THREE DISPUTES show car workers in major factories across Britain are fed up with low pay and poor conditions. Peugeot workers at the Ryton plant in Coventry were set to walk out for 24 hours this week. Gerry Jones used to work at the plant. He told Socialist Worker:
‘The strike is about pay. Workers are angry because the Ryton plant is the most profitable and productive Peugeot plant in Europe, yet they are the worst paid in the British car industry. Despite massive profits over recent years they got only a 2.2 percent wage increase last January, and admission to the final salary pension scheme was closed for new starters in the summer. Management offered 7.3 percent over two years and 53 percent of the workforce voted for a strike. To add insult to injury the company said they will pay the increase if the shopfloor forgo the profit-related bonus worth £660 this year. The union hoped the threat of strike action would push management into making a new offer. Lots of workers want to stop messing about and take serious action.’
In two other plants, Rover in Longbridge, Birmingham, and Vauxhall on Merseyside, industrial action could be brewing. Workers at the Rover plant have voted overwhelmingly to reject the company’s pay offer.
Kevin works at the plant and says, ‘The unions – the TGWU, Amicus and the GMB – have been negotiating for a pay deal since last November. The management has budged a bit over pay but the real issue is our sick pay. The Powertrain workers work in the same plant as us, but they have a different employer. They get 100 percent sick pay. We get just 75 percent. I have been off sick myself and it really hits you. The union recommended rejecting the company’s offer, and two weeks ago we rejected it by 81 percent. In the next few weeks we will have a ballot for industrial action. The media are saying we shouldn’t strike. It’s alright for them, they don’t know what it’s like to work here. Management are always on our backs. The gaffer pushes us because the gaffer above is pushing him and we are getting pissed off. We are bending over backwards and we don’t get any respect. They seem to think we should be grateful just for having a job, and if we don’t like it we can go to the job centre over the road. But it might just backfire – we don’t want to be pushed around any more.’
At Vauxhall shifts have been cut and workers are fearful for their jobs. A worker from the plant told Socialist Worker, ‘Last Tuesday 500 of us were told that we were now on just one shift – why? Because the firm has lost the Saab deal and the V6 plant has nothing coming in after 2005. So for cuts planned for in two years time we, the workers, stand to lose around £100 a week now. Vauxhall say, well it’s the economy and at least there’s no compulsory redundancies. Lots of us have heard that before. They’ve not told us how to make up that money. It’s going to hit a lot of us very hard. The kids still need new shoes, the mortgage still has to be paid for – I could go on. A few years ago the company speeded up shifts here and it’s been tough ever since. This is our reward. A number of people remarked that all that money going on a war in the Gulf could make lives a bit easier here when things like this happen. Some of us wanted to make a stand and walk out when this was announced, but certain people in the union calmed it down. I wish they hadn’t – the bastards need to know how people feel.’
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle