liberal Democrats.
Those behind the Phoenix bid know they will make thousands of redundancies, and many Rover workers do not see a future with Phoenix beyond a couple of years. “The works committee are putting everything into the Phoenix bid. They are jumping for joy. I still want renationalisation but we are not being allowed our say,” says a Longbridge worker.
The unions at Longbridge hastily called a rally last Wednesday in support of the Phoenix bid. “They told us afterwards that rally was our mass meeting. That’s rubbish. We did not have a chance to say anything! A mass meeting is when we talk and they listen. They just said what they thought and then we all went home.”
Other workers were frustrated by the rally. One group said, “What are we doing just stood out here? We should be going inside and stopping the factory. We should be padlocking up the gates and blocking the roads with cars. It’s militant talk, I know, but we’ve got to be militant.” Thousands would support Rover workers if they took that sort of action. They would support a fight demanding Labour renationalises and saves every job.
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle