From the Archives: 9 years ago thousands marched in Coventry to save jobs and stop closure of Jaguar Browns Lane Plant.
9 years ago this month on the 27th November 2004, thousands of workers demonstrated in support of Jaguar workers at Coventry’s Browns Lane plant – who at the time were facing the threat of mass redundancies and closure at the hands of car multinational Ford.
At the end of August 2004 Jaguar announced that it planned to cut vehicle production at its three UK sites for the rest of the year. At the time, Jaguar assured all interested parties that there would be no job losses as a result of these production cuts. However, Ford later announced the end of production at the Browns Lane plant in Coventry and effectively its intention to sack 1,150 workers.
Below we are re-posting an article written ahead of the demo and a report from it. Throughout the dispute, Socialist Party members in Coventry and nationally were fully active in campaigning for support and solidarity with the workers at Jaguar, giving analysis, support and advice throughout.
Unfortunately the dispute saw the start of the disintegration of the browns lane site, throwing thousands on the dole and robbing jobs for future generations in Coventry.
The slow annihilation of Coventry manufacturing that at its peak saw over 100,000 workers directly employed in the industry began in the late 70’s. By start of the 1980s only four large car makers survived in Coventry: Jaguar, Rover, Peugeot and makers of the London Taxi, LTI Vehicles. In 2004 the Socialist Party warned ‘They want to close down Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant and reduce Coventry to a city of low-skilled fast food jobs’. By 2010 only LTI survived. In the last year LTI has been under constant threat of closure. This was done under the watch and with full encouragement of both Tory and Labour Governments.
Over 10,000 people in Coventry are on the dole and over 1,200 people in the City rely on food banks. These are only a few examples of the devastating effects of austerity and the ruthless and backwardness of capitalism on ordinary working class people of this City.
Above – the Browns Lane site in the 1980’s. Below – The Browns late site a few years ago before property developers took hold.
The fight to save jobs at Jaguar was not a case of saving jobs just to produce luxury cars for the wealthy. It was about saving the hard-won skills of the workers involved, which can be used to produce socially useful products. As we said at the time…
‘A socialist organised society, in conjunction with the workers themselves, would develop an integrated transport plan to meet the needs of the population. Workers would then see their skills used for the benefit of all and not just for the few.’
The Socialist Party continues to fight for such an organised Socialist society. If you agree, get in touch and join the Socialist Party!
Support the Jaguar workers’ fight
From: The Socialist issue 372, 27 November 2004
THE DEMONSTRATION organised by the trade unions in Coventry on 27 November should be the start of a massive campaign of opposition to Ford’s plans. They want to close down Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant and reduce Coventry to a city of low-skilled fast food jobs.
For this campaign to take off requires a determination, yet to be shown by the union leaders, to mobilise as much mass support as possible.
The Socialist Party says this with regret. But we have to warn that the path chosen up to now by the union leaders, particularly Tony Woodley, the TGWU general secretary, will not lead to victory for the Jaguar workers and the workers of Coventry as a whole.
When the crisis developed ten weeks ago the first reaction was outrage. This was reflected in the union leaders’ speeches, especially Tony Woodley, who is the leader of the biggest union at Jaguar.
He called for a national demonstration to save Jaguar as part of the union’s campaign to save British manufacturing.
Trade unionists from across the city and beyond were equally concerned that the demise of Jaguar would lead to an irreversible decline in the city’s fortunes.
The Jaguar shop stewards called for the setting up of a Coventry trade union support group and fixed a date for its first meeting.
But when leading local trade unionists in Coventry, including Socialist Party members and in particular Councillor Dave Nellist, (who is vice chair of the Amicus Jaguar Branch! ) got there they were told by a TGWU official that the support meeting had been cancelled.
This was in favour of a report back by Labour MPs, of their visit to Paris to lobby the Ford bosses. Since then there has been no attempt to genuinely involve other trade unions in Coventry, who would have helped build a bigger response for the demonstration.
