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From: The Socialist issue 440, 18 May 2006: Blair's market madness wrecking the NHS

Search site for keywords: Rover - Unions - Pay - Britain - GM - Car workers

Vauxhall Ellesmere Port:

Fighting strategy needed to save jobs

WORKERS AT Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant are facing massive job cuts. GM Europe want to cut 12,000 jobs as part of its 'restructuring' plans and Ellesmere Port could lose at least 1,000 jobs.

Workers walked out when they heard the news but the union leaders' reaction has been nowhere near as decisive. Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson threatened - not a strike or an occupation - but to cancel the Amicus contract for Vauxhall cars! And the unions' approach so far is to argue for job cuts to be shared across all three Astra plants in Europe.

Derek Simpson is also meeting MPs to complain that anti-union laws are leading to the demise of the UK car industry. TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley echoes this approach: "Britain is the soft touch in Europe when it comes to taking away workers' jobs... British car workers are among the best in Europe but they're the easiest to sack," he said recently.

Of course the bosses make the most of Britain's anti-union laws. Carl-Peter Foster, GM Europe's head, publicly admires Britain's "more flexible labour market." But the response to this should be to build a united campaign to fight the closures, involving all unions in the European plants.

On 18 April, Peugeot announced the closure of its Ryton plant in Coventry, with the loss of 2,300 jobs. Production is to move to a new factory in Slovakia, where wages are much lower.

The TGWU's response has been to blame the anti-union laws and call for trade unionists to boycott Peugeot products until they agree to negotiate with the unions around a "viable alternative plan".

But French union CGT has pledged its support for Britain's Peugeot unions and some workers are discussing joint action. The walkouts show that workers are prepared to fight for their jobs.

These closures come on top of other massive job losses, including the closure of the Rover plant, after Phoenix's asset-stripping antics. Clearly the union leaders' strategy of asking the bosses to be reasonable hasn't worked.

The Socialist Party has always argued for a fight for every job, linked to a programme of public ownership and democratic workers' control and management. Open the books - let's see where the profits have gone.

The loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs overnight can devastate any region. But the bosses don't pay for this devastation - the workers do. And public money is spent on picking up the pieces.

On the Rover closure, Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist said in a resolution to Coventry council in 2005: "...public money should be invested now to retain Rover jobs, on condition that the ownership of Rover be now transferred back to the public sector and a plan drawn up, in conjunction with Rover workers themselves, for that public investment, under democratic public control, to produce a new product range that will better address the real transport needs of the whole of society."

Such a programme could build on workers' willingness to fight back and mobilise workers internationally against the devastation caused by the bosses' drive for cheap labour and higher profits.

Why workers walked out

ELLESMERE PORT car worker Dave Wevill spoke to the socialist about Vauxhall's walkout.

"THE PROBLEM at GM Europe is that there is a recession in the car industry. The company exploits this to try and get the workers in their European factories to compete against each other, to get the best pay deal that they can.

"The company announced that they need to lose a shift in Europe, and it has been said that the easiest, cheapest, place is in England. This prospect caused angry walkouts.

"The company, before the pay claim, presented a wish list, which includes: a return to the 40-hour week, unlimited payback of lay-off hours, compulsory overtime, overtime to be paid at normal time, an end to shift allowances and bonuses. This amounts to a loss of about 140 a week.

"People work shifts and overtime for money. If the company is not prepared to pay extra money for this then the workforce has no choice but to fight."

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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Article dated 18 May 2006

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