Vince Cable was yesterday trying to take all the credit for GM’s decision to continue building the Vauxhall Astra at the Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire. But the truth is that Vauxhall workers secured their own destiny during the last downturn, when the labour force responded with remarkable flexibility to a sharp decline in sales. Like other car factory workers across the UK, they agreed to a raft of measures to help cut costs in the annus horribilis that was 2009, including pay cuts, sabbaticals on 30 per cent of salary, a four-day week and fewer shifts. Crucially, these measures were agreed upon, and in some cases even suggested by, the trade unions. A pledge to be similarly flexible in the future has meant the fate of GM’s UK factory has been secured while the sword of Damocles hangs over its German ops. The more militant trade unions should take note.
David Crow is managing editor and head of news at City A.M.
The car industry in the UK is the only ray of light in an otherwise bleak landscape for manufacturing. GM’s decision to invest in the UK is the latest by a number of car manufacturers. But we should not be lulled into a false sense of security. You only have to look at what the aerospace industry and the looming closure of Brough. Its closure by BAE Systems will end nearly a hundred years of aircraft building in Humberside. More needs to be done to support manufacturing. Next week we are publishing our “Driving Growth” strategy, which calls on the government to build on success in the car industry and implement a strategy to support manufacturing. We’ll also call for a statutory training levy on companies to ensure we have skills for the future and call on the government to buy British. If there is to be a manufacturing renaissance, the government needs to look beyond re-hashed polices such as enterprise zones.
Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite the Union.