Britain - MG Rover, Ford, BMW, Peugeot - whether "cow-boys" or car giants, the capitalists are all "rogue" bosses!

May-June 2005

When the owners of Phoenix Venture Holdings announced they had put MG Rover into administration, on the night of 7 April, the 6,100 workers of the Longbridge factory were confronted with the immediate prospect of redundancy - and it looked as if they were not even going to get paid that week's wages! True, the collapse of the company had been expected for quite a while, but the workforce had certainly not expected to be left high and dry, at just a moment's notice. In any case, no contingency plans had been made for them.

Labour politicians' immediate reaction, however, had much more to do with the potential for a political fallout for themselves than the catastrophe for the workforce. Gauging from ministers' frenzy of damage limitation that set in straight away, the timing of the collapse was seen to be a potential disaster for the government, coming as it did, in the middle of their general election campaign. The giant Longbridge plant is situated near to several marginal Labour-held constituencies - Birmingham Northfield, Edgbaston, Yardley and Reddich - the latter held by industry minister Jacqui Smith.

This is without doubt why Tony Blair himself flew to Birmingham directly from Rome, where he had been attending the Pope's funeral - in the order of things, the dead Pope was apparently even more important to this religious bigot than thousands of job losses! This is probably also why DTI minister Patricia Hewitt made sure she had T&G union leader, Tony Woodley next to her, when she went on TV to confirm the company's collapse. After all, he was the "man who saved Longbridge" - by selling the take-over of MG Rover by Phoenix to the Longbridge workers, in 2000... This at least allowed the government, with the unions beside it, to look as if it was doing something about the MG Rover disaster.

And a disaster it certainly is, not only for the workers employed directly by MG Rover, but for the whole of the West Midlands region and beyond, where hundreds of small and medium supplier companies with an estimated 16,000 workers depend partly or wholly on this plant, not to mention 7,800 workers in Rover dealerships.

The tip of the iceberg

While the job losses connected to MG Rover are probably one of the worst single blows that car workers have been dealt so far by the bosses, they are not happening in isolation.

Job-cutting programmes are being implemented by a whole number of car companies, right across the country. But unlike the case of MG Rover, these job cuts cannot simply be explained away by using the convenient excuse that these companies are bankrupt, or that they are owned by "cow boys" like the Phoenix venture capitalists. Because in all these other cases, the job slashers are among the biggest names in world car manufacturing.

For example, last year, Vauxhall, the British subsidiary of US giant General Motors, cut 300 jobs at its Ellesmere Port assembly plant, plus another 170 when it closed its engine plant. Peugeot, Europe's second richest car manufacturer, announced this March that there would be 850 job cuts at its Ryton plant near Coventry, on top of 1400 jobs cut last year. The US giant, Ford, is in the process of closing down the Coventry Brown's Lane Jaguar plant. This will cut 450 production jobs and 750 administrative jobs, and there will be more jobs cut at other Jaguar plants. At the same time, Ford, which also owns Land Rover, has announced the "transfer" of 1,200 Land Rover jobs from Solihull to Halewood, when the production of the new Freelander moves there in 2006 - which is another way of cutting net jobs. What is more, these examples do not take into account the continual erosion of jobs in all car plants, whereby retiring workers are either not replaced, or replaced by temporary workers.

In fact the job cuts announced in British car plants over the past six months alone, have risen far above even the devastating level of the 2-year period between 2000-2002. It was in 2000 that the Rover car plant at Longbridge last came under threat and was "saved" by the dubious venture capitalists who came to be known as the "Phoenix Four". In that same year, Ford announced that it was terminating production of the Fiesta car at Dagenham and General Motors announced that it would end production at its Vauxhall factory in Luton. This meant that at least 8,000 direct car production workers lost their jobs. But by the end of 2002, when this process was complete, 20,000 jobs in car manufacturing (including component production) had disappeared - over the space of two years.

