The mood in Luton last Saturday summed up how many workers in Britain feel today. Everyone in the town feels gutted by General Motors’ decision to close the Vauxhall plant, but at the same time people want resistance. Over 10,000 car workers, local people and other trade unionists marched through Luton last Saturday.
Vauxhall workers at the front of the march chanted, ‘Jobs not dole!’ and, ‘GM, no! We won’t go!’ The march was followed by a brilliant rally in the town centre. A DJ from the local radio station kicked off the rally by saying, ‘This is not about Vauxhall workers versus General Motors. This is about the towns of Luton and Bedford against the forces of globalisation.’ He asked the crowds, ‘Do you think the government’s done enough?’ ‘No!’ they shouted back.
Workers from the plant spoke about how devastated they were when they heard the news of closure, but also of how ‘we’ve got support here that is superb!’ One worker said, ‘Three generations of my family have worked at Vauxhall. This fight is not just for today, it is for tomorrow. One stick they can break, but a bunch of sticks together they can’t break. We know we can win this.’
Speaker after speaker spoke of how the global economy means workers from different countries have got to come together to fight multinationals. Delegations of workers from GM plants in Europe spoke to the rally, and US and Canadian unions sent messages of support. A European-wide day of action against the closure of Luton this Thursday was to see strikes in Luton and Ellesmere Port, and solidarity action in other GM plants.
The workers from Europe were cheered when they spoke. A Spanish worker was applauded before he was even translated! A worker from Belgium said, ‘The workers of Antwerp are always on your side, forever.’
A speaker from Germany said, ‘Working people are united all over the world. If you fight, maybe you win. If you do not fight, you are sure to lose-so fight!’ The large delegation of German workers from GM’s Opel plant in Bochum marched behind their banner which said, ‘Fight for every job, Luton-Bochum, worldwide’. ‘It is time that the workforces in the different plants stuck together,’ Paul Froehlich from Bochum told Socialist Worker.
‘Together we are strong. We need international unity. We have lost 7,000 jobs over the last eight years. They want to cut another 700 jobs in Bochum and a total of 1,700 across Opel in Germany. We have to fight globalisation, and to do so we need more solidarity action.’ British car workers also joined the march. Steve Evans, a shop steward from Land Rover in Solihull, said, ‘It started with steel, then it was the pits. Unions are about standing together or divided we fall. We’ve got to stand together or this is going to be the pits revisited.’
Around 200 workers from Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant on Merseyside joined the march. Five coaches of workers travelled from Longbridge in Birmingham. ‘You’ve got to express your voice,’ said Colin Mellard. ‘We came close to closure last year. Our march made a difference.’
National Trade Union leaders can see there is a mood for resistance. They made fighting speeches at last Saturday’s rally. Ken Jackson, the right wing leader of the engineers’ and electricians’ AEEU union, said, ‘We say to the government and to GM it’s time to fight back. We will not turn back from this fight.’
Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, said, ‘We are part of the struggle, part of the fight, and I pledge to be part of the victory.’ Roger Lyons of the MSF and John Monks of the TUC made similar speeches. Tony Woodley from the TGWU pledged that Saturday’s demonstration was ‘just the start of a major, major fightback’.
It is good that union leaders see the need to fight and to make links across Europe. But workers should still beware. The same union leaders promised to fight the closure of Ford Dagenham but did not turn their words into deeds. Vauxhall workers must keep the pressure on their union leaders to make them deliver, and should take action independently of them if they don’t.
‘We all work for a multinational corporation which is using bully-boy tactics to wreck our lives. But today we are all standing together as one, and united we will fight. If it comes to the crunch and they start to take the equipment out of the plant, we will have to do what they did in Flint in the 1930s. We will have to organise a sit-in.’
VAUXHALL LUTON WORKER
‘It’s time to get back to the good old days when we came out on strike and showed these bloody managers what we are made of. For far too long we have bent over backwards to help these people. The flexibility we have shown is unbelievable.’
JOHN WITTEN, shop steward Land Rover, Solihull
‘Since the 1980s our company has gone from 2,000 workers to 200-and with a lot of heartache. Rover was threatened. Ford is going to close Dagenham. Now it is Vauxhall. We’ve got to get union leaders to stop just making speeches but to call action. They are just kowtowing to Blair. Only workers can make the Blair government change direction.’
BRIAN BAILEY, deputy AEEU convenor Shardlows engineering, Rotherham
‘Workers in every country are facing the same problems-no job security and the threat of multinationals pulling out. If they can do it to Luton they will do it to us. People are sick of being played off against one another. The answer to General Motors is simple. We have to fight every job loss. We need to fight nationally and internationally.’
BERNHARD HEIBEL, Opel Bochum plant, Germany
Vauxhall workers are not the only ones who want to fight job losses. The result of the ballot for action at Rolls-Royce aerospace in Coventry was to be announced on Friday of this week. Rolls’ bosses have announced they are to cut 1,300 jobs and move work to Montreal in Canada.
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