LEADERS of the trade unions said they were shocked by PSA Peugeot-Citroën’s announcement on Tuesday that it is closing its Ryton factory in Coventry, with the loss of 2,300 jobs, in the middle of next year. Up to three times that number of jobs are expected to be axed in firms supplying components and services.
Tony Woodley, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G), said: ‘It is astonishing that this company has given only the bare minimum notice to sack 2,300 people.’
Derek Simpson, leader of the Amicus engineering workers’ union, said: ‘It is inconceivable that workers in France would be laid off on this scale. Weak British labour laws are allowing British workers to be sacrificed at the expense of a flexible labour market.’
Yet Woodley admitted that he was well aware that the future of the Ryton plant had been in doubt for some time. He said: ‘This has been the single biggest unkept secret in the car industry . . . The fact of the matter is that Peugeot has not been prepared to name a new product for the plant, while at the same time they’ve been pursuing expansion ventures in the East.’
Peugeot has six factories in France, two in Spain and one in Britain, Italy, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The company knows that wage rates in Slovakia are one quarter of those in Britain.
Production of the Peugeot 206 in Coventry peaked at 209,000 vehicles in 2003 and only 129,000 were made last year. The workforce was slashed from 3,800 to 2,300. In 2004, the company decided not to invest in Ryton for the 207 replacement model, turning down £14m in government subsidies for modernisation.
Workers on the shop floor may not have been fully aware of this situation, but Woodley admits that the union leaders knew about this ‘unkept secret’.
After Peugeot’s announcement he said: ‘. . . we will be looking, as a matter of the utmost urgency, to explore with the company and with ministers, ways to have this devastating decision reversed.’
Yet PSA Peugeot-Citroën Chief Executive Jean-Martin Folz has already made clear that this is a crucial decision for the company to boost profits and the Blair government says it must ‘leave it to the market’.
It is clear that workers at the Ryton plant are determined to defend their jobs and car production in Coventry. They know that appeals to the company and pleading with Blair will not save the factory.
Workers must demand that Woodley, Simpson and company stop their ‘left talk’ and organise for the occupation of the Ryton plant to halt its closure.
Union members must make sure that these leaders are not allowed to get away with what they did at the Vauxhall plant in Luton in 2001, when they collaborated with General Motors and let the closure go ahead; similarly at Ford’s Dagenham assembly plant, at the Jaguar plant in Brown’s Lane, Coventry, and at Longbridge last year.
Peugeot can only have been encouraged to bring forward its closure plans at Ryton by this record of capitulation by the union leaders.
We also warn workers at the Japanese car giants (Toyota, Nissan, Honda), which accounted for over half the car production in Britain last year (767,000 vehicles), that their future is not assured, because these companies can also decide it is cheaper to produce cars in eastern Europe, or in China, at any time.
This struggle has to go forward to a strike throughout the car industry to defend jobs on the basis of the long-established trade union principle that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’. Today Ryton is under threat, tomorrow it may be Cowley, Ellesmere Port, or Sunderland.
Such a national strike of all the unions in the industry is the way forward, and those leaders who refuse to organise such a fight must be removed and replaced by a new leadership for this battle.
Carworkers now join NHS staff, teachers and council workers in a struggle to defeat the employers and the Blair government.
All the unions in the TUC must be mobilised in a general strike to bring down the Blair regime and go forward to a workers’ government that will nationalise the car industry, under workers’ control, without compensation and establish socialism.