In response to the crisis in Britain’s car industry, where thousands of job losses have been announced and thousands of other workers have been temporarily laid off for weeks at a time, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) hosted a very encouraging meeting in Birmingham on 14 February.
Linda Taaffe, secretary NSSN
Workers and stewards from Ford, Honda, Jaguar, Dana, TRW (ex Lucas) JCB and Linemar (ex Visteon and ex Fords) came together with other NSSN members to discuss what can be done.
The discussion revealed the real brutality of the car companies’ management, who are trying to make workers pay for the crisis. Different pay levels exist for “down time” in different factories. Some workers are even forced to “pay back” by working for free! Some end up with no pay at all.
Meanwhile trade union officials keep workers in the dark about what is going on, and even about what is going on in other car factories, like walk-outs and similar successes. No wonder some officials come in for flak from shop-floor workers.
The prospect of tens of thousands of jobs being shed in the car and related industries has, for the moment, left car workers somewhat stunned. The speed and scale of the downturn has been so dramatic.
At the same time the bosses know where they are going, as one worker pointed out. Why would Honda insist on upping car production by 34% when sales indicated only a 3% increase last year? Filling the car parks to undermine the workers’ response?
And how can companies like Ford cry poverty and threaten to shut the Southampton Transit plant, throwing 1,200 out of work, when Ford made £1 billion across Europe? And when their bosses’ combined salaries of £100 million is exactly equal to what’s needed to keep this plant open?
Car workers and their families cannot contemplate a life on the dole and no jobs for the future generation in order that bosses maintain their profits. The closure of plants will have a devastating effect on some areas. The mood of the meeting was to waste no time and get organised now.
We decided that the NSSN, in conjunction with car workers, would begin to build a fightback – with the backing of the unions where possible.
- Oppose lay offs – demand full pay on “down days” for all car workers.
- When the bosses say they can’t pay, demand they open the books and let us examine where the profits have gone. If this shows incompetence then demand full and proper nationalisation.
- Start investigating how car production could be changed into producing environmentally friendly alternative products.
To punch home this message we will need thousands of workers to get involved, but all agreed to start here and now. We decided to reach out to all the other car factories with these ideas, and campaign to save jobs, involving local communities where possible.
We will also try to open out and extend the Southampton Ford workers’ campaign by organising a car workers’ lobby of MPs as soon as possible. We will call for a car workers’ contingent on the TUC demo for the G20 summit on 28 March and try to make contact with fellow car workers in Europe.
The NSSN will facilitate keeping everyone informed, and create a campaign website where car workers can post what is happening in their factory and get information from other factories.