Rover/Ford: When workers are under attack, class struggle is our only defence
The threatened massive redundancies at Rover would destroy up to 50,000 jobs in the West Midlands. The threat to cut car assembly at Dagenham (or even close it altogether) would cause similar devastation, on a smaller scale, in East London and Essex. Tens of thousands of workers face the misery of unemployment and poverty.
Neither Phoenix nor nationalisation can guarantee jobs
We cannot rely on the Phoenix bid. It is true that the Towers plan involves only about 2,000 redundancies at Longbrige and 8,000 in the supply industries, as opposed to the much larger numbers of jobs that will be lost if Rover had gone to Alchemy or is shut altogether. But no boss, new or old, private or state, can guarantee jobs, whatever improvements are made in productivity, whatever concessions are made on wages.
We cannot rely on the government to help private businesses keep Rover going. Tony Blair may have promised to work "night and day" but the DTI has made it clear they will not do any more than facilitate negotiation, and investigate the role of English Partnership in a leaseback schish Partnership in a leaseback scheme. They have made clear that they do not intend to bail out car production.
Calling for nationalisation, for the state to become the new boss, is not the answer, particularly when the government has made clear it will not put a lot of money in. Nationalisation has been used in the past, but it certainly didn't benefit workers. Every time Rover has changed hands (and name) there have been job losses and increases in productivity, but the 54,000 redundancies when Leyland was nationalised in 1975 were among the worst ever.
Nationalisation didn't prevent massive job losses in the coal and steel industries or on the railways.
None of these proposals, the Towers bid, government intervention or nationalisation, can overcome the overproduction in the car industry. Every year it is producing around 21 million more cars than it can sell, meaning that about 80 assembly plants are redundant world-wide. This is why it is not just Rover that is threatened, but also Dagenham, and Honda is cutting its production. It is not only the car industry that is hit by overproduction, but the whole world capitalist economy.
The problem is not that it is "easier toot that it is "easier to get rid of jobs here than anywhere else in Europe" as Bill Morris of the TGWU says. A low Euro and the EU Directive on Information and Consultation haven't prevented unemployment in France and Germany. When the unions say things like this they are trying to tie us up in nationalism, to get us to identify with British capitalists rather than our class brothers across the Channel, to wave the Union Jack instead of defending our interests as workers. Workers in all countries are being hit by the crisis. British, German, ‘native’, ‘immigrant’, all workers have the same interest – to defend ourselves against capitalism’s attacks on our living standards.
How not to fight back
The demonstration organised by the unions on April 1st showed that workers want to resist this attack on their jobs. But it was like the large demonstrations against pit closures in 1992, when even Tory MPs pretended to support the miners. And still the mines were closed. On 1st April it was not just workers who demonstrated behind the unions. Local businesses were also in evidence: for instance, the Evening Mail produced posters saying "Don't let Rover die", Union Jacks were given out. It ended up being given out. It ended up being a celebration of British industry instead of a defence of workers' interests.
Demonstrations can be a place to meet other workers - from other plants, from other industries, or unemployed - to discuss, share experiences and gain a sense of our strength as a class. But this is not why the unions call demonstrations – they do it as a safety valve for discontent. If it looks as though a demo may become a real meeting place for workers, the unions do their best to sabotage it. So the demonstration on 1st May, which could have brought workers from Longbridge and Dagenham together, and also many others showing their solidarity, was sabotaged by the unions. In contrast to the well publicised Mayday 2000 riot, there were no adverts for it, hardly anyone knew it was going on.
An occupation of Longbridge will not save jobs if the focus is to prevent the company moving the Mini production line. There were many occupations in the 1970s, such as at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, where the focus was to keep working and look for another boss. This caused the workers to become locked up in the yard, isolated from other workers who wanted to show solidarity. An occupation of Longbridge in the union framework of keeping the production line in place for a neroduction line in place for a new boss would have the same dangers today.
How can we fight back?
In order to fight back we have to understand the scale of the attack. Huge as the attack on car workers is today it is not the whole story. Many workers in other industries, especially manufacturing, are facing redundancy. Unemployed workers, single parents and disabled people are under attack through the 'New Deal'. Schools and hospitals are more and more inadequate to workers' needs. It is the whole working class that is under attack.
First of all we have to fight back as workers. Not as supporters of this or that industry - Rover was not broken up in 1998, but that didn't help the 2,500 workers made redundant. Not as 'British' people, or residents of Birmingham or Dagenham, alongside local shopkeepers. Not even as trade unionists, since the unions today support management not the workers.
Secondly, we must not let ourselves get locked up in Longbridge or Dagenham. In the factory earmarked for massive redundancies we are in a very weak position. But when workers get together across trade and industrial divisions we are strong.
Those workers who signed a petition for a mass meeting at Longbridge to discuss how to resist the attack had the right idea, getting together as workers. We cannot rely on the unions to organise workers' meetings - the TGWU binned the petition and refused the meeting. But we can and must get together and discuss, even if at first we can only do it on a small scale.
Workers outside Rover and Dagenham can show solidarity. When on the demonstrations it is important to discuss with each other as much as possible, break out of the isolation. And remember that the best solidarity of all is to defend your own interests, by struggling in your own workplaces, by taking up common demands with other workers. This will start to rebuild a movement which can change the balance of forces in favour of the working class.
The only future capitalism can offer is growing poverty, unemployment and collapse. But by recovering their identity and confidence as a class, workers can begin to offer a different future – a world communist society where production is geared towards human need and not the profits of capital.
International Communist Current, 6/5/00.