Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/492/2531
Workers must fight Ford sell-off plans
OVER 18,000 car workers directly employed in Jaguar and Land Rover are furious that their owner Ford is threatening their livelihoods by putting the businesses up for sale. This is particularly worrying as the likely bidders are private equity firms.
Rob Williams Swansea Visteon TGWU convenor (personal capacity)
Ford bought the two companies in the 1990s in a bid to go 'upmarket'. This was the period when Ford still had ambitions to take over as the world's biggest carmaker. Part of this strategy was to develop the big 4X4 market, which was hugely profitable, especially in the US.
However, following the soaring of oil prices after 9/11, their sales were hit by the cheaper and more heavily invested Asian carmakers such as Toyota. As a result Ford, like its 'Big Three' rivals General Motors and Chrysler, is in deep financial trouble.
While the Big Three managements blame their workers' 'generous' pay, terms and conditions (including pensions and medical coverage - an absolute necessity in the US) for failure, the reality is that they bet big on the more lucrative end of the market and lost. Now tens of thousands of car workers and their families have to pay the price. In the US alone, Ford are sacking over 40,000 workers.
This is the background to the announcement concerning Jaguar and Land Rover. Fords are actually using the profitable Land Rover as the sweetener to get rid of Jaguar.
However, who ends up buying the businesses is hardly a concern for Ford management. They may like the numbers being touted by various private equity firms but that prospect is a terrifying one for workers in Solihull, Castle Bromwich and Halewood.
Private equity is a shadowy part of capitalism. For big business, it is ideal for dealing with the 'problem' of restructuring big, established companies. Of course, workers see their solutions as rather less appealing!
These companies usually use either debt or a massive investment fund, which can consist of strange bedfellows.
For example, one private equity deal used money from a Dutch steelworkers' pension fund! The bought company, whether it is a public (plc) or private (ltd) limited company is then taken out of the public eye to be 'restructured'.
This will usually include downsizing: sacking workers and closing plants and/or making them more 'efficient', reducing terms and conditions and increasingly closing pension schemes.
Unions like the GMB are exposing private equity scandals like the almost nominal tax they pay (which partly explains why they are so profitable!). No wonder the Jaguar/Land Rover deal is already meeting with such opposition. Ford need to be left in no doubt that these 'carpet-baggers' won't be tolerated.
AN IMMEDIATE joint meeting of Land Rover/Jaguar trade union convenors with their counterparts in Ford should be called to send out the message of opposition. Ford workers know that they would be next if this deal goes through, especially as many of the UK plants supply Jaguar and Land Rover.
Stewards in all three companies should then be brought together in a combine meeting to start thrashing out the industrial action strategy that will be necessary to save jobs and plants.
These car workers would have welcomed Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley's demand for government intervention. But this should be concretised - Jaguar and Land Rover should be nationalised with workers' control and management and without any compensation for the Ford bosses.
They have benefited from decades of government aid but now are trying to exit the UK.
The shop stewards would be the starting point in drawing up a study on how to make the most of these huge productive levers for the benefit of all society.
This could then be extended to the other major branches of industry. As Tony Woodley himself said, we shouldn't accept the 'worst-case scenarios'. There are no short cuts to the saving and maintaining of almost 20,000 jobs, particularly as over 100,000 manufacturing jobs are being lost every year.
Call for 'Unite' to take a lead
COVENTRY SOCIALIST Party councillor, DAVE NELLIST, aims to commit Britain's largest union to a national campaign to save threatened jobs at Jaguar.
The Amicus section of the Unite conference is meeting on 18-20 June. Unite was formed by the recent merger of Amicus and the TGWU and includes amongst its members the overwhelming majority of trade unionists in Jaguar and Land Rover's Coventry, Birmingham and Liverpool plants.
Dave, a delegate to the conference, and chair of one of the union's Coventry branches that includes over 600 Jaguar workers at Whitley, hopes other union delegates will agree to an emergency debate on Ford's rumoured sell-off of Jaguar and Land Rover.
Emergency motion to 2007 Conference
"This conference is appalled at the potential consequences of the sale or break-up of Jaguar/Land Rover, on the workforce and their communities, in Coventry, Birmingham and Liverpool.
"We call on both sections of Unite to organise an emergency national shop stewards conference from the plants affected to unite around a plan of action, including demanding government intervention, to ensure that the jobs and skills in this key part of manufacturing industry are retained.
"We further call on both sections of Unite to organise a national march and rally to give support to our members in the affected plants and to give them the confidence that they will not stand alone whilst a heartless multinational casts them to the wind."
Beware private equity!
ONE RUMOURED £3 billion bidder for Jaguar and Land Rover is the private equity firm Alchemy Partners. Alchemy, headed by Jon Moulton, was one of the companies originally involved in taking over Rover from BMW in 2000.
In the event it was another group, Phoenix, that bought Rover. They paid BMW just £10 and in return received a £1 billion dowry in cash and assets.
Having asset-stripped the company, Rover collapsed in 2005 putting 5,000 Rover workers and 13,000 support workers onto the dole.
In The Socialist 21 June 2007:
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War and terrorism
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Workplace news and analysis
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