From Rover to Corus

Rover gives a warning on the future of Corus

Bosses and some politicans are telling Corus steel workers on Teesside that the only way to save jobs is to look towards a buy-out by a private equity consortium. The workers should remember what happened at Rover Longbridge in Birmingham after a similar takeover.The factory employed 40,000 workers at its height. Its closure in 2005 decimated the area.Today the whole site has been razed to the ground but the promised “regeneration” is nowhere to be seen.Staff paid a high price for the closure of Longbridge. Debt, repossessions and family breakdown were common.There were even suicides and one longstanding worker collapsed and died on hearing that he had lost his job.Some 6,300 people lost their jobs when the plant closed.Around 90 percent have since found new jobs, but two thirds are in “service sector” jobs with median incomes of 22 percent less than they earned at Longbridge.That means that, on average, each of these workers earns £6,000 less per year than they did at Longbridge.Ten years ago, when the plant came under threat of closure, 100,000 Rover workers and their supporters marched to save it.Their unions squandered the mood for a fightback. Instead, they placed all their hopes in the Phoenix consortium, which bought Longbridge from BMW for just £10.Workers were still prepared to fight. In 2003 they voted to strike over pay, but the union leaders didn’t act on the vote.The dodgy gang of four at Phoenix profited from Longbridge’s closure. They siphoned off £42 million for themselves in “wages” and pensions before it collapsed.The collapse of Phoenix paved the way for the Nanjing Automotive Company to asset strip and move equipment and production to China.There was an alternative to Phoenix, and it lay with workers at the Longbridge plant. Socialists inside the plant and their supporters called for an occupation of the plant and demanded that New Labour nationalise Rover.A successful occupation could have mobilised support from the 100,000 who marched in solidarity with Rover workers.Corus workers, the 50,000 Birmingham city council workers facing cuts and the 8,000Land Rover workers, who are constantly told they could suffer the same fate, should know that the defeat at Longbridge was not inevitable.An alternative hung in the balance.More voices calling for strikes and occupation can tip the scales in our favour this time around.

Letter to Socialist Worker Louise Rathbone, Birmingham

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