Today, in the space of just a few months, over 10,000 direct car manufacturing jobs are being axed. Add to this the indirect jobs in component plants and dealerships, and it means that tens of thousands of jobs are under immediate threat, while many have been cut already in the last weeks and months.

This represents a serious attack against car and component workers, not only in the Midlands but nationally, and also against the working class as a whole, given the on-going cuts of manufacturing jobs without any let-up - to the point where nearly half a million permanent production jobs have disappeared since Labour first came to power.

However, despite the spurious "explanation" given for the collapse of MG Rover - that it is all due to "rogue" bosses - the current wave of redundancies is caused by the cynical profiteering of immensely wealthy companies, which are striving to squeeze even more profits out of a reduced workforce. In fact, as we shall see later, this is also true in the case of MG Rover, although in a more indirect fashion.

Phoenix rides in - to clean up...

Indeed, the collapse of MG Rover is but the last episode of the saga of the state-owned conglomerate British Leyland, which started in the early 1980s. BL had been formed in 1975 by the then Labour government, from a motley crew of loss-making car companies, in order to bail out their owners and provide the investment that they had failed to make. But when the Tories came into office, in 1979, their aim was to cut labour costs as much as possible and hand over the profitable parts of BL to private companies. Of course, the beneficiaries of this asset-stripping operation, financed by public funds, were to be the private car giants.

Jaguar was the first bit to go, when it was floated on the stock market in 1984 before becoming a fully-owned subsidiary of Ford, in 1989. Eventually, a trimmed down BL - now renamed Rover Group - was sold for a pittance to engineering giant British Aerospace, in 1988, which immediately proceeded to make as much money out of the company's remaining properties as it possibly could. Then, in 1994, BAe sold on the Rover Group to the German giant BMW, for five times the price it had paid for it.

By purchasing the Rover Group, BMW had first and foremost bought the right to establish itself on the British market. This was the time when the number of BMWs began to increase phenomenally on British roads. At the same time, BMW went on to do what its predecessor had done before - it began asset-stripping. By March 2000, it had sold Rover's prestigious Land Rover operation to Ford, from which the latter then proceeded to make huge profits. After this, BMW's problem was to find a way of dispensing with the less profitable parts of Rover, and in particular the Longbridge plant with its 9000-strong workforce, where the old, non-re-vamped Rover 45 and 25 models were built. So this plant was put up for sale.

The bid which BMW most favoured came from "Alchemy", a venture capitalist outfit. But Alchemy's plan was to limit production to the MG sports car, ditch the Rover 25 and 45 and strip the other plentiful assets. This would have meant also "ditching" the majority of the workforce and many more workers at suppliers.

Predictably, the threat against so many jobs provoked huge anger from the workforce, the local population and beyond. The union leadership came under pressure to do something. So when they called a demonstration at the beginning of April 2000, 80,000 people poured into Birmingham's streets to protest against BMW's plans.

At the time, the predicament for the Labour government was not unlike the situation it found itself in this April, when MG Rover finally collapsed. There was a general election looming and in the context of cuts in car jobs by Ford and GM, there was always a danger of large scale protests, such as the one which had taken place in Birmingham, spreading elsewhere. Blair was not going to take such a risk.

It was at this point that a new bid appeared out of nowhere. Whether it was initiated by the government itself, or by the union machineries, or both, as some opposition politicians claimed, or even neither, is a secondary issue. The important point is that, in substance, this "rescue bid" was not all that different from Alchemy's, except for one thing: it appeared to involve far fewer job cuts in the short term and was, therefore, more "saleable" to the workforce and the electorate.

This bid came from Phoenix, another group of venture capitalists, led by a former Rover boss, John Towers. Towers vowed to "save" Rover as a volume car producer, claiming that if the right partners were found for "product development", the company could be seeing modest profit within a few years. Despite the dubious nature of such predictions, the government and union leaders immediately grasped this straw.

