To make sure workers don't pay the price for an automotive industry crisis and a dysfunctional government, we need a strong response, argues Richard Allday
The decision by Honda to shut its manufacturing plant in Swindon, with the direct loss of 3,500 jobs, was a hammer blow to workers in Swindon – not just at Honda – but also a grim warning to the tens of thousands of workers in the automotive and associated industries in the UK.
Until the closure announcement, workers at Swindon had every reason to believe their future was secure. They had been told that Honda was investing production of the new hybrid petrol/electric version of the Civic in the Swindon plant, to come on stream in 2021. In fact, new robot technology for this model was already on the high seas bound for the UK when Honda Japan announced the closure!
Of course, Honda can point to a variety of reasons that led to their shock decision, including the continuing decline in demand for diesel vehicles, the near-50% decline in European sales over the last decade, the change in market demand away from economy cars to ‘high status’ SUVs, and so on.
What they don’t mention is that the decision was a searing indictment of May’s incompetent and directionless government. The tariff-free trade deal that the EU (with British participation) has just signed with Japan means less need for a European manufacturing facility - perhaps May didn’t realise that Honda Swindon was a Japanese-owned company?
Whatever the immediate cause, it is the latest in a series of attacks on jobs and conditions in manufacturing in general, and the automotive industry in particular.
So the march and rally this coming Saturday, organised by Unite, is a welcome sign that our side does not intend to go quietly into that good night. The fact that the rally is to be addressed by Len McLuskey – Unite’s General Secretary – is a clear indication of the importance that the union attaches to Honda’s announcement.
Of course, a march alone merely serves to demonstrate anger and condemnation. Unite reps at Honda are well aware that words are not enough, that there needs to be real pressure on the employer, and McLuskey is well aware that Unite’s response to Honda will be noted by activists right across manufacturing.
The 470 workers at TS Tech in Swindon, like those at BWI Luton, the countless workers further down the supply chain, the drivers of the car transporters, all these workers – in the main, organised by Unite – will be looking for an effective response.
Fortunately, we still have industrial leverage. The plant cannot be shut overnight, and Honda will still want to see Civics coming off the line. After all, that’s how they make a profit. But this is not a fight confined to one employer. Fords declaration of intent to run down its engine plant at Bridgend, the loss of the X-Trail from Nissan Sunderland, the very real worries at Peugeot Ellesmere Port,
JLR and the rest, all this spills over into insecurity for tens of thousands more workers in the associated industries.
All of which means this Saturday’s march is important, not as an end in itself (if that were the case, far longer than two weeks would have been necessary to build it as a national demonstration) but as a declaration of intent. It must be seen as the start of a campaign across the sector, uniting workers across employers. And it must be seen as a political as well as an industrial matter. I have said it before, and it becomes truer every day – May and company are clinging like limpets to their positions, at the expense of thousands of ordinary peoples’ jobs.
Sack May, to save Honda workers’ jobs. In fact, sack May to protect your job.
Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage. A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.
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