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Unions raise white flag

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Issue 1739


Unions raise white flag

A DEAL over General Motors’ (GM) plans to close its Vauxhall plant in Luton was hailed this week in local papers and radio for saving hundreds of jobs. The brilliant resistance by Vauxhall workers has won some concessions from GM. But the deal came as a bitter betrayal to many workers at the plant. Some three quarters of the workforce will lose their jobs-whether through early retirement, voluntary redundancy or relocation. The number of compulsory redundancies is not yet clear.

One quarter of the workforce-1,200-will still transfer to GM’s IBC van plant, next door to the main plant, as originally announced. A number of workers from IBC will then be sent to assemble the Frontera car in a tiny area of the main Luton factory. The rest of this factory will close. GM used this to claim that it is to continue production at the Luton factory. But the Frontera will stop being produced in 2004. Whether it is replaced is up to GM and “market conditions”. Every Vauxhall worker knows what that means. The deal is a waste of the brilliant potential to fight shown by Vauxhall workers.

The day after the closure announcement at the end of last year hundreds of workers marched out of the plant and twice stormed Vauxhall management offices. Some 500 workers, their families and supporters joined a hastily called march through Luton before Christmas, and 10,000 were on second brilliant march after Christmas. Union leaders Bill Morris, Ken Jackson and Roger Lyons pledged to fight to save the plant.

There were two solid one-day strikes, one part of a Europe-wide day of action. Both strikes were backed by Ellesmere Port Vauxhall workers in solidarity. Now union leaders have squandered that potential because they were too scared to raise the stakes and call more action.

“The unions have just raised the white flag,” says a Vauxhall worker. We’re not even having meetings to discuss it. We just got a letter last week telling us ‘that is that’. We feel really out on our own because we wanted to keep the plant open.”

And another worker says, “A lot of us feel betrayed. We feel badly let down. The union could have done so much more. I’ve got two young kids. They aren’t likely to have a job at Vauxhall to go to now. And what happened to the politicians? They were out in Luton town centre promising to help us when we had our march. Where are they now?”

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