Unite leader warns GM the union won't accept any Vauxhall job losses
Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, has warned that the union “will not accept any job losses or plant closures” if Vauxhall is sold to the company behind Peugeot and Citroën.
General Motors said it was in talks to sell its European arm Opel, which includes the UK’s Vauxhall, to France’s PSA Group, after branding Brexit a “speed bump” that was slowing efforts to turn the loss-making division around.
GM’s Vauxhall factories in Luton and Ellesmere Port in Cheshire together employ about 4,500 staff.
Following a meeting with the business, energy and industrial strategy secretary, Greg Clark, the leader of the UK’s biggest union said the UK government could not allow the future of UK car workers’ jobs to be decided by PSA, which is 15% owned by the French government. He also insisted GM had a moral duty to stand by the UK workforce.
McCluskey repeated his call for the government to extend the backing it has offered to Japan’s Nissan, to ensure it maintains its UK car production when the UK leaves the European Union, to the rest of Britain’s car industry.
McCluskey said: “The UK market is largest market in the EU for Vauxhall/Opel so GM does have a moral obligation not to turn its back on the communities and workers who have helped make this company what it is today.
He said he would speak to the American manufacturer “as a matter of urgency to find out exactly what its plans are in relation to the UK workforce” and to Peugeot.
He appealed to the UK government for help, saying: “It cannot be that the future of UK car workers’ jobs now lie in the hands of the French government and their backing for Peugeot. The UK government has to offer at least equal but actually better backing for UK workers.”
GM, the world’s third largest carmaker and the biggest in the US, has racked up more than $15bn of losses at Opel since 2000. It nearly sold the division after going bankrupt in 2009 and the Ellesmere Port Vauxhall factory – dubbed ‘home of the Astra’ – came very close to closure in 2012. Its future was only assured after the then business secretary Vince Cable flew to the US to reassure GM bosses that the government was committed to the car industry.
McCluskey said: “It does seem as if Brexit is a factor in GM’s thinking as its UK business relies heavily on its links throughout the EU supply chain. Without a shadow of doubt, UK car plants must be offered the same assurances as those given by government to Nissan. But as I stressed to the minister we need the government to be clearly committed to securing access to the single market for the UK auto industry.
“This can be done, in our view, while controlling access to the labour market so it is vital that the government thinks again about its priorities for UK manufacturing. It also makes it even more vital that the government takes this opportunity to work with the sector to bring the production of car components back to the UK so that we can run our businesses without facing bruising tariffs.”
Justin Madders, the MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, has said the new owner of Opel, if the sale goes ahead, should not forget that the UK is the second largest car market in Europe. GM offered few details in a letter to staff.