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Rover — betrayed by Blair and the union leaders

This article is over 17 years, 2 months old
The immense anger at the government and the bosses they gave the Longbridge plant to was visible on the streets of Birmingham last weekend.
Issue 1948
Respect candidate Salma Yaqoob at Saturday’s rally
Respect candidate Salma Yaqoob at Saturday’s rally

The immense anger at the government and the bosses they gave the Longbridge plant to was visible on the streets of Birmingham last weekend.

News that the plant was definitely closing, after New Labour had strung along the workforce for a week, broke last Friday and left people in shock.

Trade unionists organised a rally in the city centre on Saturday.

One after the other, people spoke of how betrayed they felt, not just by Phoenix Venture Holdings (PVH), whose four directors bought the plant for £10 and made £40 million from it over the last five years, but also by Tony Blair.

His government has stood by idly as the livelihoods of thousands are destroyed. Up to 25,000 further jobs in the industries supplying Rover are now also threatened.

The rally was called at the last minute. Speakers included Lynne Hubbard, who is a Birmingham TUC representative and local health worker.

Adrian Ross, the T&G union convenor at Longbridge, also spoke, as did Rover worker Kevin Flanagan and Salma Yaqoob, Respect parliamentary candidate for Birmingham Small Heath & Sparkbrook.

Adrian Ross condemned John Towers and the rest of the Phoenix Four, who have filled their own pockets while the 6,000-strong workforce faces an uncertain future, not sure even if they will get the pension they have paid for.

He said, “The way that the Phoenix Four have behaved is nothing short of robbery of what belongs to us. The assets of PVH need to be seized to support the Longbridge workers who have had their livelihoods destroyed.”

Kevin Flanagan stressed that there should be a sustained campaign against the closure of Longbridge. He said, “The unions have been dragging their feet, they are being careful not to rock the boat but we have to start fighting.”

He went on to say that he felt completely betrayed by the government and how the time has come for us to turn our back on Labour. He said, “I have voted Labour all my life, but I am not going to do that any more.

“This government has spent billions on an illegal war in Iraq, but they cannot put a fraction of that into Longbridge to save Rover. It is time to say to this government that enough is enough!”

Respect candidate Salma Yaqoob, the only person from any political party to turn up to the rally, echoed Kevin’s calls for a campaign and to abandon New Labour.

She said, “We have shown solidarity to those suffering abroad. It is now time to show solidarity in Birmingham to the Rover workers affected by this crisis.

“We have an election approaching and now is not the time to roll over. We must go back to Longbridge, sit in and occupy if necessary to stop further assets being taken away.”

Kevin Flanagan later told Socialist Worker, “This is an acid test for the trade union movement. Most union leaders have signed up to the idea of social partnership with the government.

“They had a letter in the Guardian on Saturday talking up what trade unionists have got from New Labour. That letter must have been composed on Friday, the day thousands of union members were chucked on the scrapheap.

“There has been a total reluctance at the top of the industrial unions to fight over the closure. That is the price of social partnership. We have to challenge that. People want the unions to fight for them, no matter who is in government.

“We could have marched in our tens of thousands. We could have made saving 6,000 jobs a central issue in the election. We could have talked of occupation, industrial action and forcing the government to nationalise.

“I don’t know if we would have won. But we would have had some pride and the union movement would have had some honour by trying.

“We are going to have to organise from the bottom up in the unions, not just to push for action and against social partnership, but just to make the unions relevant to millions of working people.”

Rover worker Kevin Flanagan at Saturday’s rally
Rover worker Kevin Flanagan at Saturday’s rally


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