Car workers abandoned by union leaders
Toyota car workers at plants around the country yesterday voted by more than two to one to accept a 10% cut in pay and hours, which was recommended to them by UNITE and GMB unions on the spurious grounds that the negotiated “deal” was better than redundancy.
Peter Tsouvallaris, the UNITE representative at Toyota, argued that the deal would mean that workers would not suffer the fate of the 1,000 workers at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), 850 at Mini and 1,200 at Nissan who have their jobs cut recently. But taking a pay cut won’t save Toyota. Predictions are that the company will face an operating loss of £3.4 billion by the end of March due to sharp falls in global sales. Sales of new cars in February in Britain were 22% lower than a year earlier.
And while the unions betray their members by peddling hours and pay cuts as the lesser of two evils, 1,000 jobs are disappearing each week in the Birmingham area alone in companies supplying the major manufacturers. And union leaders are doing nothing about it.
Other car manufacturers are in the same position as Toyota. General Motors introduced a three-year wage freeze for Canadian workers earlier this month. GM Europe, Vauxhall’s parent company last week warned that it was about to go bankrupt. GM spokesman said that "everything will fall over" if support for the company was not forthcoming. This includes plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton, which employ 4,000 people. GM is seeking huge bail-outs from European governments as a price for keeping plants open.
Is there any help forthcoming from the Trades Union Congress about how to cope with the threat of the sack? Well, actually no. In two booklets, called Coping with the Downturn and Facing Redundancy, pains are taken to explain the difference between the “sack” and “redundancy”, claiming that “redundancy is a fair reason for dismissal”.
Clearly the TUC believes that unemployment is inevitable and that people must accept the “fate” that capitalism is dishing out to them. It sees its role as mediating between workers, their employers and the government to convince workers that there is no alternative and that they must accept the pain and find ways to live in poverty.
The stark fact is that no amount of pay freezing and shorter hours will resolve the massive over-capacity that has built up in the industry over past decades, not to speak of the ongoing collapse of the global capitalist economy. As to the claim by union bureaucrats that their “solution” is the lesser of two evils, well, as someone once said, the lesser of two evils is still an evil.
Instead of accepting the demands of the global corporations, there has to be an organised resistance to the economic slump. It’s not going to come from UNITE and GMB leaders, who have run up the white flag, nor TUC bureaucrats. If Toyota and other corporations are going bust, it is because the economic system they are part of has fallen off a cliff.
The real way forward is for global car business to be run on an entirely different, not-for-profit way in a re-shaped transport industry. In any case, what is the point of the vast over-capacity in the motor industry, which churns out unneeded metal boxes while carbon-induced climate change takes the planet to hell on wheels?
It’s time for the biggest industrial and social change ever. Toyota and GM workers could be making really useful, ecologically-sound forms of transport. The first step towards that goal is an occupation of threatened plants and an ousting of the executives whose failed policies have brought the company to its knees and the removal of union officials who have absolutely no intention of leading a fight back.
12 March 2009