Factory closures in Europe’s auto industry spreading. Defend Bochum, Genk, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Southampton and Dagenham – for a united struggle to protect all jobs and factories
The Opel management were taking no chances. Both to intimidate the workforce and to protect themselves they posted 50 extra security guards in the hall of a works’ council meeting and arranged for police to be outside the factory on 10 December 2012, as they prepared to announce the end to full car manufacturing in Bochum by 2016.
In less than a minute Opel boss Thomas Sedran expressed his intention to make 3,000 workers and their families pay for the crisis of Opel and the European car industry in general (see also “Europe’s car industry: Another crisis in the making”)
There were vague promises on future production of components, but this did not ease the anger of the 2,300 workers who came together in the plant in the German Ruhr area. Whistles and heckling interrupted his speech, as he attempted to justify the attack on the workers by pointing to over-capacity in car production and the huge drop in demand in Europe’s car markets. He then immediately left the factory by the back door. An IG Metall shop steward was thrown down and nearly throttled by security guards when he tried to question him.
The Bochum plant has a militant tradition. A previous strike limited the management’s efforts to split the workforce and outsource parts of the factory in 2000. In 2004, a six day wildcat strike was launched against the announced sackings of thousands of workers. However, now IG Metalls’s Rainer Einenkel, the chair of the works’ council, called for prudence and declared that the workers should not allow themselves to be provoked.
Nevertheless the next morning 200 workers stopped work and marched in protest to the gates of the factory to demand more information from the works’ council as SAV (CWI Germany)reported. Clearly under pressure to show that they “do something” the works’ council then at least stopped the production line on Friday, 14 December, for some hours to “inform” the workers.
The management has prepared for this situation for some time, strategically reducing the dependence of other GM plants on Bochum. Along with the planned Christmas break in production and short time working for January the workers don’t feel as strong as they did during their last battles; years of downsizing have worn down the remaining workers and reduced their economic power. Moreover, the failed strategy of the trade union and works’ council leaders of accepting concessions again and again has deepened the feeling of demoralisation.
However, there is still huge anger which could spark a fightback. The workers are aware that if this decision is accepted without mass protest, the prospects to defend the jobs and the whole factory are dire. A fighting strategy is needed to organise and build for strike action in Bochum and to send delegations to the other factories to increase the pressure on the IG Metall trade union to escalate the struggle.
A strike in Bochum, with delegations to all the other factories threatened with closure in Europe, and to the other Opel and GM plants, could start to mobilise one of the most powerful sections of the working class in Europe. Car workers all over the continent know that their future is also at stake. Ford car production in Dagenham (Britain) and factories in Southhampton (Britain) and Genk (Belgium) are threatened with closure (see also: “Belgium: Genk Ford workers blockade plant”. In Italy the Fiat bosses are continually speaking of their need to cut back.
What is needed is a strategy to save jobs.
Race to the bottom
German car “experts” are critical of GM management, arguing that GM should have closed down its plant in Ellesmere Port, Britain, instead of Bochum. This strategy was also used by French “experts” in relation to the closure of Ford’s plant in Aulnay-sous-Bois near Paris, arguing that factories in Spain should be closed instead.
The different nation states in Europe focus on defending the corporations in their own countries against others. They agree only that workers should pay the price and also the environment should be sacrificed for the sake of the profits of the car companies. The EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger already confirmed (in a letter to Volkswagen), that the proposed limits on auto carbon emission in Europe will see “not insignificant changes”. Other disagreements between the nation states does not exclude a joint approach to further intensify the dangers of climate change in the interests of profits.
GM bosses intend to make workers and their families pay for the crisis of Opel and the European car industry in general
Defend all jobs & all factories!
Unfortunately, this nationalist point of view was also taken up by trade union leaders at General Motors (GM) and its European arms Opel and Vauxhall. Workers were blackmailed between the different factories. Trade union leaders at the GM-Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port accepted longer hours, losses in real wages and more flexibility in May, even accepting the company dictating weekend shift patterns in order to maintain production there. This was seen as a decisive blow to the German plants in Bochum and Rüsselsheim.
The workers at Ellesmere Port may have felt some relief as the trade union leaders celebrated this deal to supposedly protect jobs. Now only 5 months later GM has announced plans to put 2,000 workers there on a four-day-week. In September the Vauxhall plants in Ellesmere Port and Luton both halted production for one week.
The strategy of concessions by the trade unions to get “security” for jobs has failed. The Bochum workers gave millions of euros to get guarantees of production till 2016 – only to be under attack now and face the end of their plant by that date.
A strategy is needed to protect every job. With a reduction in the hours of the working week on full payment, jobs can immediately be saved – paid for by the bosses and the owners. Every plant faced with sackings has to be taken into public ownership under workers’ control and management. Given the interrelations between the factories and the crisis of the car industry internationally and especially in Europe, the whole industry should be nationalised and the production reorganised so that if cars are not needed, other goods for which there is a social need can be produced instead. These highly educated and skilled workforces have to be used to create wealth that can benefit the 99% and not to extend the lines of unemployed millions in Europe in order to maintain the wealth of the 1%.
That’s what the trade union movement should mobilise for. A strike movement from below could be linked to these demands to defend the workers and their families and to challenge the trade union leaders, fighting for combative and democratic trade unions.