Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley yesterday morning told the BBC Today programme that Spain and Britain had refused to sign a memorandum of understanding with new GM Europe owners Magna on Wednesday.
Woodley said: ‘The plan is very obvious that the four German plants, two of which under the General Motors plan were to close, will stay open.
‘Therefore the plants in Europe eventually will lose product, and indeed close, and for Britain, they’re talking about at least 1,000 job losses initially.’
He added: ‘More importantly than both of those things, in the long term there’s no absolute guarantee for future product for either our Luton van plant, in spite of the fact we know there’s going to be a van which we believe will be transferred now to Russia, and there’s no future product beyond the Astra, which is just this moment coming off the tracks at Ellesmere Port.
‘It’s a very serious situation.’
Asked about the continuing talks, he said: ‘We are going to try and make sure that along with the government who have been working extremely hard on this, that we lay down plans that sees all of the European plants, and indeed countries, treated fairly.
‘If they’ve got to reduce capacity and jobs it should be fair and even-handedly, and not just a political stitch-up for Germany.
‘In our case we’ve got 25,000 jobs at risk here – 400 component companies never mind the plants. There’s an awful lot to negotiate and bargain for.
‘That’s why the deal that should have been signed yesterday – a memorandum of understanding should have been signed by all countries yesterday – both Spain, and indeed Britain, refused to sign.
‘We have further negotiations next Wednesday, with indeed the government involved.’
Asked ‘why are you suggesting it’s a political stitch-up?’
He replied: ‘I believe in fair and even handedness and sharing the pain of the job losses, but the business logic is “we’ve got too much capacity, close some of it down”’.
Woodley said the EC has been called on to look into the situation by Britain and Spain, warning: ‘It wouldn’t be helpful for this deal to collapse.
‘What we all don’t want is for this company to go into administration, it would be a massive political problem for all of the countries.’
Arthur Lynn, ex-Vauxhall Luton (IBC/GMM) convenor commented: ‘In view of the uncertainty surrounding both Ellesmere Port and the van plant in Luton, the options open to the workforce to save their jobs are now pointing in one direction, which is nationalisation.’
‘Even if the Magna takeover is withdrawn, it still leaves the workforce open to any creditors or venture capitalists who are lurking in the background who General Motors would find more acceptable.
‘In view of this uncertainty, the workforce, through their union, must press very hard for an immediate mass meeting and to set about getting rid of these leaders who obviously have no policies to deal with this crisis.’
Dave Wiltshire, national secretary of the All Trades Union Alliance, said: ‘Woodley’s interview will come as an enormous shock to GM workers.
‘It smacks of the closure of the Luton car plant in 2001 when workers only heard that their jobs were going through the local radio, just as today the leaders refused to even inform the members of what was going on behind the closed doors of GM and Unite.
‘Woodley has given up all pretence of representing his members because he knows full well that the only way to defend jobs and keep both plants open is the fight for the nationalisation of General Motors without compensation.
‘Woodley refuses to fight for this. It is the only thing he is definite about.
‘What is required is a new leadership that will take up these demands and see them through to the finish.
‘In the immediate term any sackings or closure must be met with occupation to prevent the physical destruction of thousands of jobs and entire communities in Luton and Ellesmere Port, and the GM plants in the UK must be nationalised.’
• Second news story
ROLLS ROYCE WORK FOR NOTHING PLAN
Workers at Rolls-Royce, Sunderland, have been told they will have to accept working extra hours for nothing or lose their jobs.
The company employs 400 people making components for aero engines.
It says the existing plant is outdated and has pledged to invest £9.5m in a new factory, but only if staff agree to work 42 instead of 37 hours a week for no extra pay.
In a letter handed to staff on Wednesday, Rolls-Royce said it hoped workers would agree to a ‘memorandum of understanding’ and sign up to new terms and conditions.
The letter concluded with a warning that a failure to do so would mean the company building its new plant elsewhere in the UK.
At a mass meeting at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, union officials said they had been faced with a ‘stark choice.’
Unite organiser Dave Telford said: ‘It is either the new facility or the dole queue.
‘So we have a decision to make and a commitment as a trade union to recommend this for acceptance and keep these jobs in the North East.
‘We think it is the right course for our members although we are not happy with the increase in hours.
‘The company is saying “You can have this new facility, but you are going to have to pay towards it.”
‘It is hard to swallow, but we have to look at the big picture.’
Workers are to be balloted on the new deal next week.
Rolls-Royce said if an agreement was reached, the new factory could begin production in 2013.