Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/372/6093
Support the Jaguar workers' fight
THE DEMONSTRATION organised by the trade unions in Coventry on 27 November should be the start of a massive campaign of opposition to Ford's plans. They want to close down Jaguar's Browns Lane plant and reduce Coventry to a city of low-skilled fast food jobs.
For this campaign to take off requires a determination, yet to be shown by the union leaders, to mobilise as much mass support as possible.
The Socialist Party says this with regret. But we have to warn that the path chosen up to now by the union leaders, particularly Tony Woodley, the TGWU general secretary, will not lead to victory for the Jaguar workers and the workers of Coventry as a whole.
When the crisis developed ten weeks ago the first reaction was outrage. This was reflected in the union leaders' speeches, especially Tony Woodley, who is the leader of the biggest union at Jaguar.
He called for a national demonstration to save Jaguar as part of the union's campaign to save British manufacturing.
Trade unionists from across the city and beyond were equally concerned that the demise of Jaguar would lead to an irreversible decline in the city's fortunes.
The Jaguar shop stewards called for the setting up of a Coventry trade union support group and fixed a date for its first meeting.
But when leading local trade unionists in Coventry, including Socialist Party members and in particular Councillor Dave Nellist, (who is vice chair of the Amicus Jaguar Branch! ) got there they were told by a TGWU official that the support meeting had been cancelled.
This was in favour of a report back by Labour MPs, of their visit to Paris to lobby the Ford bosses. Since then there has been no attempt to genuinely involve other trade unions in Coventry, who would have helped build a bigger response for the demonstration.
It has become clear that Labour-supporting union officials have been determined to try and block the Socialist Party in Coventry from having anything to do with the Save Jaguar Campaign.
They are obviously fearful of the threat to Labour seats posed by the Socialist Party at the forthcoming general election.
Equally, the approaching general election seems to have paralysed the union leaders, preventing them from raising any real demands on the Labour government.
Instead, the unions are desperately trying to get the government to "pressurise" the Ford management into making concessions.
But unfortunately the Ford bosses are not only not listening but continue to emphasise that there is "no alternative" to the closure of Browns Lane.
As reported in the Financial Times, Joe Greenwell, chief executive of Jaguar cars, made clear to a House of Commons committee on 17 November that: "There would be no reversal of the company's decision to end 70 years of car-making at its Browns Lane plant."
The news that a Chinese state-owned car manufacturer is in effect taking over MG Rover, as the Longbridge works is now called, has been welcomed by the union leaders. The new owners have said they want to produce 200,000 cars a year at the Longbridge plant with another 800,000 cars to be made in China.
Every worker would welcome any measure to protect jobs but what is to stop the new owners saying eventually, especially in the coming downturn in the world car market, that they have to protect their car factories in China first and therefore, like Ford, say that a plant will have to be shut? There are no prizes for guessing which overseas plant that would be.
Unfortunately, the union leaders' campaign over Jaguar has all the hallmarks of the campaign they led in 1999 to 'save' the Longbridge plant in Birmingham, not 15 miles from Browns Lane.
Then it was a case of the 'good capitalist' against 'bad capitalist' posed by Tony Woodley. He promoted the infamous Phoenix Holdings, led by John Powers, ex-Longbridge manager, against a gang called Alchemy, described correctly by Tony Woodley as: "nothing but asset strippers". Phoenix were the eventual winners.
Now five years on, thousands of Longbridge workers faced the sack as Phoenix run the company into the ground and loot as much of the takings as possible.
They are so greedy, even other capitalists are shocked. The BMW chief in Britain, Jim O'Donnell, called them: "The unacceptable face of capitalism".
He complained that in 1999 BMW gave them the company for £10 and threw in a 40-year interest-free loan of £550 million. He said it was disgusting that the four had paid themselves millions whilst watching the company being driven into the ground.
In 2002 the five directors paid themselves an average of £3 million, whilst super-profitable BMW directors "only" paid themselves half that. That seems to be O'Donnell's main complaint.
In 2003 they not only took £ millions in salaries out of the company but also paid another £10 million via a loan note to themselves! This was in a period when Rover Longbridge was 'losing' £123.8 million on falling car sales.
Now the press reveals that Rover bosses have set another record, with the lowest ever spending on research and development of any car company anywhere in the world. They are preparing to take their money and run.
The Longbridge story is a lesson for Jaguar workers. If they are to avoid going down the same path, the unions have to change tack and demand that the government take Jaguar back into public ownership and not hope that they will "convince" Ford to change their minds.
A massive campaign behind the slogans of: "Renationalise Jaguar to save jobs" and: "Save Coventry as a city of skills" is urgently required.
It is not a case of saving jobs just to produce luxury cars for the wealthy but it is all about saving the hard-won skills of the workers involved, which can be used to produce socially useful products.
A socialist government, in conjunction with the workers themselves, would develop an integrated transport plan to meet the needs of the population. Jaguar workers would then see their skills used for the benefit of all and not just for the few.
- Oppose the closure of Browns Lane.
- End the destruction of manufacturing in Coventry.
- Demand that the Labour government bring Jaguar back into public ownership.
In The Socialist 27 November 2004:
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