For BMW, this was a way of getting rid of Longbridge on the cheap. Of course there was a price tag for BMW: Phoenix only paid a token £10 for Longbridge, but got in return, in addition to MG Rover's assets, a £427m interest-free loan, repayable by 2049 - and then only if the company was in profit - plus £350m worth of unsold cars. But this price tag was quite reasonable from BMW's point of view, compared to the cost of redundancy payments it might have had to shell out for all 9,000 workers - and the risk of a damaging backlash in BMW's other car factory, in Cowley, where it was expecting high profits from the new Mini range.

Not only did the Labour government go along with this convenient "solution", which allowed Blair to appear as if he was taking care of workers' jobs, while helping out BMW, but so did Tony Woodley, who was then still the T&G's chief official for the automotive industry. In this capacity, Woodley took it upon himself to convince the workforce that this was a "victory" and that there was no other option anyway, even though it entailed an initial 1,500 job cuts and 1,500 more to come.

So those who really paid the first down-payment for this deal were the Longbridge workers themselves. And, as it turns out today, they are now being made to pay the full price, while the Labour and union leaders are throwing up their arms, claiming to have done everything they possibly could, blaming "market forces", "competition" and the Phoenix "rogue bosses" all in the same breath.

But the real godfathers in this wholesale slaughter of jobs, those who benefited so much from the asset stripping of the old British Leyland - Ford, BAe and BMW - are allowed to remain completely off the hook. So much so, that BMW's UK director, Jim O'Donnell, feels that he can get away with describing the four directors of Phoenix Venture Holdings, as "the unacceptable face of capitalism". As if BMW and the other godfathers, were more "acceptable" faces of capitalism!

...but is not quick enough on the draw

Of course, the Phoenix Four "cow boys" are certainly unscrupulous bosses, who are prepared to do just about anything to line their own pockets. But their main crime is to have been caught red-handed, whereas the "respectable" godfathers of capitalism, although they use exactly the same methods, only on a much larger scale, have the means to protect themselves from prying eyes!

Over the next few years following its take-over, the Phoenix group claimed that it was actively looking for outside investment - with what were considered "serious" approaches to Malaysia's Proton, and China's Brilliance car companies - but it met with failure every time. However, all the while, it was in fact busy stripping MG Rover's assets and selling land. It placed an estimated £1.56bn cash from its asset sales into a network of 25 purpose-built subsidiaries, so that none of it could be claimed by future administrators of MG Rover. One of these companies, Tectronic 2000, held the £427m interest-free loan from BMW, which it apparently lent in turn to the MG Rover, with interest! Today there is speculation that Tectronic 2000 could turn out to be a major creditor of MG Rover, and therefore give the Phoenix Four a claim over some of its assets, now that MG Rover is insolvent!

A scandal did emerge last year, when it came to light that the Phoenix Four had awarded themselves a £10m personal loan from the business and funded a £16.5m pension pot for themselves as directors of the company. Of course, this was not much compared with the pension nest built by top FTSE directors. What made this particularly shocking, however, was that the same directors had done nothing to make up for the £67m deficit in the MG Rover workers' pension fund! There also seemed to be a sum of up to £300m from the original dowry and sales which was not accounted for.

Of course, some fingers were pointed at the dodgy goings-on of the Phoenix Four even long before the recent debacle. While they paid themselves vast salaries and accumulated pensions, the company registered big losses every year. But, regardless of the profiteering of these characters, it was obvious that the absence of investment meant that sooner or later the company would go to the wall.

Then, along came the Chinese state-owned company SAIC, last November - in what appeared to be the nick of time, with an offer to buy MG Rover and with a plan to build some cars in Britain and maybe others in China. But then they, too, withdrew their offer, having already acquired the Rover marques and intellectual property rights to two K series engines for £67m last year.

