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Peugeot workers "pushed too far": No choice but to fight back
TO THE shock of management and union alike, Peugeot cars were hit by two one-day strikes at the end of July.
Workers stood firm and maintained their decision, in their third ballot, to strike against arrogant management plans to impose new working arrangements.
The all-out strike scheduled to start on 21 August, has been suspended pending further negotiations and management have been forced to concede they will not impose the new working practices.
But if there is any sign of going back on this, the workforce's decision to strike should be implemented as planned.
Workers at the Ryton plant, outside Coventry, talked to Dave Griffiths, Coventry Socialist Party, on the most recent strike day.
"This would be the seventh new speed-up and shift-change in just over ten years. Workers who have been pushed too far have had enough. "But the greedy Peugeot bosses have seen profits rise 153% to £455 million. Workers had no choice but to fight back.
"Bullying management was stood up to at last. And they were shaken. They even offered £100 for every worker not to strike.
"Speed-ups threaten to destroy our already precarious family life. We're not humans we're automatons... with a limited battery life. For example there used to be 450 workers on trim, now there's just 143.
"Now the company know we're not robots. We must be united and resolute to win this battle. If we don't stop them now our lives will be made intolerable in the future.
"Peugeot need 206 production, the workers know it, but the union ignore it. The latest ballot was won 1,270 to 1,239, but the union recommended the company position all along.
"They were just as shaken by the result. On the first morning's picket one woman from the trim said: 'This ballot result is a massive vote of no confidence in the union'.
"In the press, engineering union, AEEU official Duncan Simpson didn't explain the workers' feelings but said the company 'had been very reasonable', even stopping the track to explain the deal! He went on to say that investment would be threatened. Workers were fuming.
"No wonder the press said: 'More pay for less hours - what's the problem at Peugeot?' As if we're morons and would strike if that was really the deal.
"Luckily the well-attended picket lines allowed strikers to explain the truth to TV cameras. With the help of Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, we got across why we've had enough.
"Now we need the unions out of management's camp and behind the workers.
"Throughout Britain workers are facing the same problems, that's why many round here support us, and workers throughout the country have an interest in us winning."
Socialist Party support welcomed
COVENTRY SOCIALIST Party was quick to mobilise support for the 3,000 striking Peugeot workers.
Following Coventry council's banning of a motion of support for the carworkers, submitted by the three Socialist councillors (See last week's The Socialist) we organised a public meeting for the day before the ballot result was announced.
The meeting was a success, over 80 attended with nearly half of them Peugeot workers from two of the three shifts. The other shift was working.
The speakers were a Socialist Party member from C shift, a parts department worker and Dave Nellist from the chair.
The first speaker said: "As for our unions, their handling of this issue can only be described as a farce". Applause and cheering broke out from every Peugeot worker there.
Workers' anger at having to fight their union as well as management was plain: "Workers rejected the union recommendation by 86%. Still they recommended it again. Workers still voted 59% -41% to strike. The union never articulated the workers' case and they and New Labour then tried to silence Socialist councillors trying to argue it. Then they recommended the offer again to another ballot. It's 'ballot till they got the result they wanted.'"
"Management don't announce speed-ups or job losses, the union does. Who's paying them? It's like a company union, the workers are standing up, but the union isn't."
Workers gave graphic accounts of the effects of the intensifying company demands on them and their families' lives. They told us they had felt they were fighting alone but were greatly encouraged by the support shown at the meeting.
Speakers condemned New Labour's snub to Peugeot workers. "What's the point of having a local council if they can't even verbally defend local workers against multinational companies? No wonder fewer people vote in elections."
35 attended the next Socialist Party branch meeting, including 12 Peugeot workers. After a victory in the ballot and the day's picketing, there was renewed determination to resist management's demands. The main discussion was how to reclaim our unions.
Some workers have said they'll join the Socialist Party and others are interested. A support group will be established but Peugeot workers were keen to organise to win a fighting and democratic union.
- Four workers took part in the successful Socialist Party stall in town the following Saturday, to petition for support.
PRESS STATEMENT from Socialist councillors, Karen McKay, Rob Windsor and Dave Nellist.
"We'll back you. So far everyone seems to have been against you. The media, the New Labour council and even some officials. But the Socialist Party promises you our full support in your fight to protect you and your families lives.
"We are confident that the working people of Coventry will support you as will workers around the country and internationally. We will do what we can to mobilise that support".
Listen to the membership
SOME OF the Peugeot workers' anger was shown when two workers circulated separate letters they had written to their stewards.
In the first Gary writes: "As a member of the AEEU for 12 years I am very disappointed and angry with both the AEEU and T&G unions... as members we should have a say... but this is not happening.
The convenor Mr McHendry has made his attitude to shop-floor workers very clear. To use his words we are 'brain dead, stupid and have nothing between the ears".
"If Mr McHendry has so little respect for the shop floor then I feel I have no choice but to ask for his resignation. As we don't want a representative that has no respect for his members, we expect our convenors to act according to the wishes of the majority and not the company's wishes.
"Over the last ten years the shop floor has given to the company time and time again. With such things as tea breaks, shift changes, higher production, better quality, the moving of holidays and early pay deals... now the company and union reps, with no thought for what we want, have just tried to blind us in a sea of technical mumbo-jumbo. We know the company will profit a lot more than us, including being able to get 200 cars a week built for just the cost of materials."
In the other letter, Nigel a TGWU member for 12 years wrote...
"The gulf between the wishes of the shop floor and that of the Joint Negotiating Committee has never been so apparent."
He describes the convenor's remarks as: "Contemptible, insulting and arrogant, and directed to all shop floor workers.
"As a result of this I would therefore ask that you the elected shop stewards don't lose sight of the fact that shopfloor workers are the membership and that you have been elected to represent our wishes.
"It is perhaps time to stand up and be counted, to represent the wishes and views of your electorate rather than those of the convenors... cosseted in some sort of comfort zone, only too willing to oblige company wishes at every turn
"Listen to the membership... It is your duty to represent our feelings honestly and to oppose and depose those representatives who don't have the sincerest and best intentions in mind for the workforce...We all have to live with these conditions for years and years to come."
What about the workers Mr Blair?
AFTER COVENTRY council's refusal to discuss Dave Nellist's resolution supporting the Peugeot workers, these two letters were printed in the Coventry Evening Telegraph. The headline was "What about the workers Mr Blair?"
"Throughout the dispute with the company, Mr Nellist's party has been the only one to side with the workers...
"If Labour is refusing to support Mr Nellist and the workers for their own electoral, or petty ideological reasons, then Labour does not deserve to run the Council. Keep up the good work Dave!"
"Has Labour got any opinion about the Peugeot strike? Do they actually know how the Peugeot workers feel? Or are they afraid to commit themselves to a point of view, in case they offend someone?
"We need more conviction politicians like Dave Nellist. We need fewer careerists such as those who have found their way into Labour."
In The Socialist 4 August 2000: