At a Congress fringe meeting on job losses in the Vauxhall factories at Luton and Ellesmere Port, the speakers included Unite joint general secretaries Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley and Labour MPs Lindsay Hoyle and Andrew Millar.
Derek Simpson made the best speech. A world in which different governments compete to see which can give the largest amount of money to an international company to keep factories open is crazy and wrong. We need an international union to confront these businesses.
John Cooper, the deputy convenor of Ellesmere Port, said that concessions have been made to secure the future production of the Astra, but that workers have made it clear that they will not give up the pensions scheme. The buyer, Magna, has said it expects the pensions to go.
It was all downhill after that. Andrew Millar was feeble. Everyone has been working together: the management, Labour Party, and the union, all on the same side. Mandelson is fighting hard. There are sound business reasons to keep producing cars at Ellesmere Port. But it isn’t looking good.
Lindsay Hoyle delivered a foul nationalistic rant. The problem is that British workers are easier to sack. The British Government should buy British cars just like the German Government buys German cars. In the row after the meeting, he insisted that the answer is to buy British.
Woodley was very angry and emotional. He is from Ellesmere Port. I don’t question that his emotion is genuine. I do question his political strategy.
He “just can’t understand” why a sound, long-established company could collapse. (The workings of international capitalism, perhaps?) £600 million isn’t peanuts, you know, and that’s what the government is offering. He went on to call German chancellor Angela Merkel “a smarmy cow”. The Germans think they are being clever. But that they may be overstretching themselves. Half the money will go to Russia; and where will deals with Russia take them? Mandelson and Brown are working tirelessly to come to a deal. We are all working together.
Alliances with management; telling the workers to put their trust in Brown and Mandelson; focusing on getting the government to bribe businesses to stay in a particular country — all these demobilise any potential fight to defend jobs.