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From The Socialist newspaper, 3 June 2020

Coordinated union struggle needed to save jobs and nationalise JCB

JCB, photo S. Lampkin, U.S. Air Force

JCB, photo S. Lampkin, U.S. Air Force   (Click to enlarge)

'John Smith', JCB worker

Digger company JCB has recently announced redundancies and proposed other changes to our terms and conditions that it insists are necessary due to the impact of Covid-19.

Out of just over 6,000 UK workers across several sites, 500 agency workers will lose their jobs, with most receiving no compensation, and up to 950 full-time staff face compulsory redundancy.

JCB CEO Graeme Macdonald pointed to falling sales and the need to ensure JCB survives the crisis. The plan to build 100,000 machines across the UK has been halved.

JCB staff are actively discouraged from being union members and, as a result, are not organised and have no recognition agreement with the company. This has left them vulnerable and unable to have a coordinated approach to fighting redundancies. It also weakens the ability of all JCB workers to oppose the job losses and other attacks on our terms and conditions.

The GMB union that represents shop-floor workers entered negotiations with the company with the aim to mitigate the redundancies.

The outcome that was agreed will be voted on in a ballot of all shop-floor workers. The proposals form a short-term agreement for six months that will then be reviewed, and possibly extended for a further period.

Pay cuts

They include cuts to some shift premiums from 33% of our basic rate to 20%. Any hours worked between 6am to 11pm that previously could have included a shift premium will now be worked at flat rate. Any overtime previously paid at time and a half will now be time and 20%. Sunday overtime, previously at double time, is now time and a half.

There will also be a banked hours system introduced. JCB in return said it will pay us our weekly 39 contracted hours throughout the agreement, and where we work shorter than that in any given week we will have to make it up at some point in the future when things improve.

The company says this will mitigate the need for redundancies and insist that during the agreement there will be no shop-floor redundancies. Despite this promise, redundancies have not been ruled out altogether.

There are mixed feelings about the proposals. Many say that if it saves their jobs and those of their workmates then it is a price worth paying in the short term. Others say why should we pay the price of this crisis at all? It is not our fault, and they feel we will still lose jobs as well as the cuts in terms and conditions.

The terms and conditions were won over many years, and some members fear they will be lost permanently, despite the temporary agreement.

JCB has said that if the proposals are accepted, they will also offer early retirement packages to anyone over the age of 55 on the shop floor. They are hoping this will be taken up by enough workers to ensure forced redundancies are not required at all.

Not safe

The majority of JCB workers have been furloughed since 18 March, but a slow return to work started recently. JCB has put in many measures to ensure safe working, but many are insufficient to guarantee safety. Locker rooms are crowded at start and finish times. Toilet facilities are the same, social distancing is not controlled. Many workers are fearful of returning.

JCB has made record profits for many years, and made 477 million this year. It is owned by Lord Anthony Bamford. Anthony is second on the West Midlands rich list worth 4.8 billion, up from 4.5 billion last year. So why is there any need to make redundancies or cut terms and conditions of the workforce?

The money is there to safeguard our futures during this crisis. Bamford is a Tory Lord and is one of the Tory party's biggest donors.

JCB workers, along with other workers in manufacturing such as Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and many more, face devastating job losses of highly skilled, well-paid jobs. This will have an enormous knock-on effect for other workers in the supply chain.

Unions like Unite and GMB have to organise and take a lead in fighting all cuts to jobs and conditions. Unions have seen a big increase in new members looking for protection during this crisis. A coordinated struggle would inspire workers to fight to save jobs through strike action and, if need be, factory occupations.

We say open up the books to trade union inspection. Let's see where all the money has gone. Nationalise any company threatening redundancies under democratic workers' control and management. In many cases, production can be diversified to produce more socially useful products. Recently, this has been shown to be easily possibly in many cases.

This will then form the basis for a socialist planned economy that will meet the full needs of the majority in society.

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Finance appeal

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.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
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