Year 2000 No. 86, May 18-19, 2000

Dunlop Closure:

Another Transnational to Pull Out of Birmingham

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Dunlop Closure:
Another Transnational to Pull Out of Birmingham

Letter to the Editor:
Housing Is a Fundamental Human Need

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Dunlop Closure:

Another Transnational to Pull Out of Birmingham

In the aftermath of the recent BMW sell off of Rover to the Phoenix consortium another giant motor industry supplier is due to wind down its operations in Birmingham. The giant tyre producer, Dunlop, is making new arrangements to concentrate its production and Europe is going to be the area where most emphasis will be focused. There are 14 sites across Europe. It has been established that capacity in Birmingham would continue to exceed demand for the foreseeable future. The factory produces 9,200 tyres a day, but in future it will concentrate on sales and marketing, finance and IT, although tyres for sports cars will continue to be built on its next door site.

The company has shed crocodile tears regarding workers and their families. The initial cost in workers' jobs is estimated at 600. Once more workers are faced with a fait accompli in terms of where capitalist production takes place. Once again workers are faced with marginalisation in the decisions of a monopoly capitalist concern and their marginalisation overall in terms of the direction of the economy and of the decisions which affect their lives. Yet again it makes it abundantly clear that workers need to organise around their own programme to fight to Stop Paying the Rich – Increase Investments in Social Programmes, and in the course of this get organised as a class so as to win the battle to constitute themselves as the nation.

Union leaders at Dunlop have described the situation at the plant as, "treacherous betrayal". John Oakes from the GMB said on Thursday that the decision was ruthless, and convenors at the plant have called for urgent talks to see how the new arrangements by the company can be challenged. John Oakes described the situation as a "brutal shock" and he said, "We are still trying to digest this devastating news. It seems to me they are just closing the plant down piece by piece. We are planning to sit down and formulate a policy."

The workers are looking into how viable alternatives can be worked out.

The workforce was told during their lunch break that the car division would be closed. The light truck, steel textile and compound preparation departments as well as the finished goods stores will also be shut down. The job losses are planned to come into effect from September.

The Erdington complex, now run by Wolverhampton-based Goodyear, comes after 650 jobs were shed in March with the closure of the truck tyre wing. In the context of sharp market competition last year, Goodyear struck a deal with Dunlop's owners – the Japanese Sumitomo Corporation – which effectively merged the two companies' operations in America and Europe. The rationalisation programme has seen the closure of the Goodyear tyre plant in Italy. Some 1,700 worked at the Birmingham Dunlop site last year and because of the 650 jobs lost already with the closure of the truck tyre wing and the present announcement of 600 jobs to go, there will be only 500 jobs left at the landmark Fort Dunlop site. The main problem is the crisis of overproduction in tyres.

Dunlop was taken out of Dublin to Coventry in 1902 and then on to Aston Cross. The company moved to "The Fort" in 1916. The landmark can be seen from the M6 on the approach to the Birmingham Expressway at Gravelly Hill. The Fort stands next door to the Jaguar Cars Castle Bromwich Plant. The area has been called an industrial town within a city. The Fort was more than just a vast factory but became a whole community and way of life for generations of Dunlop workers. Workers developed a social life, with a thriving sports club, theatre, dancing and cinema. Today the Fort stands derelict and its prospects are for development as residential and leisure facilities. Mostly the Fort has ended its life as a 590,000 square foot storage area.

At its height Dunlop was the ninth biggest company in Britain. In 1981, during the recession, the company was still turning over £1,386 million. It was not until 1984 that the Japanese Sumitomo Rubber Industries bought Dunlop's European tyre business to create SP tyres. In September 1999, Goodyear joined forces with the company to create one of the largest global tyre companies.

Workers are seeing traditional industries time and time again closed. The capitalist system makes workers redundant without any concern for them or their families' future prospects. The only concern is maximising profit. Workers need to combat the arrangements the mega-monopolies make without consideration for the workers. Rover workers continue to face the problem just like the Dunlop workers. This confirms that the most important priority for the workers is the fight that their basic right to a livelihood be given a guarantee in law. Workers need to affirm themselves to deliver their own pro-social programme.

West Midlands Correspondent

[WDIE note: For more background material on the Dunlop closure, see the Readers’ Forum articles, "On Overproduction". They appeared in WDIE, numbers 14, 18, 24 and 29.]

Article Index

Letter to the Editor

Housing Is a Fundamental Human Need

Dear WDIE,

Your leading article, "Housing Must Be Recognised as a Basic Human Right", in the May 16 issue of WDIE very effectively sums up the problems of housing in our society, posing the question as to why, in a supposedly civilised society, so many people are without a decent roof over their head.

I work for the housing department for the Borough of Lewisham in South East London. In the 10 years I have been working in the department, social housing has always been scandalously inadequate in meeting people's needs. People even with the most urgent needs, such as homeless families and people with severe disabilities, are having to wait sometimes for years. Many council tenants who are severely overcrowded or live in properties in urgent need of repair stand no hope of having their housing needs met.

The vast majority of people who contact our office who have urgent housing needs have to be turned away. The reason is clear – the policies of this and previous governments have failed to provide the necessary resources to ensure that everyone in the society is adequately housed. It is clear, as the WDIE article pointed out, that inadequate housing gives rise to all kinds of other social problems. Decent housing is as fundamental a human need as food and drink.

When the Labour government came into power three years ago many people hoped that the housing situation would improve, for instance that the money from the Right To Buy scheme brought in by the Thatcher government would be released to fund council housing. Not only has this not happened but the housing crisis under this so-called Labour government has got noticeably even worse with the vast majority of people on the waiting list having even less chance of being helped.

Not only this but, in the Borough of Lewisham, the privatisation of various sections of the housing department, including repairs and street cleaning, which started under the previous Conservative government, has been growing apace in the last three years under Labour. For instance, three of the 16 housing neighbourhoods have recently been sold off to housing associations (because alleged deficiencies in the way they performed) against the wishes of the tenants. Right now the whole of Lewisham's housing department is being re-organised under the slogan of "Regeneration" under the guise of "streamlining the housing structure", allegedly to make more money available for "improving services". "Degeneration" would be a more appropriate word for this as it is clear that this whole re-structuring is a means towards further privatisation and deterioration of housing services for the people. Under the new structure, managers have already been awarded with greatly increased salaries, while the vast majority of the council workforce face reduced pay and possible redundancies.

It is significant that Lewisham Council has openly proclaimed itself to be a flagship borough for New Labour. The situation in Lewisham demonstrates that far from attempting to meet the housing needs of the people, New Labour has been hell bent on continuing and intensifying the Thatcherite policies of privatisation of public council housing stock by selling it off to housing associations and other private housing organisations. It is becoming clearer by the day that the present Labour government, even more than the Conservatives, is acting solely in the interests of private business, not in the interests of ordinary people.


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