The Socialist 4 December 2004
Private hands off public services
Save the Jag!
Renationalise Jaguar to save jobs
THOUSANDS OF workers demonstrated in support of Jaguar workers at Coventry's Browns Lane plant - who are facing redundancies and closure at the hands of car multinational Ford - on Saturday 27 November.
The mood amongst the working-class population of Coventry to fight was shown by the over 300 copies of the socialist sold in and around the demonstration.
Such is the mood of anger in the city at Ford's plan to close the plant that even the local Conservative councillors and party felt compelled to take part, with their own banner: "Coventry Conservatives support Jaguar". Socialist Party members asked the Tories whether it was Jaguar bosses or workers they were supporting.
The Tory mayor sat in his Mayoral Jaguar at the front of the demo for the whole thousand yards of the demo, which started at 9.30 in the morning - effectively reducing it to being a local demo rather than the national demo that many had hoped for. Some workers had come from other parts of the country but they were few and far between.
Even the Labour Party had, for the first time on many a demonstration, organised its own contingent and placards in support of the Jaguar workers.
However, many of the workers who supported and participated in the demo will have left it feeling that another opportunity had been missed to mobilise an effective fight against Ford's plans.
Speaker after speaker at the rally denounced the fact that Ford had reneged on its agreements over the future of the company and had taken over £80 million of government money since 1995 in subsidies. Now that money was effectively being used to sack the Browns Lane workers.
Labour MPs and government ministers, like multimillionaire Geoffrey Robinson and Mike O'Brien, Department of Trade and Industry minister, pointed out that it would cost more to close Browns Lane than keep it open. But they went no further than saying pressure had to be put on Ford to negotiate and have a "sensible dialogue". They had to be told that "kicking workers in the teeth was not acceptable."
It was left to trade union leaders like Derek Simpson of Amicus and Tony Woodley of the TGWU to argue that it was better for workers to fight because the outcome would be worse if they didn't.
But, even then, their talk of fighting back was extremely subdued. Derek Simpson finished his speech by promising: "We'll do what we can."
Tony Woodley put up a more fighting defence of the Jaguar workers and working people generally, by calling for a fight to get rid of the anti-union laws, which make it easier to sack workers in Britain than any other country in Europe. He contrasted the Jaguar workers with the management as: "Lions led by donkeys with blinkers on".
However, even he appealed to workers who were taking redundancy by saying that "they will get their chance" to take their redundancy but they should "vote yes in the strike ballot [starting on Monday] - even if you are going to take redundancy."
Garry Hardwick, deputy convenor for Amicus, Browns Lane, speaking after the demo argued for extending the struggle: "We call on German Ford workers to practically support us and take solidarity action.
"Practically we will be looking for some sort of stoppage, which financially would have an effect on Ford and would get them round the table and make them renegotiate the decision to close Browns Lane.
"After today's rally, I'm more convinced the ballot will be successful. Obviously we have to await the ballot result, but once we got it, we'll be looking for support from other Jaguar workers and externally from Ford workers as well."
According to workers inside the plant, Ford's £80 million redundancy offer is up to £36,000, plus a full pension from the age of 50. This is a huge carrot dangling in front of the workforce.
But the union leaders still have to argue for a fightback, making it clear that the fight will be about more than token resistance - that it can succeed in securing a long-term future and investment for the plant.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, speaking to a Socialist Party fringe meeting after the demo, argued that such a fight would have to call for the nationalisation of Jaguar and the car industry in Britain, with at least some of the workforce in Jag being converted to develop other socially useful production.
The fact that the fight to save Browns Lane is about more than saving the Jaguar marque was shown by the first speaker at the rally.
15-year-old Martin goes to school near the plant. He saw his mum, dad and uncle made redundant at Jaguar when he was a little boy in the early 1990s recession. He said to the assembled rally: "I hope you lot vote to fight to keep the plant open and give us a future where we have decent jobs."
The turnout on the demo was good but considerably lower than was possible. This shows that some opportunities for support have been missed.
But strong support still exists in Coventry and around the country - probably around Europe also - and this support could be revitalised through decisive action and a 'Yes' vote in the ballot for strike action.
In this issue
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news