Friday, 25 September 2009

Jaguar and an attack on workers shrouded in concessions

Today's Liverpool Echo reports that "Jaguar Land Rover’s decision to build the new low-carbon “baby” Range Rover at Halewood will secure the plant’s future for at least a decade." This news "will come as a relief to workers at Halewood where JLR is about to cease production of the Jaguar X-Type, leaving just one model at the site – the Freelander – and leading to 300 voluntary redundancies."

Workers at JLR factories around the country have faced an uncertain future for over a year, with the company's attempts to weather the recession at the workers' expense inspiring several unofficial walkouts earlier in the year, and this would seem to be the safety net that they have been waiting for.

However, the news was somewhat double-edged. Although the move in Halewood will secure jobs "for a decade" and "800 new jobs will be created at the factory," there are closures ahead as the company "will decide next year whether to close its factory at Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands, which makes Jaguars, or its site at Solihull, which makes Range Rovers." This leaves the future of a significant amount of the firms 14,500 workers hanging in the balance.

Unite the Union, which represents JLR workers, has bitterly opposed this announcement. Although the union "welcomes moves to 'green' the JLR product range, Unite is deeply concerned that an agreement struck with the union barely six months ago will not now be upheld and that the company is seeking to close the final salary pension scheme." According to Dave Osborne, national secretary for the automotive sector, the company has betrayed the promises made to its employees;
Earlier this year, this company and our union agreed a framework agreement intended to support JLR through this tough economic period. Our members said then that JLR could not be trusted to uphold that agreement. Today this has proven to be true.

In April our members agreed to changes to terms and conditions of their employment in order to give the company financial security, but like Oliver Twist they are coming back for more. It appears that the company is making our members pay for their failure to secure government funding.

We recognise the difficult trading environment for JLR, which is why Unite and its members have done more to help JLR during this recession than we have with any other company. But while the company may say that the business cannot sustain further liabilities, the truth is by far the biggest liability is the company's leadership team.

Some of the problems the company faces today exist as a result of past management failures. These failures were at the hands of the same team who today want our members to lose their pensions. Well, Unite's members will not be paying for management's incompetence and we will not stand by while those responsible continue to wreck havoc on this business.
Despite the concilliatory platitudes that public figures in all reformist trade unions have to make towards companies, the sentiments expressed in Osborne's statement ring true. As I have said previously, since the beginning of the recession employers have been looking for every way possible to roll back workers' rights and privileges, and to make them pay for an economic crisis that was thrust upon them. That we are seeing this so vigorously now, and at a company which for a long time has had strong union presence and as a result largely more favourable terms and conditions than most workers enjoy, is a sign of how far this trend has progressed.

Whilst Alastair Darling might tell us that he expects an end to the recession "in months," a very different story is emerging at grassroots level. Economic indicators, stock indexes, and other totems of the faith masquerading as science that is Economics speak of improvements and upturns, but they do so in an economy built on speculation and money that doen't exist. In the real economy, people continue to face redundancies or wage stagnation, and to respond with significant industrial unrest.

It would seem, then, that efforts by the bosses to grind down the workers in a time of uncertainty has barely begun. But then, so has the fightback.