National Asset, so nationalise it!

DAVE NELLIST, Leader of the Socialist Group on Coventry City Council, and the former Labour MP for Coventry South-East, was asked to write an article about the Rover crisis for the Birmingham Post, which they carried on 22 March. We carry edited extracts of the article below:

THE DISPOSAL of the Longbridge factory in Birmingham to Alchemy Partners, a group of asset strippers, sorry, ‘venture capitalists’, is a betrayal of thousands of workers at Longbridge who’ve bent over backwards with concessions to a succession of owners.

Now John Moulton, Alchemy’s boss, has said “we have done this deal to make money…we hope to see a profit in two to three years and then sell the business on.”

How callous can you get? A year ago Rover trade unions agreed to thousands of job losses, pay cuts and to a 6-month pension holiday for BMW. The unions also gave “flexibility” over meal breaks and start times that meant, according to the Birmingham Evening Mail, “embracing European style practices at a cost to family and personal life.”

In return the company promised massive investment and the development of new models. BMW have clearly broken those promises and left workers angry and demoralized.

But where do we go from here? Some politicians are campaigning for a strong car company to take over Rover, one with experience of the car industry rather than a vulture such as Alchemy.

It’s a forlorn hope. There’s an estimated 40% overcapacity in car production worldwide. To match the number of cars built internationally to the ability of people to buy them would require 80 less assembly plants.

That’s why multinational car companies are trying to increase their market share by mergers, rather than by investment in new models they can’t sell. This has involved Ford, Volvo, Jaguar and now Land Rover; Daimler and Chrysler; Peugeot and Mitsubishi; General Motors and Fiat. They are all pursuing the same basic strategy.

The call by some Labour MP’s and others for a boycott of BMW is dangerous. Such is the interdependency of component supply that apparently 42 British companies involving 5,000 jobs would be at risk. Will those MP’s guarantee those workers their jobs?

A serious campaign for a boycott would quickly spill over into broader anti-German feeling, no doubt fanned by extremist groups and the right-wing press. The real enemies of Longbridge workers are not their German counterparts, but an economic system that tramples over workers globally and the multinationals that threaten to move production from country to country to get greater public subsidies.

The controllers of BMW are the secretive Quandt family with 48% of the shares.

The rules of the “free market” mean that the interests of this one family count for more than 50,000 families in the West Midlands.

That private ownership of industry, and the bending of thousands of families futures to the needs of profit, would be a far more worthy target for Labour politicians and union leaders.

Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money will be spent picking up the pieces of this industrial vandalism if the break-up of Rover goes through. £152 million is promised so far in regional aid. Add the loss of tax and national insurance from tens of thousands of workers; the paying of benefits and the unquantifiable social costs ranging from unnecessary repossessions and evictions to the extra strain put on the health and welfare system. Rather than spend that money on the aftermath of the break-up of Rover, it would be far better to invest it in keeping the industry alive.

But such huge public investment shouldn’t be a subsidy to a private company’s profits. Government intervention and public investment should be matched by public ownership and control. And by the involvement of Rovers workers themselves, together with representatives of workers throughout industry, in the drawing up of a new plan of production to meet the transport needs of the whole of society. BMW are apparently happy to give Rover away. The Government should take it over.

Nationalisation? “It can’t be done”. “It would take too long”. Well how long would it take?

I can vividly remember as a young apprentice sitting in a lecture room at the Rolls Royce Technical College in Bristol in 1971 hearing how the then Tory Prime Minister, Edward Heath, had nationalized Rolls Royce to prevent the break up of the aero engine industry, in only 24 hours of parliamentary time! It could be done again.