Moving an emergency motion on the crisis in the automotive industry at Labour Party conference today (September 24), Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke explained how the industry became the “jewel in the crown” of UK manufacturing.
He said that it was no accident – rather, it was “the result of years of hard slog, as our members helped pull the industry out of the long bleak period of decline.
“All that work – all that progress — is now at risk by a perfect storm of the government’s making,” Burke warned.
He added that there are two “big tests which will define our automotive industry for years to come.”
One was Brexit and the other was ensuring a just transition to electrification. In both tests, Burke said, the government is failing badly.
“The UK’s largest car maker, Jaguar Land Rover, has just put 2,000 workers onto a three-day week,” he highlighted. “Forty-eight hours later BMW announced an early annual shutdown at the Mini factory in Cowley for April to avoid the catastrophic effects of a ‘hard Brexit’ for maintenance and re-tooling for the electric Mini.
“Honda said they would commit to staying in the UK but a hard Brexit would add on-costs running to tens of millions of pounds in tariffs and because closing Swindon was too costly,” Burke added. “Behind the scenes we hear similar concerns from car makers and the supply chain.”
The Unite assistant general secretary laid the blame for these developments squarely on the shoulders of the government’s “chaotic bungling of Brexit negotiations.”
As their failure reaches its most dangerous stage — raising the prospect of a ‘No Deal Brexit’ – Burke highlighted Dominic Rabb’s ‘no deal’ technical papers, as well as the fantasy ‘hard Brexit’ plans of Tory Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis.
“We’ve seen the humiliation of a Prime Minister in denial,” he added. “Like aftershocks, with every fantasy, with every blunder comes a real and lasting industrial impact. The whole of the UK automotive industry is clear — a ‘no deal’ Brexit is simply unacceptable.”
Burke slammed the government whose response to the automotive industry’s Brexit warnings and concerns is a prime minister “unconvincingly parroting, ‘We will get a good deal.’”
“The hard-right Brexiteer Bernard Jenkin MP tells us that Jaguar Land Rand Rover ‘is just making it all up!’” he added.
“Tell that to over 1000 lorry drivers who bring components to and from UK and the EU each day,” Burke said. “Tell that to the 10,000 JLR workers on the production tracks. Tell that to the thousands of workers in the supply chain including our steelworkers who rely on these contracts.”
He criticised Tories Bernard Jenkin, Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davis and others for their complete lack of knowledge of manufacturing which, he said, “probably only extends to watching the nanny assemble an IKEA flat pack.”
Turning to the coming transition to electric vehicles, he slammed the government’s “bungled approach” which he called “a disaster with unilateral announcements on CO2 emissions made with no consultation with the industry or with our members.”
He told conference that the task now falls to the Labour Party to bring certainty and a vision for the industry’s future.
“Labour must step up the pressure on government to develop a just transition strategy for the move to electrification,” Burke noted. “This must be a strategy, which develops our skills base — one which uses the government’s spending power to see new fleets of electric vehicles across public transport.
“This must be a strategy which creates new jobs through investment in the industries infrastructure,” he added.
“And if this rotting carcass of a government is too distracted to deliver such a strategy,” Burke concluded his speech to applause, “then we say ‘get out of the way’ and lets have a Labour government which can.”