TORY business secretary Greg Clark emerged from talks in France with General Motors and PSA, the owners of Peugeot, announcing that the talks had been ‘constructive’.
This will be of little comfort to the 4,500 workers at the two remaining GM/Vauxhall plants in Luton and Ellesmere Port whose jobs are on the line with both plants facing the prospect of closure. GM is in talks with PSA for the French company to take over GM Europe’s Opel and Vauxhall plants, as the giant US company, the world’s third largest car maker, faces a continued slide into bankruptcy and is desperate to shed its least profitable parts.
After his meeting, Clark optimistically claimed: ‘I was reassured by GM’s intention, communicated to me, to build on the success of these operations rather than rationalise them.’ Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, however emerged from separate talks with the employers pointing out that any guarantees issued by GM were meaningless as they would not be binding on the new French owners and that the union had received ‘no assurances’ about jobs or the future of the two UK plants.
The question that the 4,500 Vauxhall workers, plus the thirty thousand more whose jobs rely on these plants, will want answered is just what Unite intends to do to protect their jobs. The answer given by McCluskey is absolutely nothing, apart from appealing to the Tory government to help.
He said the government should make clear that it would not ‘accept a single job loss in Britain’, adding that it must secure meetings with French and German government officials or risk being ‘left on the sidelines. The French government own a considerable stake in Peugeot, and one thing’s clear, they will be arguing and fighting for French jobs.’
Car workers, and especially Vauxhall workers, have a long and bitter history of trade union betrayals. In 2001, the car plant in Luton was closed with the secret agreement of the leadership of the TGWU (forerunner of Unite) with the loss of thousands of jobs from a profitable plant.
The same treachery emerged when, following the complete bankruptcy of GM, saved by having their huge debts nationalised by the Obama administration in 2009, it threatened to close Ellesmere Port. Rather than fight this closure, the union forced through a scab deal of wage cuts and a raid on the workers’ pension fund involving a two-year pay freeze, followed by years where wage rises were capped at 1%, while inferior pensions were introduced for the workforce.
Workers at Ellesmere Port also had to accept speed-up and cuts to holiday entitlement to bail GM out, while the company received over £270 million in grants from the taxpayer. All these deals – none of which guaranteed any long-term future for car production above a couple of years – were negotiated and pushed through by the union leadership which claimed that the only way to save jobs was by accepting cuts and redundancies.
Having milked the workforce and taxpayer dry, GM is cutting out, flogging Vauxhall and Opel to PSA who will undoubtedly close the factories, having stripped them of their assets and taken over their valuable outlet facilities. The lessons of these bitter betrayals are clear: no job can be ‘saved’ by conceding pay and conditions to an employer. Likewise, appeals to the Tories to somehow negotiate keeping jobs are a useless and dangerous diversion.
Car workers in Britain and across Europe have been living under the constant threat to their jobs from an industry that has been driven to its knees by the capitalist crisis and which can only survive by dumping this crisis on the backs of the working class.
The only way to respond to this threat is to occupy all Vauxhall plants immediately as part of a mass campaign to nationalise the car industry under the control of the working class.
Workers must demand that occupations be supported by forcing the TUC to call a general strike to bring down the Tories and go forward to a workers government that will carry out a programme of nationalisation of all industry and the banks as part of a planned socialist economy.