fragile livelihoods at cowley mini factory

Earlier this year BMW laid off 850 agency workers at their Oxford Cowley factory. There was widespread TV coverage of a video of workers angrily rebuking and pelting the Unite union official who had kept his members in the dark—but a planned mass picket of the factory the following week flopped. Here we report on the situation seven months later.


by Brian Rylance

The Commune’s 23rd February report on the BMW Cowley plant lay-offs has taken a new and unusual twist with the announcement that Mini production is to be increased, ‘safeguarding’ present employment and hinting at new jobs. This news has been greeted with considerable joy by the Oxford Mail. Yet the fact is that the jobs were cut in an unthinking response to the wider economic downturn, and as was reported by The Commune at the time, this was despite the fact that Mini sales were “not falling.”

Now in a round of jubilation BMW are hailed as heroes who are providing jobs for those on the breadline. No more mention is made of the cruel way they threw people on the dole without even a shred of economic reasoning and without it even being questioned by the Unite union. In a response to the news of an impending recession they made a panic decision and without even any regard for their own sales numbers they indulged in the orgy of capitalist ‘self harming’, laying off the very workers who would normally buy the products that keep the economy booming!

The chaos of the markets obviously hits the economically vulnerable first every time it falters and the union is simply not up to the task of defending their rights. The Oxford Mail quotes a Unite rep as saying “It would be nice if any new people were given permanent contracts, but it is tremendous news for the plant and for Oxford” — such pleas do nothing to take the company to task over its callous behaviour, and totally fail to protect the employment rights of the workers. BMW would far rather lay off too many rather than too few and Unite clearly failed to question the decision and failed to look towards the rights of their more vulnerable members.  The corporations make bad decisions yet are hailed as wealth creators: but we must be clear that that they are creating wealth for the few, with no regard for the many.