AFTER weeks of speculation it was finally confirmed yesterday that the giant but bankrupt General Motors was pulling out of Europe, selling off its Vauxhall and Opel plants to the French PSA Group, who own Peugeot and Citroen, for £1.9 billion.
The management of PSA were quick to rush out a statement designed to reassure the trade union leaders in Britain and Europe with their chairman, Carlos Tavares, saying: ‘We are confident that the Opel/Vauxhall turnaround will significantly accelerate with our support, while respecting the commitments made by GM to the Opel/Vauxhall’ and promising to return Opel and Vauxhall to profit.
Tavares made it quite clear that this ‘turnaround’ would be accomplished through making £1.47 billion of cuts every year for the next nine years and that most of these cuts would be made in the next three years.
Tavares went out of his way to insist that there would be no factory closures or job cuts in the German Opel plants or in the two Vauxhall plants in Ellesmere Port and in Luton’s van production plant, reiterating previous commitments that PSA would honour previous agreements GM had made with the unions, and he suggested that the Vauxhall plants would be safe until 2020.
The brutal fact of life, however, is that these assurances, even if kept, only mean the two plants have three years life expectancy. In those three years workers at Ellesmere Port and Luton can expect to see a massive increase in speed up as Tavares insisted that they would be given a chance to reach the necessary ‘benchmark’ of efficiency.
These ‘benchmarks’ will be set by the management and if the workers can’t match up by working themselves to death, then it’s closure and the 4,500 Vauxhall workers will be thrown on the scrapheap along with the thirty thousand more whose jobs rely on these plants.
The leader of Unite, Len McCluskey, issued his own statement following these reassurances saying that: ‘There is cautious optimism. But of course the real issue is not the current products, it’s about the new models and we’ll be determined to make certain that the British plants have a long-term future.’
In fact closing a plant completely in the middle of producing an existing model is an expensive business for motor companies; better to wait until the run has ended and a new model is waiting to come off the line and then close down and start production elsewhere. The two Vauxhall plants will close with the end of the current models of Astra and Vivaro van and all the cautious optimism of McCluskey will not save a single job or prevent the closure of both plants.
Neither will his appeals made last week for the Tories to make clear that they will not ‘accept a single job loss in Britain’. With Ford planning to close its Bridgend plant with the loss of 1,160 jobs by 2021 and, like PSA, promising to impose massive productivity speed-ups on the workforce, the crisis in the car industry is reaching a breaking point.
In this crisis the only response of Unite has been yet more pleas for Tory help in protecting ‘British jobs’, presumably at the expense of German workers. In short McCluskey appears to be willing to enter into a Dutch Auction with the employers to prove in action that the UK unions can deliver more exploitation of their members than the German unions.
PSA bosses will be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of the Unite leaders collaborating in imposing cuts on their members before the axe finally falls on both plants. The threat to jobs can only be defeated by taking on the employers internationally and refusing to allow them to split workers by playing one plant off against another. Every plant threatened with closure anywhere in the world must be occupied to keep them open.
Occupations must be supported by demanding the TUC mobilise the whole of the working class in a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government that will nationalise the car industry and place it under the control of the working class.