Confirmation that manufacturing employment levels are at their lowest since 1841 drew an angry and frustrated response from the Transport and General Workers Union.
Tony Woodley, TGWU General Secretary said the report from the Office for National Statistics meant that the industrial revolution has almost come full circle.
Woodley said: ‘Having the lowest numbers in manufacturing since records began is a record the government cannot be proud of.
‘The roll call of household names that have cut jobs or run away from the UK using our lax labour laws, is an indictment on them and the failure of government to address the problems we have continually highlighted.
‘Government is a big customer of manufacturing industries.
‘It should use its buying power to ensure products to equip our schools and hospitals are made in this country as well as taking, for example, a strategic lead to promote manufacturing investment in renewable energy generation.’
The TGWU statement said: ‘If the ONS is correct, then manufacturing in 2006 employs less than 1841 when the main employing industries were coal mining, shipbuilding, textiles and iron and steel.
‘The vehicle building industries, aerospace, telecommunications, mass food production, electricity generation and many more all came later as employers in a mass production economy that is now less than a shadow of its former self.’
Woodley said an opinion poll for the TGWU as recently as September at the Labour Party Conference had shown nine out of ten Labour voters believed the government should do more to support manufacturing.
At the Labour conference he set out a series of key actions ministers could should take.
Government and regional authorities to use the London Olympics to give British manufacturing a boost, ensuring that materials and goods are sourced in the UK wherever possible;
changes to employment law to put an end to British workers being cheaper and easier to sack;
tax and aid policies which reward the good investor including demanding the repayment of government grants from companies which want to move off-shore;
Government to promote manufacturing investment in renewable energy generation.
Woodley said at a Labour Party fringe meeting in Manchester in September: ‘It is time for the Labour government to take on the “do nothing dogma” on British manufacturing.
‘We need to see much more urgency from government to defend manufacturing jobs and industry;
including manufacturing champions and a public spending policy that prioritises support for British manufacturing using the £119 billion which is spent yearly buying manufactured goods.
‘This government should do what most governments do – spend it here protecting British jobs.’
Woodley’s complaints now about the Labour government ‘doing nothing’ is rather like the pot calling the kettle black, when Woodley and the trade union leaders have in fact contributed to the situation.
His opening remarks at the end of the 100,000-strong 1st April 2000 march through Birmingham to save Rover were that ‘at best’ 20,000 jobs would be lost.
The TGWU accepted the job losses when BMW offloaded MG Rover for just £10 to the ‘Phoenix Four’ asset strippers.
After the April 2000 Rover sell-out, there was the 2001 Vauxhall sell-out where, after a massive 20,000-strong demonstration in Luton on January 20 2001, that was joined by workers from Germany and Spain, Woodley moved to knife the struggle to save the plant and 2,000 jobs.
While it had been TGWU policy to call on Vauxhall workers to refuse to transfer to the next door IBC plant, Woodley intervened at a Vauxhall mass meeting to reverse policy.
He told the meeting on Thursday 15th February 2001: ‘Up to 11am on Wednesday, we the union were going to tell people who had applied to IBC not to go.’
He added that the union leaders had now ‘changed their minds’.
During a one-day strike on February 23rd 2001, while workers were manning picket lines in Luton, TGWU, and Amicus forerunners MSF and AEEU officials were in a Watford hotel signing over the closure of Vauxhall with owners, General Motors bosses.
In 2005, faced with a second collapse at Rover after the Phoenix consortium had asset stripped Rover, the TGWU relied on the Chinese to save its bacon and did nothing
Woodley did not even call a single protest or demonstration to save Rover jobs.
On 25th February 2005, Woodley stressed that what was important was getting the deal with the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) to secure investment in new models which would ensure the future for the Birmingham plant and component suppliers in the West Midlands and across the UK.
He admitted that all mergers led to job losses and ‘he anticipated that MG Rover and SAIC would be no exception’ said the TGWU.
With a month to the general election, the fate of MG Rover looked likely to become a major political issue.
MG Rover appealed the government for a £100m bridging loan to give it time to secure a buyout deal.
On April 7th 2005, Woodley and Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson made a joint ‘declaration of shame’ with Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt.
This revealed that they had agreed with the government not to hand over the £100m, and that the company should close.
Hewitt read out the statement, saying: ‘Tonight MG Rover has announced that their board has decided to call in the receivers.
‘This is a devastating blow to all those involved – the workers and their families, the company’s suppliers and the wider community. Tonight our thoughts are with them.
‘Everyone recognised that a partnership with SAIC was critical to MGR’s future. That is why MGR, the government and the trade unions have been working tirelessly round the clock to secure this deal.
‘In the end, SAIC made it clear that they were not confident about the future solvency of MG Rover, and therefore there was no reasonable prospect of a deal.
‘The government stood ready to issue bridging finance of over £100m to help, but without a deal there was no possibility of a bridging loan. SAIC, for their part, indicated that bridging loan finance would not have solved their concerns.
‘All parties have agreed that we must now give our full support to the workers and their families and the suppliers and communities affected. The government and unions will now work with the administrator and all concerned to try to secure future car manufacturing at Longbridge.
‘The government will be providing a substantial support package, and will establish a Rover Taskforce led by Nick Paul, the chairman of Advantage West Midlands.
‘Further details of the support package and taskforce will be announced tomorrow.’
5,000 workers were sacked. and MG Rover was taken over by SAIC rival, Nanjing Automotive.
On July 17th 2006, the TGWU was forced to admit that ‘Nanjing’s plans for limited car assembly at Longbridge had failed to live up to expectations.’
This after Nanjing Automotive said it would only be employing 200, not 1,200 at Longbridge.
Following the announcement by Peugeot in April this year that it would be closing Ryton next year, the union waited until the end of May before balloting for strike action, never mind call for occupation.
Coventry convenors travelled to Paris where they received pledges of support from workers across France.
However, on June 5 2006, the TGWU announced that members had voted by 516 to 440 against taking industrial action.
Woodley said the vote reflected the fact many workers wanted to take redundancy.
Ryton workers lack of confidence in the union leaders came in the wake of the two sell outs at Rover.
The TGWU and Amicus trade unions spent a million pounds of members’ money on a newspaper advertising campaign calling on the public to boycott Peugeot cars, to no effect.
Only last month, on the 11th October 2006, the TGWU was bleating that Peugeot Citroën was closing its Ryton plant ‘six months early’. Nevertheless, the TGWU insisted the boycott campaign ‘goes on’.
With a record of subservience to capital, reformist Woodley displays a sizeable amount of humbug in complaining that the government is ‘not doing enough’ to save jobs!
Prime minister Blair has in fact made it clear that neither he nor his government have any intention of saving a single manufacturing job, saying ‘that’s capitalism’.
It is the worldwide crisis of capitalism that is destroying jobs.
What is needed in the trade unions is a leadership that defends every job, by organising occupations and a strike campaign to nationalise manufacturing industries.
The way forward for workers is to bring down this government with a general strike and go forward to workers power and socialism.
To do this means building the revolutionary leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party in all the unions.