Don’t throw workers on the scrapheap

On 28th January, not even a full month into 2021 over 500 GKN automotive workers based at the company’s Erdington plant received the devastating news that their jobs and livelihoods are to be axed. It can also be safely said that the redundancy number will in practice be much higher with its knock-on effect with associated supply chains.

However despite this being a massive shock to many staff across the factory floor and different job roles, this had been a creeping fear since 2018 when self-acclaimed ‘venture-capitalist’ (more like vulture-capitalist) company Melrose industries bought GKN in an aggressive US style hostile takeover.

Melrose dub themselves as ‘turnaround’ specialists but the only specialism we can see here is that of asset stripping and profiteer gutting of one of the UK’s oldest engineering assembly lines, helping put the final nails in the British automotive industry.

The Chester Road factory employs a highly skilled workforce with the collective knowledge and specialist technical experience across its membership spanning into a hundred plus years, an extremely viable and important workforce for the local community and city.

GKN management stated that this decision to close the plant and winding down production in preparation to move sites to another European location in an 18th month transition is due to….

an increasingly competitive global market means that the site is no longer viable’’

We say the proof is in the pudding. Why should workers who have given years and decades of their lives to the factory take management’s statement at face value? It was only two years prior that Melrose promised that GKN job security was guaranteed and top priority.

We at the Socialist Party say GKN and Melrose Industries need to open their books and have the accounts reviewed democratically and transparently by Unite and rank and file worker’s representatives to truly see what resources are available and where the money is going.

It would be interesting to see what money and bonuses Melrose bosses and shareholders are receiving at the same time as over 500 ordinary workers are being told their jobs are on the chopping block.

It was only two years ago in preparation for their hostile takeover of GKN that the top brass of Melrose received large ‘incentive packages’ with the top four executives receiving £41.7 million each, equalling an eye-watering total of £166.8 million!

This obscene amount being declared by company management as ‘completely vital and essential’. Quite a healthy chunk of capital that could have been invested in GKN and its staff.

It’s not like top management are not raking in some healthy-looking salaries already, Melrose CEO Simon Peckham receiving a pay packet of £976,000 in 2019.

Melrose seems to be following the same pattern as when Royal Mail bosses also back in 2018 gave out a £5.8 million ‘’golden hello’ incentive payments to boss Rico Back, however Royal Mail bosses lost their battle for job cuts, site closure and stripping T&C’s through a strong coordinated union fightback.

Also Unite members at the Rolls Royce plant in Barnoldswick in Lancashire recently halted bosses' plans to mothball the site after a determined campaign of strike action, showing that job cuts in manufacturing can be beaten.

Fightback against the race to the bottom

The proposed closure of the Chester Road plant is a new blow for manufacturing workers, in the midst of a new wave of deindustrialisation that is weakening the UK economy and ultimately resulting in further attacks and a race to the bottom on the living standards of working-class communities.

The company blames the factory closure on vague corporate soundbites such as ‘global market competition’ but in reality, plant production has and is being set up to fail.

The reality is that Melrose and GKN upper management are using fluctuations in demand to try and divest itself of factories in countries with a higher wage bill - that's what's behind the company's talk of Chester Road Plant’s 'cost disadvantage' and lack of 'efficiency'.

It is not in the interests of the working class of any country to let big corporations continue the race to the bottom and pull out of countries where wages and conditions are higher.

GKN with its strings pulled by Melrose typifies one of the fundamental contradictions in capitalism, which drives down wages in order to pump profits up, but then finds that workers collectively don't have the money to buy the products they have produced.

Just like the railways, we are subsidising huge profit-making companies but getting no control over decisions like job cuts and relocations in return.

The only lasting solution is to nationalise the industry.

Many workers will have questions how this could work. How, for example, can you nationalise factories that only make a component, not a finished article that workers want to buy?

But in reality most factory workers have been through a transition where a factory introduces a new line of product. Here the government would provide the necessary investment to fund the transition, including prioritising switching to environmentally friendly production and products.

Instead of setting up task forces to direct workers to non-existent alternative jobs, democratically elected committees involving the workforce and consumers could identify what might be produced and what is needed.

An example like that could spread like wildfire and compel further action, across Britain and further afield. It was a Tory government that was compelled to nationalise Rolls-Royce in the 1970s.

Plans of action

We fully hope that management genuinely engage with Unite around the negotiation table and work with worker representatives to find a solution to save all the jobs at the plant. However if management shut down talks or refuse to engage in plans and alternatives to save the 500 plus livelihoods on the line then Unite should not shy away from taking industrial action to defend jobs, taking steps such as...

  1. Balloting members for industrial action to go on strike, walkouts and safe socially distanced pickets, formation of strike committee open to all workers, mass distribution dispute information across all sites and local communities to build cross city support and social media.
  2. Calling for the immediate stepping in from the government to nationalise the plant and its current or repurposed production under democratic workers control and management with compensation only on proven need.
  3. To fight for every job both in house and agency.

 If you agree with the points and suggested demands raised or want to discuss differences or alternatives, please feel free to get in touch with the contact details below




Written by workers for workers.

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