|Volume 51 Number 3, January 30, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
A 48-year-old Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) worker has tragically died after contracting Covid-19, it was reported on January 24. The sympathies of the Workers' Forum go out to his family and the rest of the workers who knew him. Even though it is not known with certainty whether he caught the virus at the Solihull Lode Lane factory where he worked, there have been concerns over safety at the plant, where West Midlands Police had visited twice in the space of a week just a fortnight earlier after reports of alleged Covid regulation breaches.
Police were sent to the Lode Lane plant on January 7 to ascertain whether the company, which employs some 7,000 people at the site, was following the lockdown rules laid down by government. After visiting, they quickly cleared the company of any wrongdoing. Returning just six days later on January 13, they again left "satisfied all safety measures and precautions were in place and being adhered to". This comes after 24 workers at the plant tested positive for the virus at the end of September last year. A deep clean was carried out at the factory and people who had been in close contact with the infected workers were told to self-isolate.
The death also comes just a week after a large Covid outbreak at the factory, which has not been widely reported. On January 17, local newspapers reported that hundreds of workers have been absent either on sick leave or self-isolating as a result of the outbreak. Incredibly, the company then redeployed around a hundred workers to Solihull from JLR Castle Bromwich to cover those absences. As a result, production of XE & WF was suspended at Castle Bromwich.
The "temporarily transfer" sparked fear among workers and their families, with one woman, whose husband works at Castle Bromwich, saying: "I don't know the exact figures but we've been told the number of workers off sick runs into the hundreds. I can't believe Tata expect their staff to carry on working in this situation. They have hundreds of staff going into work and leaving at the same time at this place. I have health conditions and I am so petrified my husband will bring Covid home. It's absolutely rife in the Solihull plant."
The company openly admitted what their outlook is on the situation. A JLR spokesperson said: "As part of business as usual, employees in the Midlands regularly move between manufacturing sites to ensure that we can meet global demand for our vehicles."
Bringing large numbers of people together under one roof is known to be a major hazard in Covid-19 transmission, especially of its new variant that appears to have originated in England. Suppliers are affected too and so is transport to and from work. Yet such concerns are brushed aside as the company is only interested in production.
Those in control of monopolies such as JLR and its parent Tata, and the government and ruling circles that represent such private interests, pose the issue as "balance", a balance between the health of what they call "the economy", or their particular privately-owned part of that economy, and the health of their workers and the people as a whole.
In the case of JLR, "Jaguar Land Rover's problems started long before the pandemic," says an Autocar article from December, "with its Charge and Accelerate and Charge plus programmes. Having been launched, as it scrabbled to save an almost inconceivable £2.5 billion in 18 months back in 2018, as Chinese and American sales slumped. The collapse of diesel hit it especially hard. Its sales mix having peaked at around 90% of the total". Thousands of job losses followed. 
As Workers' Weekly pointed out last July: "The future of Jaguar is under threat, it is reported. India-based parent company Tata Motors is considering the future of its so-called loss-making subsidiary, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). Workers cannot accept that the solution, as they are being told, is that they themselves have to pull out all the stops to work flexibly to get costs down and increase productivity". 
Cuts in workforce, wrecking of the manufacturing base, was then quite conceivable, and an acceptable commercial decision. Workers are viewed as expendable, and this is shown in the attitude towards their jobs and their very lives. Tata's narrow private interests do not include the rights of workers to a livelihood, or indeed their lives.
To present the issue as "balance" is fraudulent. There is no "balance" in dealing with the virus, and there can be no "business as usual". Conditions demand a change in the direction of the economy right here and right now. There is no weighing up one thing against another. The needs of people and their lives should come first, and their livelihoods should be guaranteed.
Alongside and as part of this "balance" is that health is posed as an individual matter. This is also out of step with the conditions, which demand that the health of each individual is a collective matter, a matter of social responsibility.
Particularly at this time, it is crucial that society and the economy mobilise to protect the health of every individual, so that people are not left to fend for themselves. There is much that manufacturing workers can do if mobilised with this aim. Production and the economy must be geared towards ensuring that what is necessary, in any sector, is what is produced. Further, working conditions should be determined by the workers who work in them. Workers, henceforth, should be central to decision-making regarding production and all matters that affect their lives, and society as a whole.
1. Inside the industry: Covid provides fresh start for Jaguar Land Rover, Autocar, December 7, 2020
2. Defending the Rights and Interests of Jaguar Land Rover Workers, Workers' Weekly, July 4, 2020