Last month, after 100 years of production, the lights went out at
the Rover plant in Longbridge for the last time. This marked the end of
the last British volume car producer.
In 2000 BMW tried to shut down Rover. That was in spite of hundreds
of millions of pounds in government subsidies over the years, which
they were not asked to return. Instead of nationalising Rover at that
point, which they could have done free of charge, the government along
with the trade unions brokered a deal with Phoenix Venture Holdings
(PVH). PVH bought Rover for a token £10 from the previous owner BMW,
who also paid a £450 million interest free loan to sweeten the deal.
In this way PVH, in reality four executives; Towers, Stevenson, Beale and Edwards (the Phoenix Four)
were able to acquire a multi-million pound company for a tenner. They
say that you get on in business by taking risks and putting everything
on the line. These four executives put up the price of a pint of beer
each and walked away with a billion. Over the last five years they,
along with Rover CEO Kevin Howe, have awarded themselves £40 million in
pay and benefits. These are ring-fenced so the receivers will not take
a penny of it. There are no shareholders to answer to; the Phoenix Four are the sole owners of PVH.
Where has all the money gone?
In the run-up to the collapse The Guardian reported
financial irregularities. In their five-year term PVH set up a web of
companies between themselves and Rover and somewhere in the morass
money has gone missing. For example eleven thousand cars, worth £90
million, have disappeared from the inventory since 2000; there is no
explanation of where they have gone. Rover’s income over the past five
years was at least £1.3 billion, while losses have only totalled £900
million. Where is the missing £400 million?
Four hundred million pounds missing; but now 6,000 workers in the
plant and 20,000 supplying it have redundancy hanging over their heads
– £400 million split evenly between the Longbridge workforce would give
them £75,000 each. But they will get a maximum of £3360, less than two
months wages for most of them.
This is a bombshell for the workers who have mortgages to pay and
children to feed. It will be more difficult for them to find decent
jobs than the papers are making out. One thing that there is no
shortage of in the Birmingham area is unemployed skilled industrial
workers and they will all being going for the same jobs. To add insult
to injury many of the workers who were offered cheap credit deals on
their cars, as a benefit, are being faced with demands for immediate
payment of anything up to £10,000 from Rover’s creditors.
The government now wants to provide a few crumbs for retraining ‘it is sad but what can you do? It’s the market.’
The market should not be more important than people’s
lives! In the 1970s when Rover was in trouble the Wilson government
took the company into public ownership, even the Tory government of
Heath nationalised Rolls Royce to prevent its collapse!
Some on the Labour left like Mark Seddon, who sits on the Labour
Party NEC, were calling for government support to keep the company
going. He called for the government to take a stake in Rover along the
lines of Renault in France in order to reduce its dependence on the
market. One suggestion that he made was that all future contracts for
police cars should be placed with Rover.
Many on the Labour left seek to shield the worst effects of the
market by pouring in state aid to subsidise profits and bribe the
capitalists to keep the plant open. This is not a solution, as was the
case with BMW in 2000, it will not stop them from pulling the plug
anyway when it suits them. It amounts to nothing more than subsidising
Nationalisation under workers’ control
The problem with past nationalisations is that they were done in the
interests of business. They provided cheap coal, steel or transport etc
for the British capitalists. Company structures were not changed and in
many cases the same managers, and fancy pay-packets, remained.
The only solution for Rover is nationalisation under the control of
workers themselves. There should be no question of job losses. If there
is overcapacity in the car market the skills of Rover workers could be
used for other socially useful projects such as producing transport
vehicles as part of an integrated transport policy.
Since Labour came to power one million manufacturing jobs have been
lost and replaced with low paid service sector jobs. We must fight
against any further job losses. We are fighting for decent, skilled and
well-paid jobs for this generation and future ones. The unions must
demand that the Labour government nationalises Rover and puts it under
the control of the workers. The unions could use our industrial and
political muscle to make sure that they do. We also need a coordinated
campaign to take our struggle into the Labour Party to kick out the
Blairites and put forward socialist policies in the in the interest of
the working class.
- Prevent further asset stripping by occupying the plant.
- Demand the opening of the books for union inspection.
- Demand that the Labour government nationalises Rover under workers control and management.
that the Labour government expand and use the skills base in Rover to
implement an integrated transport plan as part of a socialist plan of