It was this withdrawal by SAIC which sparked the current crisis. Of course, now everybody is pointing fingers. A Financial Times editorial, entitled "A tale of greed and gullibility" (Phoenix's greed and the workers' gullibility, according to this bosses' paper, as if workers ever had any say in this matter!) described the conduct of the Phoenix Four as "capitalism at its ugliest", but went on to say "there is no suggestion that Phoenix broke any laws. They did what any ruthless entrepreneur would have done in their situation: incentivise, strip assets, take cash out early." This paper did not follow this idea through, however, by pointing out that Phoenix had only followed, on its more modest scale, the example set by its predecessor BMW!

Blair runs for cover

The government was aware of the damage a collapsed deal and worse, a collapsed company, could do in the middle of an election campaign. There was not only the possibility of Labour losing votes in marginal constituencies in the Midlands and among its working class electorate in general, but also the effect it might have on its middle-class vote, when one of the government's greatest boasts was the wonderful job it has done with the economy and how attractive Britain had become to foreign investors.

During the weeks and months leading up to MG Rover's collapse, Labour ministers had been busy trying to give the potential deal between Phoenix and SAIC some credibility, even if, or perhaps because, the deal was somewhat shaky, right from the start. Already in November last year, when it was clear that MG Rover was in trouble, and when negotiations with SAIC first began, chancellor Brown offered Rover a deferment of VAT payments. When he visited China in February this year, he again pushed the deal with SAIC. Then in the weeks running up to 7 April, a "bridging loan" of £100m was offered by the government to help pay supplier creditors - and keep up the company's appearance of "solvency" - while talks with SAIC supposedly continued.

Two senior DTI officials were sent to China on 31 March, and according to the DTI, minister, their job was to "finalise the deal" with SAIC. As it later transpired, this was a fairy tale: by that time, the talks between MG Rover bosses and SAIC had already been terminated. Nevertheless, this "non-interfering" government had wanted to be seen sending its officials to China to "finalise a deal" in which it actually had no official say! It seems that while SAIC and Phoenix had no expectations whatsoever of any deal, the government pulled out every stop to keep this phantom deal alive - as if its own life depended on it!

Predictably, after Rover's collapse was announced, the workers did not come first for the DTI, which first awarded MG Rover suppliers with a £40m grant. But then it took the rather unusual step of paying Longbridge workers' wages for one week, until the administrators got a grip on the companies finances and the closure could proceed. Obviously, in the middle of an election campaign, Blair wanted to present the image of a "caring" government - which none of his rivals could dare to criticise - while avoiding the risk of a legitimate explosion of anger among the workforce, should they be deprived overnight of any source of income.

On 15 April, while workers were hurriedly being handed redundancy notices, the government announced a "£150m package of support for MG Rover workers and West Midlands community". This included the money already given to suppliers, £24m to help "otherwise viable businesses affected by Rover's collapse and for other purposes agreed by the MG Rover Taskforce" and £50m for re-training. Ironically, for a government which never hesitates to play the anti-European card when it suits it, some of this money will come from the European Social Fund, while it intends to ask for more EU funds for supply chain support and training!

As to Rover workers, they were told that their redundancy payments would be just the statutory minimum of one week's pay per year of employment, up to a maximum of 12 years. And yet, there are many who have clocked up 36 years or more! On the 2 May, it was announced that some 4,000 workers had received "speeded up" payments averaging £5,000 each, with lower grade workers receiving a lot less. But how long can such a paltry sum last? In addition, workers who recently bought Rover cars under the employee scheme were told that they must either buy them - albeit at a reduced rate - or return them, which most had to do.

Meanwhile, dancing on the graves of workers' jobs is no problem for this government. Advantage West Midlands, one among the galaxy of agencies set up to channel public funds towards private businesses, has already announced it will invest £42m to redevelop the Longbridge site and establish a technology park there, plus it will invest £19.3m in an Automotive Research Centre. In other words, plans for the demolition of the plant have already been made!

