A STORM has erupted over the revelations that a taskforce set up in 2017, with the object of protecting the future of the Ford engine plant at Bridgend in South Wales, didn’t meet for eight months before Ford announced its closure plans on June 6th.
This taskforce was composed of representatives from Ford Europe, Ford UK, the Wales Office, the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Welsh Automotive Forum and Unite the Union.
It met five times in the first three months of its existence but only once in the 11 months before Ford announced the plant is closing next year with 1,700 workers and the thousands more in the supply chain being thrown out of work.
Unite, the largest union in the UK, sat on this taskforce – that was supposed to be protecting the future of its members but didn’t even meet – and yet still managed to express their shock and horror when Ford made its closure announcement.
Indeed, Unite just five months ago was still actively promoting the line that collaborating with the employers would safeguard jobs.
On January 10 Unite issued a press release in response to Ford announcing that it intended to ‘shake-up’ its European operations.
Unite stated that it ‘would be engaging positively with Ford to look after the interests of its UK employees’, assuring members that: ‘Unite is positively engaging with Ford over its plans as we seek to safeguard jobs and look after the interests of all the company’s employees in the UK’ and that: ‘We expect the immediate impact of Ford’s UK operations to be limited.’
When Ford made the announcement that the plant would close, the Unite leadership acted as if it was a bolt out of the blue with general secretary Len McCluskey calling it a ‘grotesque act of economic betrayal.’
McCluskey pledged: ‘We will resist this closure with all our might, and call upon the governments at the Welsh Assembly and Westminster to join us to save this plant, and to prevent yet another grave injury to UK manufacturing.’
No doubt Unite will be calling for yet another taskforce with the Labour-led Welsh government and the Tories to sit around and discuss how to manage the plant closure.
When it broke that this taskforce to address the issue of Ford’s closure plans hadn’t met for nearly a year Unite were quick to try and duck this issue with a spokesman saying: ‘Our members are not interested in political point-scoring, it’s an unwanted distraction.’
Even after closure has been announced, Unite and the GMB union leaders are still insisting that the job of the unions is to ‘mitigate’ the effects of being slung out of a job.
Under pressure from their members, Unite called mass meetings at Bridgend on June 14 following which there was a ‘consultative’ ballot on industrial action.
83% voted to mandate Unite to take industrial action to prevent closure, but instead of immediately going forward to organise action the Unite regional secretary Peter Hughes, while acknowledging that the workforce is prepared to fight, merely called upon Ford to ‘engage in meaningful discussions with Unite and government at both Welsh and UK level’.
More ‘meaningful discussions’ or taskforces will not save a single job at Bridgend or any of the car plants from Honda to Land Rover that are facing massive closures and cuts as manufacturers attempt to restore profitability by closing plants and slashing jobs worldwide.
They are a treacherous diversion from any real struggle.
Workers must demand that their unions break off these discussions and call emergency conferences to instruct the leadership to immediately organise a mass campaign of strikes and occupations to prevent closures and protect jobs.
The demand must be for the TUC to call a general strike to bring down the Tory government and bring in a workers’ government that will nationalise the car industry and all main manufacturing industries and the banks and place them under the management of the working class as part of a planned socialist economy.
This is the only way to defend jobs and fight closures.