GKN Strike: All Out For Victory!

September 26, 2021


Rallying outside the plant in July

There have been lots of developments since the vulture-capitalists of Melrose announced at the start of the year that the GKN plant in Erdington, Birmingham is destined to be shut down and shipped abroad in order to exploit workers with lower labour costs and wages and weaker trade unions and labour protection laws. A race to the bottom for all those that actually work for a living and not sitting comfortably in a shareholder’s boardroom.

Generations of highly skilled workers in a profitable plant will be thrown onto the scrapheap for nothing more than the greed of a few compared to the livelihoods of the many. However, the latest and most positive development to take place is the courage of the rank and file members of Unite in the Chester Road GKN workforce to overwhelmingly vote yes to being an all-out strike with 95% of the 500 strong workforce voting yes.

The strike has now been suspended until 18th October following Melrose pausing the removal of machinery and operations from Chester Road. GKN Driveline workers will want to see firm guarantees over the plant remaining open before the strike is called off completely – the threat of action has already brought previously hard-nosed Melrose management to the table. We believe any potential deal should be put to Unite members at GKN for full debate and discussion before being settled.

Strike action like always was the last option to be taken due to the utter stonewalling and contempt that has been shown to the workers who have loyally grafted away for decades during their prime years. But Melrose won’t give five them minutes to hear the detailed alternative plans to save the plant, British automobile manufacturing and working-class communities.

Parliamentary motions, rallies, lobbying and an extremely detailed and innovative 90 page alternative production plan for a green-automotive transition were put forward…all ignored and dismissed by the asset strippers Melrose.

If workers have to flex their industrial muscles through collective industrial action then so be it. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that these key workers’ are the ones who really keep factories and other workplaces running, not investment managers.

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 workers 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 519 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 aren’t raking in some healthy-looking salaries already, Melrose CEO Simon Peckham receiving a pay packet of £976,000 in 2019.

It is the skilled GKN workers that create everything that comes in and out of the factory including all wealth creation in a previously profit-making plant but only receive a fraction of that wealth compared to some of the obscene amounts listed above gifted to Melrose bosses. This is even more of a slap in the face when you consider that the Chester Road plant is situated in Erdington with a climbing unemployment rate of 12.5%.

So it goes without saying this closure will not just be devastating to the workforce but a huge blow to this working-class community as a whole - as we all know when these type of jobs go, they never come back. Birmingham Socialist Party members have seen the immense local community support from the people of Erdington and North Birmingham to keep the plant open when we’ve been campaigning to save GKN plant high street stalls near the factory, with entire working-class communities coming behind the workers!

Frank Duffy, GKN Convenor (right)

As Frank Duffy, Unite convenor at the Chester plant states

‘’Birmingham has been here before. When the massive Rover factory at Longbridge closed in 2005 the impact was felt for years.

Unite’s predecessor union, Amicus, supported research which showed that despite 90% of the workers finding alternative employment, 66% were financially worse off, average incomes fell by more than £6,000 and 25% reported being in debt or being reliant on savings to get by’’

We fully support the alternative production plan drawn up by GKN reps tapping into the decades of on-site experience to both save costs and help kick up a ‘green revolution’ for more sustainable cars and transitioning the sector as whole, echoing the spirit of the 1976 Lucas Plan to convert and retrofit Lucas Aerospace plants for socially beneficial production. Democratic workers’ control and management with all the years of collective experience will be what can save the British automobile industry, not the greed of shareholders hellbent on asset stripping.

The only longterm 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 spark further action across Britain and further afield. It was a Tory government that was compelled to nationalise Rolls-Royce in the 1970s.

It is worth noting also that Sharon Graham, with the support of the Socialist Party, was recently elected Unite General Secretary on a promise to "immediately ramp up the resource required to defend jobs, fight cuts and protect pay". Now is the time to turn these words into action, with the building of a mass campaign throughout the Birmingham community and further afield, applying pressure on both Melrose and companies involved in the wider supply chain.

Socialist Party members leafletting the plant


With the above in mind, we fraternally offer the following suggestions as part of a plan of action to win the dispute:

  • Take all steps possible to stop removal of machinery and unsold inventory from the Chester Road site, up to and including occupation of the plant
  • 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.
  • Mass demonstrations both on site and in the city centre inviting workers and activists from across the entire labour movement and community campaigns to build a far-reaching sustained fightback.

Written by workers for workers.

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