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Decades of treachery

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Issue 1689

Bosses wreck Rover

Decades of treachery

“YOU MIGHT as well drop a nuclear bomb on the Midlands. That’s what closing Longbridge means.” Those are the words of a Rover worker, and he is right. BMW knows it. That is why its managers scarpered from Birmingham last week. The government knows it. The police warned trade secretary Stephen Byers that they could not guarantee his safety if he did a walkabout round Longbridge last week on Friday.

Workers across the Midlands know it. They are reeling from news that threatens 50,000 jobs in total, reducing communities to the same despair as the pit villages of Yorkshire, South Wales and elsewhere. Above all, workers at Rover know it. They held stoppages as the news of the sell off came through. Rover workers have been passed from pillar to post. They have been blackmailed, lied to, promised the earth and repeatedly betrayed for years.

Rover factories have effectively been given away for the second time in 15 years, this time to a bunch of asset strippers. “I have done this job for 34 years,” said a Longbridge worker on Monday. “I’ve been called lazy by the Daily Mail, when I’ve been getting up at 3am to start work at 6am and not having a break until 9.15am. We have given up everything on the basis of promises of what was to come. I am 59 tomorrow, I don’t know any other job. I am completely finished.”

Run down for profit

ROVER CARS was formed from a series of mergers following the Second World War. The two leading British car companies, Austin and Morris, merged to form the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in the 1950s. BMC merged with Jaguar and then with Leyland motors, the owners of Standard, Triumph and Rover luxury cars in the 1960s. The new company called itself the British Leyland Motor Corporation. It made 40 percent of all cars sold in Britain.

Today the media say workers’ militancy and strikes brought Leyland crashing down. But years of underinvestment meant Leyland was overtaken by other car companies. Everything was geared to delivering a good price for the shareholders. British Leyland nearly went bust in 1975. The Labour government rightly stepped in and nationalised the company in order to prevent a catastrophe. Wrongly, the government paid shareholders 60 percent over the value of their shares. The aim of nationalisation was not to provide jobs and a decent product for people, but to jack up productivity.

Labour made Michael Edwardes the new boss. He slashed 54,000 jobs and forced productivity up by nearly 80 percent. The luxury wing of the business, Jaguar, was sold to Ford. Then, just when the company, now called Rover, was beginning to make a profit again, the Tories gave it away. Thatcher sold Rover to British Aerospace in 1988. BAe paid just 150 million for Rover, when the market value of the government’s shares stood at 4.5 billion. Thatcher wrote off so much debt she effectively gave 650 million to Roland Smith, the boss of BAe, to take the company over. Some 1,200 redundancies were announced on the day the deal was signed.

BAe linked Rover with Honda in the 1980s and 1990s. “For a time we really thought we were making a go of things,” said a Rover worker this week. “We were turning out cars that were selling. We had to work like dogs, mind you, but things felt a bit more secure.” The Rover “New Deal” in 1992 was hailed as a landmark agreement. Management introduced Japanese style working practices. Workers were promised a “job for life”. It did not last. BAe turned down a bid from Honda to buy Rover and instead sold it to BMW for 800 million.

Threats and lies then hung over workers as BMW managers cocked up one strategy after another. BMW threatened to close Longbridge in 1998. Workers were blackmailed into accepting 2,500 redundancies, and productivity increases, with a promise of 2 billion investment in return. Labour promised BMW aid of 152 million. Stephen Byers hailed the agreement and Blair told parliament it was a deal “for the next century”.

‘They told us future was safe’

ONLY A month ago BMW bosses were telling workers their futures were safe. “BMW had an open day,” says a worker. “I brought my family. We were taken on a tour of the factory and shown the plans for the new models. The managers apologised to my wife about us having to work so many hours but said our futures were safe. It was all lies.”

Workers at the Land Rover factory in Solihull were told they would stay part of BMW. Now they are to be flogged off to Ford for nearly 2 billion-just as it is threatening to shut its Dagenham plant. Workers at the Cowley plant in Oxford are told they are to build the new Mini. But what is to stop the super-rich Quandt family, who control BMW, from flogging that off too? All Rover plants must now stand and fight together.

Family affair

THE QUANDT family own the controlling stake in BMW. Their assets are estimated to be worth 10 billion. Workers in Germany know what BMW stands for. BMW security guard Marcel Hutil told reporters outside the company’s headquarters last week, “BMW are capitalists. Every big company is capitalist. They do not really like the workers. They only like the money.”

Alchemy: asset stripper

ALCHEMY, the new owner of Rover, is a money-grabbing asset stripper. Alchemy has been given Rover cars. BMW is underwriting losses of 1 billion, giving away a plant worth 1 billion, and on top of that giving Alchemy a stock of already built cars worth 500 million. All this is going to Jon Moulton, who began his career as an insolvency accountant.

He says he will invest no more than 50 million in Rover and will pull out after five years. Moulton does not care how many he sacks. BMW is underwriting all of Alchemy’s redundancy costs. BMW does not care either. By giving Rover away to Alchemy, the redundancy package will be half what BMW was offering a year ago.

Warning from London OAPs

ALCHEMY terrified old age pensioners by threatening to evict them from their homes in south west London. It wanted to close Holybourne House in Roehampton, one of three homes it owns in the area, because it was not making enough money. Yet Alchemy promised to provide residence and care for life when it took over the homes. Alchemy only agreed to transfer residents to its other homes because Wandsworth council was to take it to court. Joyce Steen, daughter of the oldest resident at Holybourne House, Nellie Day, 98, says, “These people just put money before people. Financial gain is their aim, and hang the people.”

BAe link

BRITISH Aerospace’s pension fund is one of the backers of Alchemy. BAe makes 1,000 million profit a year. Yet only last week Labour gave it 530 million to help it build a new double decker luxury plane for the rich.

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