Year 2000 No. 30, February 18, 2000

Workers and Politics:

The Threat Hanging Over the Longbridge Workers

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

Workers and Politics:
The Threat Hanging Over the Longbridge Workers

British Government’s Unilateral Suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive

Text of the IRA Statement, February 15, 2000

Government Plans to Increase Not Eliminate Student Fees

Students Protest against Tuition Fees and Proclaim: "Education Is a Right!"

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Workers and Politics:

The Threat Hanging Over the Longbridge Workers

The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported last week that the German carmaker BMW was planning to shut down the Rover factory at Longbridge, Birmingham. Although a BMW spokesman flatly denied this speculation, this once more gives the Rover workers and workers in related industries cause for concern coming on top of the other uncertainties: the European Commission investigation into whether the government’s proposed state aid would be in contravention of the EU’s rules on competition; the bid by Porsche to add their weight to the move to block the government’s package; BMW’s plans to cut down on components from British suppliers; the possibility of it switching investment to Hungary instead of Longbridge; and Rover’s projected heaviest ever losses for 1999.

How much weight can be given to BMW’s denial of the closure of Longbridge is a moot point, since the workers have lost count of the number of times they have been assured that their jobs are safe at Longbridge, only to have one gun after another pointed at their heads that they should give up their interests, accept stepped up rates of exploitation, or put pressure on the government to hand over hundreds of millions of pounds from the state treasury to the BMW monopoly if their future was to be safeguarded.

None of this has made their future one whit more secure, as the decisions which are under consideration by BMW do not depend on the slightest on the welfare of the workers or the needs of the economy at large, but on the cut-throat competition between BMW and other car monopolies for control of markets in order to make the maximum capitalist profit and accumulate capital to the maximum.

The reasons Der Spiegel gives for BMW contemplating closing Longbridge would be very cogent for the financial oligarchs who control the German monopoly. The magazine reported that BMW’s management board had developed two scenarios for withdrawing from Rover, and would decide on what to do at its next meeting in March. The first scenario involves ending all production of Rover passenger cars which would mean closing Longbridge with the 9,000 workers being thrown onto the streets. This would see an end to the production of the Rover 25 and Rover 45. Only the Land Rover, the new Rover 75 and the Mini would continue to be produced. The alternative scenario is to sell Rover Cars and Rover’s Longbridge and Oxford plants. But Der Spiegel said that possible buyers like General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co., or Volkswagen AG would set certain criteria before agreeing to take over Rover. Any buyer would demand that BMW pay a "loss compensation" over the next few years and would want BMW to maintain involvement in Rover, either through a close cooperation deal or by holding a stake in the British carmaker. Industry sources have said that BMW has been talking to Volkswagen, trying to find a way that Volkswagen could use or lease the Longbridge factory to assemble its Golf cars.

All of this puts further pressure on the workers at Longbridge. At the same time, it underlines that the suggestion that "social partnership" between the workers and the BMW capitalists is of benefit to them both is a most dubious proposition. In plain language, there is everything in it for the employers but nothing in it for the workers. It further underlines that the Europe of the monopolies is just that, a free market for the monopolies to switch around capital at the drop of a hat in order to retain or acquire the competitive edge on their competitors. Neither is it the case that the problem stops with Europe. Endless examples can be cited of global monopolies closing plants in Europe in order to open them up in South America or other parts of the globe, especially as they further refine their arrangements world-wide, and push through international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation that their demands to pursue this agenda be unrestrained and, like giant dinosaurs, they be allowed to fight things out and follow the law of the jungle in order to become "number one".

Enthusiasts and apologists for globalisation promote a present-day version of the discredited "trickle-down effect" from the days of Thatcherism and Reaganomics. They claim that any opposition to globalisation is misguided because globalisation is the future and is bringing benefits to all and sundry. "Third Way" ideologues promote the need for a middle way between the ravages of globalisation and the old system of state monopoly capitalism, for "globalisation with a human face", even going so far as to build castles in the air of "global governance".

The hard facts exemplified by BMW at Longbridge tell an entirely different story. The governments which are in support of globalisation are waging the anti-social offensive against the people, paying the rich on a continuous basis and carrying out a neo-liberal agenda. It does not matter that if they are "centre-left" they may do so with all kinds of entreaties that this is progress, that the class struggle is over and that workers must embrace change and work to make the monopolies competitive for the good of the nation. The agenda is the same. Not only is this so, but without the attempts to give globalisation its "human face", without the "centre-left" nomenclature, without the high-flown phrases and the claims that there is no alternative, the opposition to the anti-social offensive would not get diverted and the people de-politicised.

This raises the question of how the opposition to the anti-social offensive is to be developed, how the pro-social programme can be taken forward. It is only this movement which will provide the way forward for society out of the crisis. The road blocks to this movement must be combated, which cannot be achieved without the workers themselves becoming political and ending the situation they find themselves in at the margins of society without a say in how it is to be run and which direction it should be headed in. The starting point is that the workers must set their own agenda, and not leave it to the political parties to set the agenda. They must take up, elaborate and fight for the programme to Stop Paying the Rich – Increase Investments in Social Programmes which will set them on the forward march to bring about a new society, as they put forward their solutions to the crisis in the car industry, the economy and society. They should get organised on the basis that they themselves are the ones who must set the agenda, and raise their level of discussion on this agenda.

No to Globalisation!

The Workers Can and Must Set the Agenda!

Article Index


British Government’s Unilateral Suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive

Peter Mandelson on behalf of the British government unilaterally suspended the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive last Friday, February 11. Following this, on Tuesday, February 15, the IRA issued a statement that it was ending its engagement with the IICD (Independent International Commission on Decommissioning).

