Thousands March in Solidarity with Honda Swindon Workers
THE SWINDON PLANT is Honda’s only car factory in the EU, producing 150,000 vehicles a year, and its closure is a major blow to the British car industry in general. In terms of the local impact, there will be 3,500 jobs lost directly from the Honda plant closure, with up to 12,000 jobs under threat in the region and across the wider supply chain. For example, TS Tech in Swindon employs 500 people and supplies Honda with seats for the Civic. With only 6,000 registered manufacturing skilled jobs in the Swindon area, this will have a devastating impact on the community.
Brexit may be the backdrop to this most recent threat of closure by Honda - but it’s not the reason behind the company’s restructuring plans to respond to what they describe as “unprecedented changes that are affecting our industry, [making it] vital that we accelerate our electrification strategy and restructure our global operations accordingly.”
Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, assured the crowds who had gathered before the march that this was just the start of a campaign to save the thousands of decent jobs at risk. He reminded us of the contribution workers at all levels have made to the success of the plant over decades, and the aim of ensuring that Honda enters into dialogue to give Unite members and leaders the opportunity of securing input to the company’s future plans.
The march itself, in brilliant sunshine, had a carnival atmosphere with a brass band and Sikh drummers adding to the energy. The mass of red and white created by Unite balloons, banners and flags and #SaveHondaSwindon t-shirts was punctuated by the array of banners from other union groups marching in solidarity, as the demonstration - including local LRC members - passed through the heart of the town to a final rally in GWR (Great Western Railway) Park. The crowd heard personal stories and the commitment to save jobs from shop stewards and convenors, Unite’s Assistant General Secretary, Steve Turner and shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Rebecca Long-Bailey.
Turner addressed the rally saying: “If you lose a big plant like this in the heart of Swindon, that’s a death knell for manufacturing.” Referring to the age range and families who took part in the march and rally, he continued: “It’s a fight not just for the people who are employed today … this is about giving a bit of hope and opportunity for the next generation who want a decent job, an apprenticeship, some stability in their lives. The closure would devastate workers and their families as well as the community”, he said. “These are good jobs, unionised jobs, with a decent rate of pay and pension entitlements and everything that goes with that. If you take that out of the heart of the community all that’s left is service industry jobs and warehousing and minimum wage.”
Long-Bailey recognised the solidarity demonstrated at this event and pledged support from the shadow cabinet: “Where I’m from we’re proud of manufacturing but we also know the destruction that loss of manufacturing from our communities causes. So I’m heartened to see so many people out today. And we’ve got people from the Honda plant itself, people from right across the community, representatives from right across the trade union movement and people who’ve come from all corners of the UK to support this cause. And I can say here today that myself, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell - we will fight with you. We will work with the trade unions, and we’ll even work with government, to put forward that package that will make sure that Honda changes its decision. But it’s not just about keeping one factory open, it’s about recognising that manufacturing is not just in our national DNA - it’s key to our economic destiny.”
Also attending the demonstration, and stewarding the final rally, was Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for North Swindon, Kate Linnegar. Kate said: “It was extremely encouraging to see so much support for the Honda workers. It's vitally important to fight to keep these well paid jobs in Swindon. I was talking to a young Honda employee at the rally who will leave with good qualifications after joining as an apprentice ten years ago. He is confident he'll be able to find equally well paid work but may have to move away from his home town. He voiced concerns about his colleagues though, who aren't in such a good position. I'm proud that my union Unite is working with a cross-party delegation to defend these workers and I will be lending all the support I can.”