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Cash for the car bosses at Vauxhall won’t help defend workers’ jobs

This article is over 7 years, 3 months old
Calling on the Tories to back ‘British firms’ will only harm workers’ interests, argues Dave Sewell
Issue 2542
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey speaking at an anti-Trump protest in January this year
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey speaking at an anti-Trump protest in January this year (Pic: James O’Hanlon/Flickr)

Theresa May faces what some newspapers have called “her first big Brexit industrial crisis” over threats to Vauxhall car factories in Britain.

Vauxhall and its German sister firm Opel could be sold by US giant General Motors (GM) to French PSA, owners of Peugeot and Citroen.

It employs up to 4,500 people at two factories in Ellesmere Port and Luton. Thousands more work in its support operations and supply chain.

One worker in Luton said bosses had told them nothing and “no one knows what’s going on”.

Bosses played down fears of job cuts but a reported £1 billion pensions deficit could be used as an excuse to attack workers.

And PSA has little motive to take on a huge liability without “rationalising” its combined operation.

Both the government and the main union at Vauxhall, Unite, fear that exit from the European single market could tip the scales towards making cuts in Britain rather than Germany or France.

So Tory business secretary Greg Clark promised PSA the same “assurances” it gave Nissan last year.

To keep Nissan in Sunderland, the government offered a package of subsidies and support to promote car manufacturing in the region.

The government insists it gave no preferential treatment to Nissan—but it did throw money at giving the firm what it wanted.


The lesson hasn’t been lost on PSA. When you threaten job cuts, you get sweetheart deals. The fact that it’s worked again will encourage other firms to try the same blackmail.

Profit-chasing bosses shift investment and attack workers for reasons that have nothing to do with Brexit.

US car workers have seen their pay and conditions slashed even though Brexit doesn’t affect their plants.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said that Brexit is “a factor”. But he rightly added, “We need to make certain that nobody’s looking to use Brexit as an excuse”.

He demanded the Tories give Vauxhall what it gave Nissan, and stay in the single market. He said he and Clark had found “common ground in terms of protecting jobs here in Britain”.

But while working with British Tories to get sweeteners for British bosses, McCluskey counterposed British jobs to French ones.

“The French government own a significant chunk of Peugeot,” he said.

“We want to make certain that our government is not sitting on the sidelines, because you can bet your life that the French government will be defending French jobs.”

This raises the spectre of the last time GM played workers in different countries off against each other, in 2012.

Unite agreed to a squeeze on Vauxhall workers’ conditions at Ellesmere Port, and celebrated victory when GM decided to shut down Opel’s plant at Bochum in Germany instead.

But the only winners were the bosses.

Unite candidates confirmed – and Ian Allinson is on the ballot paper

Ian Allinson has secured enough nominations to be on the ballot paper for the Unite general secretary election, the union confirmed last week.

Allinson is the grassroots socialist challenger. Incumbent Len McCluskey and right wing senior official Gerard Coyne are standing too.

While they have been employed by the union for decades, Allinson has recently been on strike over pay, pensions and job security.

His campaign has rightly stressed defence of migrants’ rights.

Ian said, “With workers facing attacks on our jobs, pay and conditions, public services and rights, more of the same simply isn’t good enough.

“Unite needs a shake-up.

“Only a candidate from outside the union’s establishment can do this.”

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