Following Rover's collapse, T&G leader, Tony Woodley, was quick to vouch for the government's efforts: the prime minister "could not have done more than he did" said Woodley, and even "kept the whole of the government waiting" while he spoke to the Chinese premier on the phone for 25 minutes the day before the collapse! Given the time for translation, that makes 12 minutes waiting time for the cabinet - or just about 7 seconds for each Longbridge worker thrown onto the scrapheap. This may be enough to impress Woodley, but certainly not the workers concerned!

Looking for the "real culprits"?

However, at least before the election, the government still wanted to show its determination to bring the "real culprits" to account. So Gordon Brown demanded that the Phoenix directors return some of their £40 million of pensions and salaries, and that they set up a fund for redundant workers, something that Tony Woodley echoed gratefully.

And predictably, an "enquiry" is to be set up under Sir Bryan Nicholson, chairman of the Financial Reporting Council, into the company's "complex finances". In fact Phoenix responded to this by saying that every year their accounts have been subject to audit by Deloitte and Touche - a firm which has regular government contracts - and have also been examined by a DTI select committee as well as "union financial experts" (whatever they are). Said Phoenix "So-called experts and commentators who are now casting doubts on our accounts should bear in mind that they are also casting doubts on these institutions, including the findings of the Trade and Industry select committee." They have a point.

However whether these alleged attempts at bringing the culprits to account will survive after the election, is another question. But even if they do, one thing is certain: the real culprits will not be targeted, only their sidekicks! And whatever findings come out of this enquiry, it will not get the Longbridge workers into equivalent jobs nor compensate them for what they will have lost.

Indeed, there has been no question of asking the three companies - BAe, BMW, Ford - and their shareholders, who benefited from the asset-stripping of British Leyland, to open their pocket books in order to help out in the MG Rover crisis. Neither Blair and Brown, nor the union leaders have even hinted at the possibility of looking for culprits beyond the Phoenix "rogue capitalists".

BMW, in particular, is left completely off the hook. Yet while Phoenix's 5-year interlude at Rover may have been seen as a windfall for the Phoenix small-time cowboys, it was the "big cowboy", BMW who really gained out of it. First, it was saved from being cast as the "bad guy" who had shut down Longbridge - and there was no backlash to face, even if one third of the workforce lost their jobs, and the remaining two thirds (plus those who kept their jobs in the supplier chain) at best got a stay of execution. Possibly BMW, (along with other car companies) was also "saved" from a wave of car-workers' anger, which, at the time, might have spread from Rover, to Ford, to Vauxhall and beyond.

There is another significant aspect to BMW's hidden gains from the Phoenix deal. BMW had not done very much investing at Longbridge in the 6 years of its tenure. The only updated model it had brought out was the Rover 75 - but this was being made at the Oxford Rover plant at Cowley. By 2000, BMW had decided to revive the "Mini" brand and had plans to produce a new, revamped version at Cowley. So Cowley workers, whose natural sympathies lay with the Longbridge workers - and all the more so, because many were known personally by them, since they were bussed in to help on the Rover 75 - were blackmailed into keeping their own heads down. This meant agreeing to further cuts in their conditions, keeping their mouths shut about Longbridge - and their feet inside the Cowley plant - with the "award" of the privilege of building the new Mini, if they complied.

So the Rover 75 lines were dismantled at Cowley and sent to Longbridge, while the new lines for the Mini were installed, providing an opportunity for BMW to start from scratch and a way to "revamp" its workforce as well, by early retirements and progressively replacing permanent workers with temps as Mini production began. In fact they began recruiting their first batch of temps straight away, from the Midlands, from among the redundant Longbridge workers!

The Cowley "Mini" workforce now has temporary workers as a permanent feature - and they make up the majority of the production workers on the lines - 1,800 temps, compared with 1,200 permanent workers. Two temp agencies have their offices in the plant itself, and act as an extra layer of management for these workers to contend with. And if today, BMW's "Mini" is yielding "maxi" profits, it is thanks to the way BMW managed to make the most of shafting the Longbridge workforce, back in 2000.

