Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/437/5172
Peugeot Ryton closure:
Taking the profits and running
LAST WEEK Peugeot announced the closure of its Ryton factory in Coventry, with the loss of 2,300 jobs. Since the announcement, the Socialist Party has been campaigning hard against this decision and for well-organised trade union action. Thousands of leaflets have been distributed explaining how action can be built. There was a good response on 23 April when the Socialist Party set up a stall in the city centre, with a lot of people supporting our call for a city-wide demonstration.
There was also a good response from workers at the plant itself, with many workers asking: "How can the bosses get away with this here and not in France?"
Given the closures of Massey-Ferguson, Jaguar and MGRover etc, many workers are also asking what action could be effective. A Socialist Party public meeting is being held as we go to press.
"We've had enough of the 'industrial desert'"
Extracts from the Socialist Party leaflets:
Years of management bullying, imposed shift changes, speed-ups and shorter breaks - Ryton profitable and more productive but for multinational Peugeot it's not enough.
They've taken our sweat, taken the profits and they're running to Eastern Europe and China for cheap labour.
The unions have called for action. We know some workers are sceptical about this call because of the unions' poor track record. Too often the unions have agreed to company demands. Many workers are bitter from the experience of a few years ago when the unions abandoned strike action after gaining nothing.
So there must be a clear and determined plan of action. Everyone must know that it will be worth fighting - and it is!
Union leaders have rightly said this couldn't happen in France. But why? It's true they don't have a so-called Labour government whose anti-union laws are a cowboy's charter for big companies! But it couldn't happen so easily in France because workers there have fought back.
Peugeot have said the jobs will go in a year. But many will go very soon and the rest won't last a year. Remember 'C' shift last year? They said it would close in three months. It closed in three weeks!
And more than a year after the Longbridge closure, a third of workers still haven't found jobs. Many others only have 'van-driving'-type jobs.
We have had enough of the 'industrial desert' and we believe the people of Coventry have as well. If Ryton goes the same way as the Jag, Ford and Longbridge, mass redundancies will ripple through the area.
We believe the city would respond to a call to action from Ryton workers as they would have done over the Jaguar closure if the unions hadn't delayed their protest.
Socialist councillor calls for public ownership
ON THE same day that socialists in Coventry were calling for action to oppose over 2,000 job losses at Ryton, New Labour's industry minister Alan Johnson came to the city and called for an "orderly retreat" from Coventry!
Dave Nellist Soclalist Party councillor
Workers have bent over backwards for Peugeot, contributing to its massive profits by accepting unsocial hours, pay cuts and a succession of job losses. In return the company looks to abandon Coventry - the unions should be given access to all the company's books.
12 months ago Peugeot sacked nearly 900 workers in Coventry. We warned at the time that their investment with Toyota of nearly £1 billion in the Czech Republic would spell the death knell for mass car production in our city.
It's not that Coventry has suddenly got more expensive. Peugeot shareholders want to maximise profits, by cheapening costs. That's their business logic, but it makes no social sense.
Industrial action should be seriously considered by Ryton workers but it's not their job alone to oppose the closure of this plant. The unions must call an early date for a march and rally in the city to get the whole of our community behind the families at Ryton. We need such protest action in days not months.
In addition to the millions of pounds that will be lost, government departments and the local councils will have to spend millions picking up the pieces. Far better that those huge sums of money be invested now to keep manufacturing industry alive in our city.
But with public investment should come public control. Peugeot have given up the right to have a say in what happens to Ryton. The government should intervene to stop this closure, not with grants or favours for this multinational, but by taking the plant into public ownership.
It shouldn't be difficult - even a Tory Prime Minister, Ted Heath, was able to nationalise Rolls-Royce in 1971 in 24 hours of parliamentary time to stop that key element of engineering industry being lost.
Alongside public ownership there should then be a serious debate about what should be produced at Ryton that addresses the real transport needs of society.
Our city and this region have lost thousands upon thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent years. Weak employment laws make it easier to sack people in this country than elsewhere. The unions must force the government to act now to stop this industrial vandalism.
The Socialist Party is standing five candidates in Coventry in the council elections. Candidates include former councillor Rob Windsor, standing in St Michaels ward.
Three ballots in three months
IN 2000 Ryton workers were put through three ballots in three months until they accepted a management package on shift patterns and hours. The union leaders recommended that the deal be accepted, yet it was rejected by an 86% vote in the first ballot.
So the union leaders put strike action on hold to organise another ballot! But management's plans were rejected again, this time by 59% - 41%.
The three Socialist Party councillors on Coventry council submitted a resolution supporting the workers against management's draconian actions. But the council leader had to use standing orders to stop the resolution being debated. Dave Nellist pointed out at the council meeting that the request not to discuss the issue had come from the same union officials who recommended that the management's offer be accepted, in spite of an 86% vote against.
On the Saturday after the council meeting, workers were coming up to the Socialist Party stall to shake Dave Nellist's hand and thank him for publicising and backing their case.
Over 80 people came to a subsequent Socialist Party public meeting, nearly half of them Peugeot workers. The farcical situation of a third ballot being called was summed up by one worker: "Management don't announce speed-ups or job losses, the union does. Who's paying them? It's like a company union, the workers are standing up but the union isn't."
A group of workers - "Reclaim Our Union" - put a programme forward to take back control of the union into workers' hands: "Reclaim Our Union demands that during any negotiations there must be full reports to regular gang meetings and full minutes produced so that we know what's going on... We demand a union which listens to the shop floor, not just the officials and a stewards' committee and convenors who are willing to stand up to the officials and fight for our demands.
"We want the regular re-election of union officials to keep them accountable to those they represent and union officials to be paid no more than the average wage of the workers they represent."
In the third ballot the union leaders got their way and got a small majority in favour of accepting the management package. The Financial Times reported management as being "hugely relieved".
Trade unions and Labour
THE Labour government keeping the most savage anti-union laws in the western world has encouraged Peugeot, along with Labour's worship of the free market.
When Longbridge was closed before the last general election, hardly anything was done for fear of embarrassing Labour.
Labour is now another Tory party, leaving working people with no political voice. The Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) aims to restore that political voice.
Come to the CNWP public meeting: Saturday 20 May, 12 noon. Coventry Transport Museum, Starley Room.
Low wages and tax breaks
PEUGEOT HAVE a new factory in Slovakia for the Peugeot 207. The 3,500 workers will be producing 450,000 cars a year when the plant reaches full strength.
Peugeot have invested E350 million in the assembly plant and the company have taken over an entire wing of the local technical school to train up young workers.
Although they're benefiting from tax breaks from the Slovak government worth millions of euros, it's easy to see why the company is prepared to make this investment - wages in Slovakia are much lower than the European average. At Volkswagen's Bratislava plant, workers are paid a fifth of what they would earn in Germany.
PEUGEOT IS building a second plant in China which will have a capacity of at least 100,000 vehicles a year. This is a joint venture with a Chinese company, Dongfeng.
This means they will be able to produce a range of models in China, including the Peugeot 206, currently produced in Coventry.
It is clear one of the reasons they are abandoning Coventry is to bring production closer to their newly emerging Chinese market.
In The Socialist 27 April 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party election campaign
1926 General Strike
Environment: Nuclear power
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis