From the Archives: 9 years ago thousands marched in Coventry to save jobs and stop closure of Jaguar Browns Lane Plant

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.

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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.

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 Browns_lane_factory_demolished

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!

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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.

Bill Mullins

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.

Lobby

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.

Downturn

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.

Greedy

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.

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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.

Ken Smith

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.

Opportunity missed

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”.

Strike ballot

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.

Dave Nellist

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.

Coventry TUC hosts anti-cuts meeting

Coventry TUC hosts anti-cuts meeting

Coventry against the Cuts

Coventry against the Cuts

Last night saw Coventry TUC host a public meeting on the issue of the cuts and austerity. Around 45 people turned out to hear a wide variety of speakers from many different unions and campaigns.

Dan Crowter of Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax

Dan Crowter of Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax

The main speaker was Kindy Sandhu, author of ‘Layers of Inequality’ which examines the effects of the cuts on minorities. Many good platform speakers followed from Unison, CYWU / Unite and the FBU. Also speaking from the front were members of NAPO and an activist from the Coventry against the Bedroom Tax campaign.

Judy Griffiths of the CWU

Judy Griffiths of the CWU

There was a wealth of figures used which showed graphically how  working class people are being hit by the cuts. The key question now is what to do about it? Many speakers, including Socialist Party members active in the trade unions, pointed out that we need co-ordinated industrial action. It is 2 years since the huge N30 2011 pension strike, which saw up to 2 million workers take industrial action. This serious momentum was squandered by many of the TU leaders and now the task is to rebuild confidence in the workplace and amongst people more widely that these cuts can be challenged and beaten.

Dave Nellist

Dave Nellist

However as Dave Nellist pointed out, there has to be a political strategy linked to an industrial one. Earlier this year every single councillor in Coventry, including every Labour councillor, voted to implement the cuts and pass on Tory brutality to the people of the city. In this context it is necessary to build an alternative to the main establishment parties which can begin to popularise the ideas of socialism, in opposition to capitalism which forces us time and time again to pay for a crisis not of our making.

Flower Power – Downfall of a Banking Boss, his link to Coventry and Dave Nellist

Flower power – downfall of a banking boss, his link to Coventry and Dave Nellist

By Roger Bannister (From the Socialist Newspaper)

If the much repeated cliché that the British Labour Party owes more to Methodism than to Marxism is true then it must have got more than it bargained for with the Reverend Paul Flowers.

The traditional image of the stern, moral, teetotal 19th century campaigner is far removed from this latter day Methodist, mired in scandals involving sex, illegal drugs and dubious expense claims.

Flowers’ story reminds us that the bankers who brought the UK economy to the brink of disaster have been allowed to carry on in post, and to continue to draw fat bonuses, effectively paid for from the public purse, and funded by working class people via the Con-Dem government’s austerity policies.

Given the latest allegations against RBS profiting from bankrupting small companies, the hypocrisy with which the capitalist press and the Tories have jumped on this story is incredible.

But because of the traditional links between the Cooperative movement and the Labour Party, Flowers is subjected to intense scrutiny and pilloried in the press. Who knows what dirt could be dug up on any other top banker if treated in a like manner?

However, the rise of a person like Flowers in both the Labour Party and the Cooperative movement is an indication of how far both organisations have moved from their working class roots.

The Cooperative movement is based on its retail and banking wings, from which is funded the Cooperative Party. By agreement with Labour, it stands 26 Labour/Cooperative candidates in each general election.

Founders

But the Cooperative movement today is little like the vision of its 19th century ‘pioneering’ founders who were anxious to break away from the grip of their bosses who employed them and owned the shops that sold them poor, adulterated products at high prices.

The 21st century Co-op bank’s attempt to ape corporate capitalism collapsed under £1.5 billion of debt, and resulted in its takeover this year by US hedge fund asset strippers. This shows the limits of the cooperative ideal within capitalist society.

Its cooperative structures have become increasingly weakened over the years, producing a massive, largely unaccountable, highly paid bureaucracy (Flowers received in excess of £130,000 a year as chair of the Co-op Bank).

It now benefits from the government’s privatisation programme, with agencies that advise local councils on how to “mutualise” public services, promoting this as the soft side of privatisation. Right-wing Labour councils are particularly keen on this approach, sacrificing services and workers’ jobs because they are unwilling to fight to defend them.


Flowers link to Coventry, Dave Nellist and the Socialist Party

Flowers was always a Labour Party right winger, even at university in Bristol in the early 1970s, when left-wing politics were common among students. He joined the university Labour Club, but did not attend meetings because of its left wing leadership, (run at the time by Andy Bevan, a supporter of the Militant Tendency, forerunner to the Socialist Party).

After university he combined his position as a Methodist minister with a steady climb through the Labour and Cooperative machineries, albeit not without its occasional setbacks. He 1987 he failed to secure the Labour Party nomination in Coventry by opposing Militant (The Socialist Party’s Predecessor organisation)  supporting MP Dave Nellist. In the subsequent election Dave retained the seat.

From the archives: Dave Nellist and the late Rob Windsor speak at Coventry demo against attacks to NHS and Welfare State 1988

From the archives: Dave Nellist and the late Rob Windsor speak at Coventry demo against attacks to NHS and Welfare State 1988

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Here we are posting a short video of Socialist Party members Dave Nellist and the late Rob Windsor speaking at a demonstration in Coventry in 1988. The Tories are once again attempting to dismantle the NHS and Welfare State. We urge you to join the fight to save them!

Disgusted by what you are seeing on TV about Amazon? Read this

Disgusted by what you are seeing on TV about Amazon? Read this

Tax dodging corporations profit from casualization

Amazon

Amazon

The following article was published in ‘The Socialist’ newspaper at the start of October. It is highly relevant given the Panorama programme currently showing on BBC1. If you agree with what we are saying fill in the form at the end of the article to help us build a movement that will fight for a society that puts people before profit, a socialist society.

Only trade unions can defend workers’ rights

By Ronnie Job

The Swansea Amazon warehouse location, next to the former Linamar/Visteon/Ford site, is a graphic illustration of how casualised, low-paid work has replaced unionised, skilled manufacturing.

The local press has hailed Amazon for announcing it will employ 1,500 extra workers in the run-up to Christmas.

However, an agency worker who was at Amazon last Christmas told me about their experience.

“At the end of the first day’s warehouse tour, the guide pointed out ‘your rep’s office’. One new worker asked if they meant union rep, but was told it was the agency rep’s office and they didn’t have unions. Don’t think the person asking the question lasted long!

“The first wage packet was a lot smaller than anybody expected, with compulsory deductions for a locker deposit (although I wasn’t assigned a locker as there weren’t enough), CRB check and drugs test.

“Despite supposedly being employed for 25 hours a week plus overtime, workers were frequently sent home, often not having earned enough to pay for their bus fare or petrol.

“Some days, agency workers were sent home while work was given to unpaid jobseekers on the workfare scheme.”

Amazon pays next to no tax in the UK but is at liberty to take advantage of government schemes that provide free labour!

Points mean P45s

“It is not easy to get to the site by public transport, especially around Christmas, but anybody turning up late would be assigned penalty points. These were accumulated and led to dismissals.

“Other ‘offences’ attracting points included ‘errors’, like not putting the right amount of brown paper in a box or forgetting to put in the advertisements. All absences (all unpaid of course) were treated the same, even certificated sickness or attending a job interview.

“The site had a real gulag feel. Everybody was subject to security scans whenever they left the floor, and random scans while working, with a handheld scanner.

“CCTV cameras are everywhere and you’re told that you can face a drug or alcohol test at any time, have your locker searched or your drinking water tested.

“Everybody was fearful when scanning their security card to gain entry to the site; finding your card had been deactivated was a common way of discovering you had been dismissed. This happened to people on Christmas Eve. Others were dismissed and escorted off the floor part way through a shift.”

Unionisation of sites like Amazon in Swansea is essential to halt the race to the bottom on workers’ rights.

The determination of the BFAWU members at Hovis (see the Socialist issue 781, Bakers rise against Hovis: Victory shows zero-hours can be beaten) shows how militant trade unionism can beat casualisation.

Coventry Socialists welcome Paulo Eduardo Gomes from Brazil

Coventry Socialists welcome Paulo Eduardo Gomes from Brazil

Paulo Eduardo Gomes speaking at Coventry meeting

Paulo Eduardo Gomes speaking at Coventry meeting

Coventry Socialist Party were proud to welcome Paulo Eduardo Gomes, an elected councillor for PSOL (a left wing party in Brazil) to a meeting in the city last week.

Paulo has been undertaking a tour of Britain and Ireland speaking at meetings organised by the Socialist Party. He gave a wide ranging and fascinating introduction, explaining the political situation in Brazil and the situation facing the masses in this vast country. He explained the degeneration of the PT (Workers’ Party) and about some of the work he does as an elected representative.

The Socialist Party are internationalists, we believe the crisis of capitalism is a global issue and as such we organise on an international basis with our sister parties in the Committee for a Workers’ International. The CWI has groups and parties in nearly 50 countries around the world. On that basis it we hope to learn from socialists fighting capitalism in other countries and we certainly learnt much from Paulo.

You can see the website of the CWI by clicking here.

Dave Nellist appeals for anti-cuts candidates in 2014 elections

Dave Nellist appeals for anti-cuts candidates in 2014 elections

Below is a video of Dave Nellist speaking at Socialism 2013, making the case for anti-cuts candidates as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). An alternative to the 3 establishment parties need to be built. If you agree with what Dave is putting forward and would like to get involved please get in touch by emailing us on coventrysocialistparty@gmail.com.

You can also visit the TUSC website by clicking here

Dave Nellist

Dave Nellist

 

Coventry Socialists campaign for public ownership of utility companies and show support for Kshama Sawant

Coventry Socialists campaign for public ownership of utility companies and show support for Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative in USA

Socialist Party members show support for Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative

Socialist Party members show support for Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative

Members of the Socialist Party in Coventry were out in the city centre today and other locations around the city building a campaign against the increase in gas and electricity prices, calling for these profit loving vultures to be brought back in to public ownership. Many people are having to choose whether to ‘heat or eat’ whilst huge profits are made at our expense.

Discussing with Saturday shoppers

Discussing with Saturday shoppers

We took great pride in letting people know about the Socialist victory in Seattle for Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative, displaying the poster supplement from this week’s issue of ‘The Socialist’ newspaper. Leaflets were also distributed for a forthcoming  anti-cuts meeting hosted by Coventry TUC.

Thank you to all who donated to our fighting fund, special mention going to the two separate donations of £5 that were given.

Wartime women – a review of an exhibition at Coventry Transport Museum

Wartime women

War Effort

Coventry Transport Museum

To 5 January 2014 – admission free

Wartime women (image C Vauxhall Heritage)

Wartime women (image C Vauxhall Heritage)

The following review was carried in Socialism Today, the monthly magazine of the Socialist Party. For information about how to subscribe, click here

By Jane Nellist

As early as 1936, the Conservative government started investing in preparation for war. They bought huge tracts of land and buildings, kitting out factories in readiness. Coventry and the West Midlands were pivotal in those plans. What’s more, women were to play a key role in their success – and many of those companies profited from the war effort.

This exhibition at Coventry’s Transport Museum rediscovers the importance of the ‘Shadow Scheme’, the government-funded programme which aimed to utilise the benefits and proven track record of mass production, honed in the car factories, to produce the necessary armaments, especially aircraft, in case of war. The exhibition tells the story of the rise of these factories, and of the women and men who worked in them.

The shadow factories were an entirely new concept. Established firms were either given government funding to expand their own production lines or were given other companies’ products to manufacture, such as aircraft engines. Modern factories with up-to-date machine tools could then churn out the tanks, aircraft, shells and other hardware.

Some of those factories are still in existence, one being the Land Rover plant at Lode Lane Solihull, now producing the Land Rover Discovery. In Coventry, most of the shadow factories have now disappeared – such as Rootes Ryton (which became Peugeot), Massey Ferguson at Banner Lane, and Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory – along with the thousands of skilled, relatively well-paid jobs in the many car companies that fed the city.

Accompanying the exhibition is a new film, Out of the Shadows, produced especially for the exhibition. By using the first-hand experiences of those who worked in the shadow factories, as well as original film from the period, it brings to light what life was like for those workers, including the thousands of women who had been conscripted or volunteered. Christiaan van Schaardenburgh, the museum’s curator, and others add to the story.

One of the issues that this film raises is that the Nazi regime in Germany used slave labour to drive forward the production of armaments. Because of the inhumane way the workers were treated, however, as well as the likelihood of sabotage, this was not as productive as the shadow factory scheme. By utilising female workers in Britain through conscription, which by 1943 applied to all women aged between 20 and 50, there was a much more ‘willing and committed’ workforce. But it didn’t come without problems. Although the exhibition hints at some of these, it does not deal with them in depth, which is a shame because some of the issues are ones that we can relate to today, such as the demand for equal pay and childcare.

Women doing what were considered ‘male’ skilled jobs, such as machine turning, welding and riveting, were just as competent as the men. Despite the initial suspicion and reluctance, they did gain recognition and respect from fellow male workers and the male-dominated trade unions of the time.

Ernie Roberts, a Coventry shop steward, recorded that, “After training they became as good as the men. I must admit that many of us thought they weren’t capable because they hadn’t the industrial background we had had all of our lives…” He was to become the assistant general secretary of the AUEW engineering union and then, later, a Labour MP. Jack Jones, the future leader of the Transport and General Workers Union and a district organiser at the time of the war, helped women in Coventry achieve the equal pay they had been promised.

The male voice of the government newsreel film encourages women to volunteer for the new government-funded shadow factories to ensure that Britain was sufficiently equipped and prepared for war. The enticement was that “temporarily, women will get the same rate of pay”. It went on to say that the women would “lend a bit of colour and charm”. Nothing changes then! The bosses used every trick in the book to deny women equal pay, as they do now.

There were logistical problems of housing all the women workers, many of them conscripted from other parts of the country, especially in a bomb ravaged city. It meant that, as well as hostels being set up to house the thousands of workers, local inspectors were sent round to search out spare bedrooms for the women. As many as 16,000 billets were found for workers in Coventry alone.

There were other practical problems for women, such as shopping. How could you get the daily necessities which were subject to strict rationing and inevitably long queues? If you were rich, of course, you could still get anything you wanted. Women were working ten-hour shifts in factories Monday to Friday, with a further half-day shift on a Saturday. The Factories Act, which had begun to limit hours of work, was relaxed so that the war effort could be fulfilled.

Women with young children volunteered; it is estimated that around one and a quarter million women with children under 14 were working. Nurseries were opened which, for a shilling a day, fed and looked after young children where there were no other family members to do that. But life was not all rosy, as Mass Observation’s detailed reports highlighted. Many women working long hours in the factories still had to juggle all of the other household and caring chores which took a toll on their health. Accidents at work happened because they were so tired.

It was dangerous work, too. Nightly bombing raids continued on the factories. No matter what devastation took place, the factories and the machine tools, serviced by thousands of conscripted women workers, were soon back up and running. They were well camouflaged and extremely well organised with their own Air Raid Precautions wardens and fire crews.

Women were used as a reserve army of labour; when they were no longer needed at the end of the war, they were sent home. The newsreels then showed films promoting a woman’s role in the home! However, some of that freedom that women experienced in the war must not have been totally lost and, maybe, had an influence on their daughters’ attitudes in the more progressive 1960s.

Economic researchers have found after the war, even though private manufacturers had financially benefitted from the factory infrastructure and machine tools they inherited from the shadow factories to kick-start the post-war car industry, they had been profiteering and owed the government thousands of pounds. Only one Coventry company, Carbodies, which is better known as the manufacturer of the famous London taxi cab and is now the only car manufacturer left in Coventry, had not profiteered. The government actually gave it money back. Interestingly, a few months ago, when it looked likely that the company would close, workers appealed to the government for support to keep the factory operating. The help was not forthcoming. A Chinese company has now bought Carbodies and looks likely to move to a new site, leaving the shadow factory to the fate of most of the others.

The War Effort exhibition not only gives you all the facts and figures, it lets the voice of the ordinary factory workers, including all those unsung women, be heard. Its story touches on so many themes of today. It’s well worth rediscovering this episode of our social history. But make sure you set aside a day to visit because the Transport Museum has a great deal more to offer, especially for families.

Postal strike – no retreat from defending jobs and working conditions!

Postal strike called off for now

No retreat from defending jobs and working conditions!

Postal strike in Coventry

Postal strike in Coventry

The following article written by a CWU member in Coventry was carried in ‘The Socialist’ newspaper earlier this month in the aftermath of the postponement of the CWU strike. 

By a Coventry postal worker

Communication Workers Union (CWU) members are worried that their union was the first to blink as they stared into the eyes of the privatised Royal Mail bosses.

Having gained a resounding 78% ‘Yes’ vote for industrial action, members may have felt that they were being led up the garden path as the CWU ‘stood down’ from the planned 24-hour strike on 4 November.

While talks are complicated and on-going – calling off strike action could well play into the hands of the employer who will continue to drag out talks in the hope support for action will drop.

A ground-breaking deal that protects workers’ terms and conditions is worth fighting for but we know that goes against the ethos of a privatised Royal Mail, particularly in the worst capitalist crisis for 70 years.

An improved pay offer is likely to be offered and an agreement is expected before 13 November, as both the CWU and management clear their diaries for talks.

But workers are right to be concerned about their future terms and conditions. The big Royal Mail shareholders will try to call the shots in the years to come – with a race to the bottom.

Bosses want the CWU to sign up to a three-year no-strike agreement. This would be a serious mistake for the CWU even to contemplate this.

It would give management a free rein to pursue its agenda of increased workloads and savage budget cuts.

Instead of taking strike action on 4 November, CWU reps across Royal Mail and the Post Office attended a national briefing in London.

While this was an opportunity to fire up union reps, it was not as effective as the collective workforce taking industrial action.

Pulling back from strike action while a deal is not yet on the table presents a real danger that Royal Mail could undermine the strength of feeling within the union by delaying tactics.

The CWU has a strong mandate for taking strike action. To ensure that no further momentum is lost in this dispute there has to be a strict timetable for the talks with the threat of strike action if nothing productive has been gained.

CWU should meet all other unions currently in dispute to discuss mass coordinated strike action as a step towards a 24-hour general strike to stop the Tory-led austerity offensive.

In any case, if Labour had given a commitment to re-nationalise Royal Mail, the plug would have been pulled on the sell-off.

That inaction should prompt a debate within our union about our continued affiliation to Labour and the need for a new mass workers’ party based on the unions