It has become clear that Labour-supporting union officials have been determined to try and block the Socialist Party in Coventry from having anything to do with the Save Jaguar Campaign.
They are obviously fearful of the threat to Labour seats posed by the Socialist Party at the forthcoming general election.
Equally, the approaching general election seems to have paralysed the union leaders, preventing them from raising any real demands on the Labour government.
Instead, the unions are desperately trying to get the government to “pressurise” the Ford management into making concessions.
But unfortunately the Ford bosses are not only not listening but continue to emphasise that there is “no alternative” to the closure of Browns Lane.
As reported in the Financial Times, Joe Greenwell, chief executive of Jaguar cars, made clear to a House of Commons committee on 17 November that: “There would be no reversal of the company’s decision to end 70 years of car-making at its Browns Lane plant.”
The news that a Chinese state-owned car manufacturer is in effect taking over MG Rover, as the Longbridge works is now called, has been welcomed by the union leaders. The new owners have said they want to produce 200,000 cars a year at the Longbridge plant with another 800,000 cars to be made in China.
Every worker would welcome any measure to protect jobs but what is to stop the new owners saying eventually, especially in the coming downturn in the world car market, that they have to protect their car factories in China first and therefore, like Ford, say that a plant will have to be shut? There are no prizes for guessing which overseas plant that would be.
Unfortunately, the union leaders’ campaign over Jaguar has all the hallmarks of the campaign they led in 1999 to ‘save’ the Longbridge plant in Birmingham, not 15 miles from Browns Lane.
Then it was a case of the ‘good capitalist’ against ‘bad capitalist’ posed by Tony Woodley. He promoted the infamous Phoenix Holdings, led by John Powers, ex-Longbridge manager, against a gang called Alchemy, described correctly by Tony Woodley as: “nothing but asset strippers”. Phoenix were the eventual winners.
Now five years on, thousands of Longbridge workers faced the sack as Phoenix run the company into the ground and loot as much of the takings as possible.
They are so greedy, even other capitalists are shocked. The BMW chief in Britain, Jim O’Donnell, called them: “The unacceptable face of capitalism”.
He complained that in 1999 BMW gave them the company for £10 and threw in a 40-year interest-free loan of £550 million. He said it was disgusting that the four had paid themselves millions whilst watching the company being driven into the ground.
In 2002 the five directors paid themselves an average of £3 million, whilst super-profitable BMW directors “only” paid themselves half that. That seems to be O’Donnell’s main complaint.
In 2003 they not only took £ millions in salaries out of the company but also paid another £10 million via a loan note to themselves! This was in a period when Rover Longbridge was ‘losing’ £123.8 million on falling car sales.
Now the press reveals that Rover bosses have set another record, with the lowest ever spending on research and development of any car company anywhere in the world. They are preparing to take their money and run.
The Longbridge story is a lesson for Jaguar workers. If they are to avoid going down the same path, the unions have to change tack and demand that the government take Jaguar back into public ownership and not hope that they will “convince” Ford to change their minds.
A massive campaign behind the slogans of: “Renationalise Jaguar to save jobs” and: “Save Coventry as a city of skills” is urgently required.
It is not a case of saving jobs just to produce luxury cars for the wealthy but it is all about saving the hard-won skills of the workers involved, which can be used to produce socially useful products.
A socialist government, in conjunction with the workers themselves, would develop an integrated transport plan to meet the needs of the population. Jaguar workers would then see their skills used for the benefit of all and not just for the few.
- Oppose the closure of Browns Lane.
- End the destruction of manufacturing in Coventry.
- Demand that the Labour government bring Jaguar back into public ownership.
Below is the report of the Demo itself…
Save the Jag!
Renationalise Jaguar to save jobs
From: The Socialist issue 373, 4 December 2004
THOUSANDS OF workers demonstrated in support of Jaguar workers at Coventry’s Browns Lane plant – who are facing redundancies and closure at the hands of car multinational Ford – on Saturday 27 November.
