Hard lessons from Rover and Harland & Wolff
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
50,000 workers in Britain are this week pondering a bleak long-term future after the decision by the German BMW group to sell off the Rover Cars company. 9,000 jobs in Rover's Longbridge Operations are under immediate threat ,while 40,000-plus further workers in the West Midlands region, who depend on the Rover company for their economic future, are also facing serious threats to their employment.
BMW sold the Rover company for £2 billion sterling to Alchemy, a London-based venture capital firm. Alchemy will continue to make the Land Rover car range and some of the groups more profitable models, including the MG range.
The British government found itself politically powerless in the face of the economic power of a transnational company
The reasons given by BMW for the sell-off, despite their often articulated long-term commitment to Rover in Britain, make interesting reading. New Labour's euro currency policy or their lack of one was one of the reasons cited by BMW for the closure. The EU has been questioning also the £150 million in subsidies that the British government was prepared to invest in Rover.
Tony Blair reacted angrily to the BMW claims. However, the euro issue, though important, is no more than a smokescreen for the real truth, which is that the British government found itself politically powerless in the face of the economic power of a transnational company.
It is also ironic that BMW is a German company, because Gerhard Schroder's government is currently bringing forward new legislation to stop hostile mergers and takeovers that threaten that country's perceived national interest.
Germany's political establishment had a huge wake up call earlier this year, when they found themselves powerless to halt the hostile takeover of mobile phone company Mannesman by the British Vodafone company.
1,800 shipyard workers at Belfast's Harland and Wolff found themselves sharing a similar experience to the Rover workers this week, as Cunard placed the order for the building of their new superliner with a French firm.
The difference here was that there was no irate Tony Blair looking forlorn. These workers too have found their politicians unable to wield political power and take on the corporate interests that are threatening to devastate a local community.
There are then, two lessons from the Rover and Harland and Wolff experiences. The first is that the power of transnational companies to take such significant decisions that affect the livelihood of thousands of workers must be tackled. The second is a lesson closer to home. When will workers in Ireland learn the pointlessness of expecting British politicians to save their jobs?