Friday, April 15, 2005

Nationalise Rover now!

IT’S NOT ALL OVER at MG Rover but it soon will be unless the Government takes decisive action to guarantee continued production at Longbridge. The unions are focusing the workers’ demands on trying to revive bail-out deal talks with the Chinese Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) while protesting at the pitiful levels of redundancy payments currently on the table.

Rover was losing between £20 to £25 million a month before it crashed last week. The Chinese rescue plan, which would have given SAIC 75 per cent of the holding in return for investments that would shift some production to People’s China and enable Rover to develop badly needed new models in Britain, now looks as dead as the dodo.

A massive injection of public money to underwrite the ailing motor works could make it more attractive to SAIC, the Chinese publicly-owned motor manufacturing giant, which pulled out of the deal when it realised that it might have pick up the £400 million bill to cover MG Rover’s pension fund liabilities. But the chances of reviving the talks with SAIC are slim now that Rover’s gone into administration, a form of bankruptcy.

Though the unions are right to concentrate on immediate demands that might save the livelihoods of over 6,000 Midlands workers and a further 20,000 employed by Rover’s suppliers the only solution that can guarantee continued employment at the Longbridge plant is nationalisation. This is what the Labour Government did in 1975 when it effectively nationalised the old British Leyland Motor Corporation to stave off bankruptcy.

British Leyland was once a manufacturing giant owning nearly 40 manufacturing plants across the country. The process of asset-stripping and sell-out began when it was still under state-control and continued after BL was privatised by the Tories in 1988. But everyone who owned Leyland’s, down to the rump MG Rover company which is its direct successor, made fortunes except for the workers who built all the cars.

The vultures who bought the MG Rover Group for £10 five years ago, in another “rescue” operation, milked it for around £160 million to cover their own pay and pension contributions. While there’s pressure to get them to disgorge some of their loot to help the company’s creditors, this is little comfort to the workers who have been told that the most they can expect from redundancy is £280 for each year of service up to a maximum of 12 years.

The capitalists and their “New Labour” apologists claim that private enterprise is for the good of the country and the workers. MG Rover proves that all capitalism is good for is the capitalists themselves. They make their millions out of the labour of others and the workers just get their weekly wage to make a living and leave the factory no better off than when they first clocked in.

Britain’s manufacturing base can only survive through massive re-investment but the capitalist class as a whole see no purpose in diverting their fortunes into this arena when there are much richer pickings to be made through speculation and overseas investment.

Nationalising MG Rover would safeguard production and enable a new public company to resume joint-venture talks with Shanghai Automotive on a realistic basis. But nationalising the plant by itself would not solve the long-term problems of the British manufacturing. Only the nationalisation of the entire motor industry and the entire manufacturing base, including the high-tech aerospace industry can secure a future for the workers.

The restoration of the old public sector as it existed in 1979, including the entire telecom industry would provide millions for the modernisation of our factories, the restoration of the National Health Service and the provision of a decent standard of living for every worker in a country that we are constantly told is the fourth richest in the world.