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Car workers: Turn pressure into strike action
SATURDAY'S MAGNIFICENT 10,000-strong demo of Luton car workers, their families and other supporters reflected the anger people feel against the multinational companies who threaten to close down whole towns after the first nervous twitch of their shareholders.
The delegations of General Motors (GM) workers from Ellesmere Port and plants in Germany, Belgium, France and Spain showed there is a basis for organising European-wide strike action to stop GM's plans in their tracks. The messages of support read out from the platform gave a small inkling of the widespread opposition within the GM plants in Europe, the USA and Canada against the company's "retrenchment" plans.
But what strategy was proposed by the union leaders at the rally after the demonstration? They have promised a European-wide day of action on 25 January and even though there was an expectation that something would happen in Luton and perhaps Ellesmere Port, little else concrete was proposed from the platform. It was left to a local radio DJ who was chairing the rally to say everyone should go sick on the day!
Tony Woodley, the chief transport union negotiator for the car industry, talked about the traumatic year for the industry with the closure plans for Dagenham, the threats still hanging over Longbridge and now Vauxhall. He complained how the Luton closure demonstrated the role of a multinational like GM and revealed the nature of globalisation. It was he said, quick cheap and easy to sack workers in Britain compared to elsewhere.
He pointed out that GM have made £1.2 billion profit from Britain in the last 12 years and alleged that they have abused taxpayers' money and the wages of the workers to get that. "GM have acted illegally and immorally".
The union leaders strategy seems to solely consist of holding out for mass pressure to change GM's collective mind. But what is required is a call to arms, including strike action, if the pressure is to have any effect. Workers at Luton and Ellesmere Port need to build on the success of the demonstration to pressurise the union leaders to prepare such effective action.
GM are proposing these plant closures to impress their investors as they prepare for a new recession. Already there has been a big fall in the world and US car market.
Trade unions both in Britain and across Europe organising in GM plants have a responsibility to explain what a forthcoming recession will mean for workers' jobs and conditions. They should be campaigning for the nationalisation of all GM plants under threat of closure, whether in Britain or any European country.
They should demand to open the accounts of these multinational companies. The records of where the profits and government subsidies have gone over the years should be opened up to public scrutiny.
The car bosses are preparing for the future, it is time the European unions did so too by effectively mobilising the anger that exists among car workers.
A socialist programme of nationalisation of the industry under workers' control and management, along with and democratically controlled planning on an all-European basis could meet the transport needs of society at large. This would be widely supported by workers everywhere.
In The Socialist 26 January 2001: