We tried to switch to green jobs, but bosses shut down our car factory | Franck Duffy


MAll of 500 workers, including myself, at the GKN Automotive plant in Birmingham voted in favor of strike action to save both our plant and the UK manufacturing. It’s the last thing we ever wanted to do, but we think we have no choice.

Currently, we manufacture and assemble components for drivetrains, the very important section under your car to transfer power from the engine and transmission to the wheels. In 2019, 90% of GKN’s components went into traditional combustion engines, but that could be cut in half by 2025, with electric vehicles (EVs) taking 15% of the components and hybrids around 40%. The shift to electric will only continue, as UK factories unveil new vehicle plans before internal combustion engines are banned in 2030.

In order to secure our jobs and the UK car industry, we need to shift to the production of components for electric vehicles, including new propulsion systems and new electric motors. GKN has developed a new e-reader with UK government funding at its Oxfordshire research center, but sadly we won’t see this innovation creating new green jobs for UK workers. Melrose, the owners of GKN, have decided to close our factory in 2022 and move jobs abroad.

We realized that if we wanted to see a green future for the UK auto industry and save our skilled jobs, we couldn’t leave it to our bosses and had to take matters into our own hands. We came up with an alternate 90-page plan detailing how we could revamp production to save money and manufacture these new components.

Ours is the first car factory transition plan proposed by shop stewards in the UK, and an echo of the 1976 Lucas plan, when shop stewards at Lucas Aerospace, also in Birmingham, offered to convert their factory to socially useful products.

Now as then, our Alternative Plan was to save jobs in Birmingham while turning the factory into an asset to support UK industry at large. It is a victory for the workforce, industry and the environment. If that’s not what “just transition” means, I don’t know what it is. However, Melrose refused to move our plan forward.

Melrose, an investment firm specializing in the buyout and resale of manufacturing companies, acquired GKN after a hostile takeover in 2018. Our union, Unite, criticized the takeover at the time, arguing that the The company’s track record of finding business restructuring which he acquires and sells them after three to five years meant that he was not a suitable long-term owner.

Three years later, our factory is closed. You can trace the origin of GKN as far back as 1759 and our own site on Chester Road has seen generations of the same family working here since it opened in 1956. Now we are looking at the barrel of hundreds of skilled manufacturing workers added. to local unemployment statistics.

Five of the 10 constituencies with the highest unemployment rates in the UK are in Birmingham. Erdington, the home of our factory, has an unemployment rate of 12.5%, well above the national average.

Birmingham has been here before. When the massive Rover factory in Longbridge closed in 2005, the impact was felt for years to come. Unite’s predecessor union, Amicus, backed research which showed that despite 90% of workers finding other jobs, 66% were in a worse financial situation, average earnings fell by more than £ 6,000 and 25 % reported being in debt or dependent on savings to get by.

Every automotive company in the world is preparing for the transition. The future cannot be built on outsourced or offshored jobs, where workers from different countries compete in a race to the bottom.

If we are all to see the UK manufacturing sector shift to new environmentally friendly technologies so that there are job opportunities in the future, we need to keep jobs and skills like ours to make it happen. Support us. We are also fighting for your future.


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