The mood amongst the working-class population of Coventry to fight was shown by the over 300 copies of the socialist sold in and around the demonstration.
Such is the mood of anger in the city at Ford’s plan to close the plant that even the local Conservative councillors and party felt compelled to take part, with their own banner: “Coventry Conservatives support Jaguar”. Socialist Party members asked the Tories whether it was Jaguar bosses or workers they were supporting.
The Tory mayor sat in his Mayoral Jaguar at the front of the demo for the whole thousand yards of the demo, which started at 9.30 in the morning – effectively reducing it to being a local demo rather than the national demo that many had hoped for. Some workers had come from other parts of the country but they were few and far between.
Even the Labour Party had, for the first time on many a demonstration, organised its own contingent and placards in support of the Jaguar workers.
However, many of the workers who supported and participated in the demo will have left it feeling that another opportunity had been missed to mobilise an effective fight against Ford’s plans.
Speaker after speaker at the rally denounced the fact that Ford had reneged on its agreements over the future of the company and had taken over £80 million of government money since 1995 in subsidies. Now that money was effectively being used to sack the Browns Lane workers.
Labour MPs and government ministers, like multimillionaire Geoffrey Robinson and Mike O’Brien, Department of Trade and Industry minister, pointed out that it would cost more to close Browns Lane than keep it open. But they went no further than saying pressure had to be put on Ford to negotiate and have a “sensible dialogue”. They had to be told that “kicking workers in the teeth was not acceptable.”
It was left to trade union leaders like Derek Simpson of Amicus and Tony Woodley of the TGWU to argue that it was better for workers to fight because the outcome would be worse if they didn’t.
But, even then, their talk of fighting back was extremely subdued. Derek Simpson finished his speech by promising: “We’ll do what we can.”
Tony Woodley put up a more fighting defence of the Jaguar workers and working people generally, by calling for a fight to get rid of the anti-union laws, which make it easier to sack workers in Britain than any other country in Europe. He contrasted the Jaguar workers with the management as: “Lions led by donkeys with blinkers on”.
However, even he appealed to workers who were taking redundancy by saying that “they will get their chance” to take their redundancy but they should “vote yes in the strike ballot [starting on Monday] – even if you are going to take redundancy.”
Garry Hardwick, deputy convenor for Amicus, Browns Lane, speaking after the demo argued for extending the struggle: “We call on German Ford workers to practically support us and take solidarity action.
“Practically we will be looking for some sort of stoppage, which financially would have an effect on Ford and would get them round the table and make them renegotiate the decision to close Browns Lane.
“After today’s rally, I’m more convinced the ballot will be successful. Obviously we have to await the ballot result, but once we got it, we’ll be looking for support from other Jaguar workers and externally from Ford workers as well.”
According to workers inside the plant, Ford’s £80 million redundancy offer is up to £36,000, plus a full pension from the age of 50. This is a huge carrot dangling in front of the workforce.
But the union leaders still have to argue for a fightback, making it clear that the fight will be about more than token resistance – that it can succeed in securing a long-term future and investment for the plant.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, speaking to a Socialist Party fringe meeting after the demo, argued that such a fight would have to call for the nationalisation of Jaguar and the car industry in Britain, with at least some of the workforce in Jag being converted to develop other socially useful production.
The fact that the fight to save Browns Lane is about more than saving the Jaguar marque was shown by the first speaker at the rally.
15-year-old Martin goes to school near the plant. He saw his mum, dad and uncle made redundant at Jaguar when he was a little boy in the early 1990s recession. He said to the assembled rally: “I hope you lot vote to fight to keep the plant open and give us a future where we have decent jobs.”
The turnout on the demo was good but considerably lower than was possible. This shows that some opportunities for support have been missed.
But strong support still exists in Coventry and around the country – probably around Europe also – and this support could be revitalised through decisive action and a ‘Yes’ vote in the ballot for strike action.