So it would only have been right for BMW and its shareholders to use some of these maxi profits they made over the past five years to prevent the Longbridge workers from losing their livelihoods. But this was never on the agenda of the union leadership, let alone of the government. And all that hot air about looking for culprits is, at best, a diversion.

Ford's and Peugeot's blackmails

As for Ford, it gained BMW's prestigious Land Rover brand - and an instant market for these in the US - which was (and is, despite their protestations) extremely profitable. Nevertheless, Ford immediately began to wield the axe against Land Rover Solihull workers' conditions and against their jobs.

After workers refused increased work intensity and flexibility measures last year, under a so-called "roadmap" for the future, Ford actually threatened it would close the plant. Eventually the deal was pushed through by compliant union officials, after a workforce ballot in which almost half the workforce abstained. But what Ford was really up to was to move production of the new Freelander to its Halewood plant, where there was spare capacity - due to cuts in the production of the less successful baby Jaguar - and therefore, "spare" workers. It means in effect taking 1,200 jobs out of Solihull - and even if some workers transfer from the Midlands to Liverpool there will be job cuts in one plant or the other, or both.

This April, a new "sports" Land Rover built at this Solihull plant - which Ford had said it might close just a few months earlier - was launched to a big fanfare! Not that it is likely to sell like hotcakes, given its price at £35,000 rising to £56,995 for the V8 supercharger! But at such a price, targeted at a very selected and relatively stable market, Ford must expect quite high returns. The Solihull jobs will have gone, not because of market conditions, as Ford claimed, but to make space for a profit spinner!

Likewise and just as ironically, after Ford announced the closure closed of Brown's Lane Jaguar plant, with the loss of 1,100 jobs, on the pretext of a slump in the market for Jags, the figures for the first 9 months of the year showed sales up by 28.2%!

Peugeot has played the same blackmailing tricks on its workforce at the Ryton factory. But even though Peugeot has cut nearly half its workforce in the span of just one year - from 4,325 in January 2004 to 2,800 today - this has hardly featured in the national media. The latest announcement of 850 weekend shift workers to lose their jobs by June, which will cut the workforce by another third, has been almost completely overshadowed by the MG Rover crisis.

Just as at Jaguar and Land Rover, these job cuts at Peugeot are, in one respect, even more outrageous than those at MG Rover. Because this super-size Peugeot cowboy has been registering record profits (£763m cleared last year) and record sales (equivalent to £9.5bn over the last quarter), while it has at the same time dared to use the fall in sales of the now aging Peugeot 206 as the excuse for its latest job cuts! Indeed the parent company, PSA, remains the second largest European car maker, and one of the most profitable! And much of this latest windfall has been made on the back of the 206 model workforce - both in France and in the Ryton plant.

Back in June of 2003, the plant had four shifts (earlies and lates, permanent nights and week-end). With the collaboration of the union officials, management made a first attempt to scrap the 700-strong night shift. At the time, the unit of blackmail they used was the "new model" (Peugeot 207). If management did not get what they wanted, the plant would not be "awarded" a new car to build when the 206 was terminated. But what they really wanted was increased flexibility. Workers were persuaded to halt a series of stoppages against the threat to the 700 jobs, by union officials, who then negotiated an agreement by which they were to accept a cut in their hours - and therefore their wages. The union presented this as a "victory", claiming they had saved the night shift. But in fact what they had negotiated was a flexibility deal which increased workers' rate and intensity of work. As a result, Peugeot was actually able to increase its production schedule - and it certainly could not have done so if it had cut out this shift. As a result of the unions' complicity, the company saved a huge amount on labour costs, because in effect, workers covered the extra work for free.