There is every indication that the government has been manoeuvring to bring about this situation, cause a "crisis" in the peace process and reinstitute direct rule from Westminster. It could very well be that Mandelson himself was brought in to replace Mo Mowlam precisely to achieve this state of affairs. While all the time protesting of their best intentions, that they were doing everything possible to make the peace process work and that the problem was lack of progress on decommissioning, the government has taken advantage of a situation which its own provocative attitude has brought about to derail the due process of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The gun they wish to take out of the politics of the north of Ireland is not their own, which is still present in abundance in contravention of their own agreements, but that of the republican movement, those who have maintained the principled position that Ireland should be reunited and the Irish rebuild their nation anew. The government’s aim has been to end the armed struggle against them while embarking on a path with the Irish bourgeoisie to achieve a united Ireland only on their terms – those of economic violence against the Irish people. It is to the credit of the republican movement that, while the British government has been unable to peacefully solve the problem of Ireland’s partition, they have moved so far in this direction. This progress the British government has now unilaterally derailed.

The stage management of the events of the release of the two IICD reports, the suspension itself which is on the face of it an illegal act breaking the Good Friday Agreement, the goading of the Unionists once more as the Orange Card – everything they have done is to be condemned as flying in the face of recognising the right of the Irish people to self-determination. The British government cannot be the arbiter of progress in northern Ireland. The Irish people do not need their permission to sort out their own affairs.

Division and diversion is the hallmark of the bourgeoisie and this is nowhere more true than in northern Ireland. These tactics have had and still have the aim of maintaining the class rule of the English bourgeoisie not only in the north of Ireland but primarily over the whole of the British state by ensuring that the workers in England, as well as Scotland and Wales, do not rise to demand their own modern states where it is the people who are sovereign. The working class cannot allow this situation to continue.

Article Index


Text of the IRA Statement, February 15, 2000

On November 17 the leadership of the IRA agreed to appoint a representative to enter into discussions with the IICD.

This was on the basis that it would be part of a series of events including, and in particular, the establishment of the political institutions set out in the Good Friday agreement.

This was designed to move the situation out of an 18-month impasse. This impasse was created and maintained by Unionist intransigence and a failure by the British Government to advance the implementation of the Good Friday agreement. The British Secretary of State has reintroduced the unionist veto by suspending the political institutions.

This has changed the context in which we appointed a representative to meet with the IICD and has created a deeper crisis.

Both the British Government and the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party have rejected the propositions put to the IICD by our representative. They obviously have no desire to deal with the issue of arms except on their own terms. Those who seek a military victory in this way need to understand that this cannot and will not happen. Those who have made the political process conditional on the decommissioning of silenced IRA guns are responsible for the current crisis in the peace process.

In the light of these changed circumstances the leadership of the IRA have decided to end our engagement with the IICD. We are also withdrawing all propositions put to the IICD by our representative since November.

Article Index


Government Plans to Increase Not Eliminate Student Fees

Students may face sharply increased tuition fees during the next Parliament, David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, hinted on Tuesday.

Outlining the government’s agenda for higher education, David Blunkett said that increased funding would be needed to pay for 700,000 more students and for international collaboration in research, saying a variety of sources of income would have to be considered.

The government had previously guaranteed that undergraduates would not be charged a top-up fee, but David Blunkett’s speech, made at Greenwich University, is taken to mean that so-called "elite" universities could charge "market rates" for courses. Up to 20 universities could be created by the government as a so-called "premier league". These universities have been lobbying for a manifesto commitment enabling them to charge up to £5,000 a year. David Blunkett claimed he would not introduce the charges but that he would not be "secretary of state for ever". He said a fundamental review is likely in 2002. His own position is that universities should raise more money from partnerships with business and industry.

Andrew Pakes, NUS National President, said: "Unless ministers stick to their promise that top-up fees are not on the agenda, there will be great anger among students and academics. The idea of a two tier education system is abhorrent." The NUS is planning a lobby of parliament on March 7 to demand fee concessions in England and Wales similar to those in Scotland. Because of the recommendations of the Cubie Report, the Scottish Executive has ended upfront tuition fees for Scottish students at Scottish institutions. These students face a £2,000 charge once they have graduated and are earning, while students in England and Wales currently pay £1,025 a year.

Article Index


Students Protest against Tuition Fees and Proclaim: "Education Is a Right!"

Students from Goldsmiths College, London, blocked the entrance of the Department of Education and Employment last Friday to protest against university tuition fees.

A sit-in was staged by around 50 students. They carried banners and shouted the slogan: "Education Is a Right!". The Minister for Higher Education, Baroness Blackstone, refused to leave her office to meet the students, although a delegation was allowed in some time later. A statement issued by the students said: "New Labour’s policies have forced the management of universities into aggressive tuition-fee-collecting stances, acting as unpaid tax collectors. Many thousands of students can be expected to drop out, be expelled or be forced into choosing between food, rent, books and fees."

Two days later, on February 13, over 1,000 students marched through both Oxford and Cambridge against tuition fees and rent rises. Oxford University Student Union president Annaliese Dodds said: "What we want to do is to show the government that the compromise announced by Mr Blunkett is unacceptable. It is aimed as a sop to the student movement but does nothing to alleviate student debt."

The government is moving ever further away from the principle that education should be a right and not a privilege. It underlines the necessity for students to fight for the right to participate themselves in making the decisions which affect their lives, in the context of working for a society that recognises the rights of all.

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