|Volume 49 Number 3, March 2, 2019||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Honda has confirmed it will close its Swindon car plant in 2021, with the loss of 3,500 jobs.
Referring to diesel and electric cars, senior vice-president for Honda in Europe Ian Howells said the decision to close Swindon was driven by big changes in the car industry. "We're seeing unprecedented change in the industry on a global scale. We have to move very swiftly to electrification of our vehicles because of demand of our customers and legislation".
This move to electric "has to be in a marketplace of a size for Honda where it makes investment worthwhile," said Howell. "The conclusion coming out of that is that doesn't include Swindon - the relative size of the marketplace in Europe is significantly different." And not only Swindon: Honda also announced it would stop making the Civic at its plant in Turkey the same year.
Honda builds 160,000 Civics a year in Swindon, 90% of which are exported to the US and the EU. A significant factor in the company's motivation to move to Japan is the new EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, which came into effect on February 1. This agreement has created the world's largest free trade zone, providing far greater scope for monopolies to move and manoeuvre to serve their own ends. The workers and their jobs are therefore left high and dry by the arrangements of global capital and movements around the world where it suits them best.
The response of Business Secretary Greg Clark, acknowledging the situation with acceptance as "devastating", was to announce his intention to convene a taskforce with local MPs, civic and business leaders, as well as trade union representatives, to "help" Honda workers get new skilled jobs.
Unite Regional Officer Alan Tomala said the scale of job losses was "enormous" and workers felt "betrayed".
Workers were even seen stopping their cars and talking to the media, saying that the car industry is so important that the town could become barren like Detroit. Suppliers will be affected, local spending power will be reduced, and shops, retailers and smaller businesses will go under, they said. "I've been here 19 years and it's devastating for all involved," said one worker. "You've only got to look across the road at the large warehouses here too. I don't know what the jobs will be replaced with." This plant was built by workers in Swindon over many years. A 1980s enterprise, it came out of an agreement between Honda, British Leyland and the government early that decade. Pressed steel body components belonged to British Leyland, which was state-owned at the time. The collaboration became the hallmark of modern body build and paint epitomised by the famous Triumph Acclaim, which was made by British Leyland, based on the Honda Ballade and fitted with an engine designed by Honda. Honda gained capital in terms of buildings, machinery and social product. Operations in Swindon subsequently started in 1989.
The question is therefore asked: What right have Honda to move this means of production to Japan? It can only be their assumed right as a monopoly, with its narrow competing private interests, trumping the workers' right to a livelihood. Meanwhile, the neo-liberal government will not interfere in what it calls "commercial decisions", regardless of this question and the impact of the move.
The demand should be that production continue in Swindon, regardless of the decision of Honda. Workers need to seriously discuss the question of why the interests of the workers and the economy can be so easily devastated by the self-interested actions of global businesses. These businesses are powerful monopolies who demand arrangements that enable them to act at will. Workers demand a say and to have control over such matters that affect their lives. Keep production running at Swindon!