Britain: Jaguar crisis

Workers say -’we won’t pay the price’

The trade unions are fighting to prevent Ford ending Jaguar car production in Coventry. If the car giant gets its way, 1,200 redundancies will be made. Ford, hoping to avoid an angry reaction, have said 400 jobs will go to Castle Bromwich in Birmingham. 300 will be offered work at Fords’ Aston Martin plant. 300 will be kept on at Browns Lane working on wood veneer, but many question how long for.

The Whitley design and research centre with 2,000 workers, will still design Jaguar models say Ford. But it should be borne in mind that less than 15-20 miles away Ford has a huge design and engineering site at Gaydon, acquired when it took over Land Rover.

Jaguar performed strongly until earlier this year. So the trade unions rightly say that this is a short-term decision and "hardly a survival plan. It seriously threatens the future of Jaguar," says Amicus union leader, Derek Simpson.

The Ford bosses claim that falling American sales are responsible for the closure decision. While European sales are buoyant, US sales aren’t. We’re told that Jaguar is a car built with pounds but sold in dollars. As the dollar falls, so less Americans will buy them.

Ford claim last month’s sales fell 38% from 6,200 to 3,850. But the year to date has seen only an 11% fall according to Ford’s own figures (36,000 to 31,900). And only a few months ago, sales were "powering ahead in the USA" (Coventry Evening Telegraph, 18 September)

But currency fluctuations have hit Jaguar before, and for longer. That’s why workers believe Ford is finding excuses to close the plant, and that this may be the thin end of the wedge. If there’s a short-term problem then the work should be shared out throughout the company combine, without any loss in workers’ pay.

One thing is for sure. It’s not the workers’ fault – who are producing twice as many cars with less workers – but they are always the people who pay the price when the bosses retrench.

"Cannon fodder"

An angry Tony Woodley – TGWU general secretary – used strong language saying British workers were being used "as cannon fodder to satisfy American shareholders."

But it’s not the nationality of the shareholders, it’s the very chaos of the capitalist market that means no stability for workers whatever efforts they make.

Improvements in productivity and quality are not enough for the Ford bosses in a globalised market where worker is pitted against worker in a race to the bottom. And this is not only happening to Ford workers but to workers particularly in the car industry and generally, to workers employed by giant corporations.

The only way to overcome this capitalist profit-driven ’anarchy’ is by bringing the Ford’s of this world under public ownership as part of a rational plan of production.

Where have all the profits gone?

Earlier this year Ford’s declared profits of $1.95 billion (1st quarter 2004), almost double that for the same period 12 months before.

In July they announced that the revenue from their global vehicle sales had increased to $36.7 billion compared to $34 billion a year earlier.

Their total worldwide income (including Ford’s finance arm) in the 2nd quarter of 2004 was $42.8 billion, up from $40.7 billion in the same quarter in 2003.

At the same time their profits for the 2nd quarter 2004 had risen to $1.2 billion from $417 million in 2003.

Ford’s has organised its European arm in such as way as to make it easier for them to transfer profits from company to company at the stroke of a computer keyboard. Jaguar has been coupled with LandRover and Volvo along with Aston Martin into a separate "premier auto group".

This makes it easier for Ford’s to play off the European arm against the American arm and to play off Jaguar workers against LandRover workers. They do this primarily by "price transfer", whereby one arm of Ford’s sell parts to another arm of Ford’s at a discount price. It means the receiving plants can announce even bigger profits whilst the supplying plants announce losses. This is done mainly for tax purposes where one country’s tax rates may be higher than another. But this "price transfer" can also be used to falsely reduce profits in a company like Jaguar to put pressure on the workers to increase productivity.

Multinational companies have a long record of fiddling the figures. That’s why the unions should demand that the company accounts be investigated to establish the real situation.

New Labour – no future

LOCAL MPs complain about the closure but seem paralysed when it comes to actually doing anything.

These New Labour MPs have no answer because they believe ’market forces’ cannot be controlled. Coventry City Council and Jaguar are working to create a science and business park at Browns Lane.

It has already been given planning permission! But the Council should be putting its energy into fighting to save the plant before they bury it!

We hear much from Labour and now Tory council leaders that Coventry is rising like a phoenix from the "bombed, ugly buildings, declining car industry" "ghost town" years. Expensive developments for "wealthy, aspirational Warwickshire people" and turning Coventry into a commuter town for London are presented as the future.

Do the council and main parties imagine that a few hundred wannabe yuppies will save the situation with former skilled workers as their shoe-shines?

Jaguar crisis: Fight the bosses’ closure plan

NEWS THAT Ford will end Jaguar car production at the Brown’s Lane plant in Coventry has been met here with shock and anger.

Dave Griffiths and Rob Windsor, Coventry Socialist Party

Now the workers are fighting back. Trade union shop stewards have unanimously agreed to fight the closure with workers overwhelmingly backing action, including a strike ballot.

Coventry workers have been given a solidarity boost after workers at the Castle Bromwich plant in Birmingham (where Ford wants to shift production to), said they would support any action the Coventry workers take.

There should be no transfer of work between plants without the agreement of the workers at the plants concerned.

Brown’s Lane is not just a car plant. It’s put Coventry on the world map for skill and craftsmanship for over half a century. Workers have given decades of hard work, increased productivity and big profits to the bosses. And this is their reward from US multinational, Ford – the sack!

Keith White, TGWU union convenor at Jaguar, said workers had been "kicked in the teeth by Ford."

1,200 jobs will go, but most here fear even worse. Derek Simpson general secretary of the Amicus union said: "Ford’s decision may kill off Jaguar altogether."

Ford callously announced the news (following rumours that emerged only mid-week) while workers were off work and left to watch helplessly on TV. No wonder people are disgusted.

The end of car production will blow a minimum £50 million hole in Coventry’s economy, never mind its knock-on effects in the supply industry.

In the last two years we have lost Massey Ferguson, Marconi has virtually gone, a shift has gone at Peugeot and now Jaguar. Working people here fear that everyone in the city will become ’burger flippers’ working on minimum wages.

Few have confidence that the remaining scraps of Jaguar jobs will last long or even that the research and design plant at Whitley, employing 2,000, has a long term future.

Fightback is growing

THE SOCIALIST Party has called for the trade unions to organise a national demonstration to defend manufacturing jobs, in Coventry. We welcome union leaders referring to an ’emergency meeting to build support through local unions’ and of organising a demonstration. Hopefully an immediate date will be announced as soon as possible.

Socialist Party councillors will present a petition, enthusiastically endorsed by Coventry workers on public stalls last Saturday, to Thursday’s council meeting calling on the council to organise a ’City meeting’ to mobilise support for Jaguar workers and their families.

Many believe that Ford are asset stripping industry here. They are making huge profits globally but now they are asking workers to pay. We have also called for Ford’s to open the company accounts. Let’s see the real figures!

"Where have all the factories gone?", asked one young correspondent to Coventry’s evening paper. Coventry is now "dominated by call centres, warehouses and greeting card shops. I feel like a heartless corporation has ripped the heart out of our proud and industrious city."

That’s exactly what’s happened. It’s time for Jaguar and all Coventry workers to fight back.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales.

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September 2004