But 6 months later, in March 2004, the company resumed its attacks against the night shift. And this time, the 700 workers were thrown out of their jobs. The bosses used the same excuse they have used today, that of "falling European sales".

In fact, before the latest job cuts, the Ryton workers had already agreed to what management calls "internal actions to match production to demand more accurately". But these measures were apparently no longer sufficient to boost Peugeot's profit figures, so another whole shift had to go! The only assurance workers now have is that their plant "will continue to be one of the three production sites for the 206 in Europe, and become the main site for its production for several years to come" - that is, it will have the privilege of building the old model until the end of its "natural" life - this demise supposedly having been pencilled in for 2010.

From sell outs to all out

So what should be the lessons for the workforce after all this? That allowing union officials to concede to the bosses' demands protects their jobs? Of course, experience proves quite the contrary, as workers on the shopfloor well know.

Today, faced with yet more job cuts at Ryton, the union officials have done little more that point a finger across the Channel at French plants and ask why they haven't had the same jobs cuts imposed there! Their second line of defence has been to ask politicians to intervene. Naturally, the likes of Tony Woodley and Amicus's Derek Simpson, who have earned the nicknames of "Wallace and Gromit" from the workforce, would not have wanted to rock Labour's election boat by presiding over a strike at the plant. But after the election, will they even feel the need to explain to the workforce why their officials continue to talk to the company about the voluntary redundancies and early retirements of 850 workers? Let us hope that the Peugeot workers will recognise that they need to launch their own offensive!

The defensive argument of union officials, when faced by job cuts, is always that workers here in Britain are the victims of "weak legislation" which allows them to be sacked more easily than workers in other countries.

It follows, according to them, that the answer is "stronger" legislation and therefore they make repeated appeals to the government to step in and pass laws to protect workers. As if the bosses do not have more sway with any government than the working class! For a government to pass such legislation, it would have to be forced into it by a massive mobilisation. Moreover, judging from the way existing legislation (on health and safety or the minimum wage, for instance) is casually broken these days, the working class would still have to rely on its own vigilance to enforce such legislation against job cuts. What this would need is a complete change in the social balance of forces in society. But this is not what the union leaders are talking about. What they are talking about is merely... lobbying.

Of course, this is flogging a dead horse and union leaders know it. But no doubt they will continue to flog it, because their message is that workers themselves can and should do nothing to defend their jobs, since it is all down to the law. And as long as workers are kept from responding to the bosses' attacks, there is no risk to the union leaders' cosy relationship with bosses and ministers. Far be it from them to suggest the obvious answer: that British workers could cure the bosses of this nasty habit of picking on them, by hitting them where it hurts - in their pocket books - every time they even hint at job cuts. And there is big money in the pockets of the car industry godfathers. But for the time being it only has the names of their shareholders written on it.

Of course nobody would argue that it is easy to turn the tables on the bosses and force them to reverse the intensification of work, the casualisation and all the other dividend-maximising tricks in their books, by which workers, and only workers, pay the price for the bosses' greed. It would require a fight back which is not limited to the one plant, or the one section of workers which happens to be the target of the latest attack. But such a fight back can be started in just one determined section and then be spread to others, area by area and plant by plant, provided only that the workers concerned have this as their aim, and are prepared to do what it takes to organise themselves in order to maximise the impact of their action.

Of course this would be going against the stream today. Many workers have come to think that it is impossible to halt the downward slide of their conditions and wages and the waves of job cuts that seem to keep coming without any let-up. However, there is another side to this. The bosses have not had to face any major resistance to their attacks for many years. They are not expecting to deal with a real fight back from workers. This is their weakness and the working class could turn it to its advantage.

After all, while capitalist exploitation exists, the class struggle will exist, even if, for now, it seems dormant. The day that workers decide to revive it, pushing forward new blood from their own ranks as a leadership prepared to fight in place of the present collaborators who act as management's fifth column in their ranks, will be the day that they begin to turn the tide.