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FRONT PAGE ARTICLES
10,000 march in Britain against job cuts in auto
Workers across Europe join actions against GM
 
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 65/No.5February 5, 2001

 
10,000 march in Britain against job cuts in auto
Workers across Europe join actions against GM
(lead article)
 
Photo - see caption below
Militant/Pat Shaw
Thousands marched January 20 against job cuts announced by General Motors, including unionists from Germany, Belgium, and Spain. Above, workers from Bocum, Germany, carry banner reading, "Fight for every job, Luton-Bochum, worldwide."

 
BY CAROLINE O'KEEFE AND ANNE HOWIE  
LUTON, England--Ten thousand working people marched here January 20 to protest the decision by General Motors to close its Vauxhall auto plant in this town next year as part of cutting 10,000 jobs at plants across North America and Europe.

The company plans to make 2,000 workers redundant (lay them off) and transfer 1,000 to the IBC truck plant in Luton, which is north of London. In addition, the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) estimates that GM's move will lead to the loss of 8,000 other jobs in the surrounding area. Vauxhall is GM's British subsidiary.

A Europe-wide day of action was called for January 25 by unions at GM-owned plants. Workers at the action here reported plans for plant-gate demonstrations in Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Belgium. Mass meetings were held at the two Vauxhall plants in the country in mid-January to discuss the action.

Workers and their families from across Britain turned out for the January 20 rally, including 250 from the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool. This was particularly important to James Nolan, who works at the Luton plant. "Workers at the two Vauxhall plants have not always stood together. Now we are," he said. "For them to show us solidarity is first class."

Hundreds of workers came in buses from the Rover auto plant in Longbridge, Birmingham. Workers employed at Land Rover in Solihull, BMW in Cowley, and IBC in Luton also joined the march.

A contingent of workers from a parts warehouse in Luton carried a banner reading, "Vauxhall Aftersales Says No To Closure." Carel Simon said they were there because "if the Luton plant goes, the parts will be next." Underscoring the devastating effect the closure would have on the town as a whole, he said, "Luton is an industrial town. No cars, no Luton."

Simon described how workers at the warehouse walked off the job when they heard the closure announcement. "We didn't hear about the closure from the company--we heard it from our families who heard it on the radio," he said. "The only thing we could do was withdraw our labor. We heard that workers had done that in Germany and Spain, and we had to show that we're all in this together."

In mid-December, hundreds of workers at the Vauxhall plants in both Luton and Ellesmere Port walked off the job when they heard the announcement of the Luton plant closure, and they were joined by the warehouse workers.

The announcement of the Vauxhall plant shutdown followed the decision by Ford to end production at its Dagenham assembly plant in 2002 and the threatened closure of the Rover auto plant in Longbridge.  
 
International solidarity
Workers from GM-owned Opel plants in Bochum, Germany; Antwerp, Belgium; and Zaragoza, Spain, had a big impact on the demonstration. John Gibbs, a Vauxhall worker, said, "I'm pleased with the turnout, especially the support from Germany. These 14 workers paid their own way to get here so that everyone can fight together."

The spirited march, led off by a band, went from the Vauxhall plant through Luton. Along the route many shops displayed posters against the plant closure. Despite freezing temperatures, workers stayed to listen intently to speakers at a rally in the center of town.

A number of production line workers opened the rally. Dino, a worker in the trim shop, welcomed the marchers. "Three generations of my family have worked at Vauxhall," he said. "This fight is not just for today, but for tomorrow. My Dad told me one stick they can break, a bunch of sticks they can't. We have to stand together." Asked about the atmosphere in the plant, Dino said it is "not downbeat. We have our heads high. We deserve a job, we have a right to a job."

The rally was also addressed by top officials of the TGWU; the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU); the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union; and the Trades Union Congress. Local Members of Parliament and the mayor of Luton also spoke. In addition there were videotaped messages from two officials of I.G. Metall, the union in Germany that organizes car workers, and messages of support from unions that organize GM plants in Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Portugal, and the United States.

The response of the Labour government to the closing has been met with anger by workers here. Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry secretary, said when the closure was announced that the government's "key aim will be to find new job opportunities to replace those being lost over the next year."

Rob Ferguson, who has worked in the body plant at Vauxhall Luton for 18 years, told the rally, "So far we've turned the government from the wrong side of the fence to sitting on the fence. But they need to do an awful lot more."

Another worker at the plant, who didn't want to give his name, said he thought the government had to do something. "My dad told me that was what the Labour Party was for: the workers."

When local Labour MP Margaret Moran was introduced, she was met with boos and jeers.

A number of the speeches at the rally had a British nationalist, anti-American edge to them. Bill Morris, a TGWU official, declared, "We're backing Britain in defense of its manufacturing capacity. If Vauxhall wants to sell cars in Luton, it has to make cars in Luton." He said the problem was that "British workers are cheap and easy to sack."

Ken Jackson of the AEEU said, "It is unacceptable for Vauxhall to close a British plant to solve a European problem. Vauxhall is profitable and productive, and we believe there is a strong case for keeping Luton open." The union officials are calling for legislation to force companies to consult unions before making decisions about job cuts.

In contrast to this, the banner made by the workers from Bochum, Germany, read, "Save every job worldwide from Luton to Bochum." And workers at the rally showed a genuine appreciation of the solidarity of workers from other GM-owned plants. The loudest applause of the rally came when workers who had traveled from Germany, Belgium, and Spain were introduced.

Gerdt, a worker at the Opal plant in Bochum, told the rally, "We are united as working people in GM plants all over the world. If you fight you may not always win, but if you don't fight you always lose. So let's fight." Another worker at Opal Bochum, Steffen Reichelt, explained to the Militant that the workforce there has been reduced from 20,000 workers in the early 1990s to 13,000 today. Some 700 more workers are to be laid off as part of the company's cutbacks.

Reichelt said a successful strike last June against bosses' plans to put part of the workforce under a separate management structure had boosted the confidence of union members. "The strike lasted 35 hours, and after 20 hours or so it caused other plants in Europe to stop work. We could see our power," he said. Workers at Bochum raised money to send the 14 to the demonstration in Luton because "our problem is that they are trying to split us up in different plants and different nations. We say we have to stand together," he said.

Caroline O'Keefe is a member of the Young Socialists in London.

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