GENERAL Motors’ head of operations in Europe, Nick Reilly, has a history – he was in charge of the operation that shut down Vauxhall Motors, Luton, in 2001-02.
Now he has been brought back by Fritz Henderson, the big boss from Detroit, to proceed with the ‘restructuring in earnest’ of GM’s Opel-Vauxhall factories.
He will be doing the same job as he did in 2001-02 – this time throughout Europe.
His chosen tactic is to make the governments and trade union leaders of Europe compete for the number of jobs and plants that are to remain – by the governments handing over billions of euros in loans and guarantees, and by the union leaders agreeing that the workers must give up hard won terms and conditions of employment, and accept wage, pension and benefit cuts.
This is the real race to the bottom that Reilly is presiding over, and which Business Secretary Mandelson and the Unite leaders Woodley and Simpson are competing in, with the working class of Europe losing out all along the line.
Reilly met Lord Mandelson and the Unite union on Monday. After the meeting he suggested that there may be a chance to ‘quite significantly’ reduce the 800 job cuts previously expected to go in the UK.
In fact GM is taking the concessions wrung out of the trade unions by the Magna group as the jumping off point for its own restructuring. Magna achieved a deal that there would be 10,000 sackings in GM Europe, a number of factory closures, plus wage freezes and cuts in benefits, as well as a lengthening of working hours for the plants that remained.
At the same time as Reilly is hinting that a plant closure may be avoided in the UK, the GM head-quarters in Europe has been moved to the German city of Russelsheim, since GM remains in need of at least 3bn euros from the German government.
Reilly said yesterday that, at this late stage in the action, GM had not made its mind up about which plants would close, insisting however that ‘we need to reduce capacity overall in the 20-25 per cent area’.
The message to the European governments and trade unions is cough up the cash and step up the rate of exploitation of the workers and you stand a chance of the GM plants in your country staying open.
No wonder the Unite trade union was yesterday not prepared to discuss its meeting with Reilly.
The European Union will host a high-level meeting between GM and the EU governments next week to decide on the restructuring plans and what aid there will be for Opel-Vauxhall.
However, one thing is absolutely certain: GM will not treat the workers of Europe any better than it has treated the workers of the US, where over 20 plants have been closed, over 100,000 workers have lost their jobs and where health and pensions benefits have been slashed as well as wage rates.
Workers at GM Luton and GM Ellesmere Port must get ready to defend their jobs, wages and basic rights.
At Luton, where workers have been kept completely in the dark, while the knife was being sharpened for use against them, there must be the election of new shop stewards and a new shop stewards’ leadership.
Workers must get ready to occupy the plant in the event of a closure announcement, and also get ready to take strike action to defend their wages and jobs.
Leaders of the Unite union who are opposed to the policy of nationalisation must be removed so that a national campaign can be organised for the nationalisation of the GM plants in the UK as the only way to defend jobs and have a future.
The call must go out to the GM workers of Europe to adopt the same policy and to end the GM divide and rule attempts throughout Europe by mounting a campaign across Europe to defend every job and to nationalise GM Europe.