GENERAL MOTORS European operations, which include Opel plants in Germany, the Ellesmere Port Vauxhall car plant and Luton’s IBC van plant in Britain, have a very uncertain future.
There was an announcement in Berlin a few weeks ago that GM Europe would be taken over by the Canadian company Magna International, yet its crisis is still unresolved.
GM’s parent company is under bankruptcy regulation in the United States. Despite 1.5bn euros in credit guarantees from the German government, Magna is still negotiating the terms of its takeover. GM is also examining offers from Fiat, RHJ International Holdings SA and the Beijing Automotive Holding Company.
What is clear is that carworkers in both Germany and Britain will pay the price for GM Europe’s continued operations, whichever company becomes its new owner.
The remarks of Armin Schild, an official of the German engineering workers’ union IG Metall and member of Opel’s supervisory board, emphasised this point on Friday.
He said Magna wanted ‘extreme’ concessions from the Opel workforce and that these ‘will cost workers, blood, sweat and tears’.
With 24,000 workers employed at four major Opel plants in Germany and the active involvement of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the two GM plants in Britain are low on the agenda in the talks about a takeover deal for GM Europe.
The imminent threat of closure hangs over both the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, making Astra cars, and the IBC van plant in Luton. The Luton plant has no visible future; commercial vehicle sales have dropped dramatically over the past 18 months.
The effects on jobs, pay and working hours on the shopfloor have been draconian at the GM plants in Britain.
At IBC, management are planning to cut the nightshift to only a few workers. There were plans to transfer the rest of the workforce to a nearby spare parts depot but these fell through.
It is clear to every GM worker in Britain that the time to act is now, before Magna, or any of the others, take ‘extreme’ action and shut the plants down.
The call must go up at both the IBC and Vauxhall plants for shop stewards to organise mass meetings where the latest developments can be discussed and an action plan adopted.
The immediate response to an attack by the company must be strike action and occupation of the plants, to halt sackings and pay cuts, and to stop plant closures and the removal of vital machinery and materials.
The leaders of the main carworkers’ union Unite, Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, must be summonsed to the plants, or confronted in their offices, and called to account.
Their record over the last 18 months has been one sell-out after another, going along with company plans to cut jobs, hours and pay, and opposing calls for the nationalisation of the car industry.
In carrying this out they have been working with Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government and Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, who propose to do precisely nothing about the car industry crisis.
These union leaders must be told to go and make way for a new leadership which will fight to defend workers’ living standards and the industry.
The problems facing workers at GM are not unique to this company. There have been similar experiences at Nissan, Honda, Ford and BMW.
These companies are only in business today after taking away jobs and cutting pay. There is no future for the car industry under crisis-ridden capitalism and the car market has collapsed.
It is time for carworkers to campaign within Unite and the other unions for national strike action to win the nationalisation of the car industry, under workers’ control.
The whole trade union movement must be mobilised in mass strikes and political action to remove Brown’s bankers’ government and replace it with a workers’ government that will nationalise major industries and develop a socialist planned economy.