The announced closure of Ford’s engine plant in Bridgend, at a cost of 1,700 direct jobs plus many more to follow in the supply chain, is the latest episode in the ongoing purge of the British car industry driven by a glut on the market made worse by the switch in demand from petrol to hybrid or electric engines.
Donald Trump may brag about the “big trade deal” the US will offer post-Brexit Britain, but the ruthless pursuit of maximum profits by slashing surplus capacity is writing the final chapter in the disintegration of what is left of Britain’s car industry.
It is many years since the demise of the volume auto production that once marshalled armies of auto workers. What has taken its place are scaled-down operations like the Bridgend plant.
The Dragon petrol engines are manufactured there from parts imported from overseas, and are in turn exported to slot under the bonnet of Focus and Kuga cars in Ford plants in India and Mexico. The plant has also been contracted to supply larger engines to fit into Jaguar Land Rover four-wheel drives, a relatively niche market.
The termination of the JLR contract has knocked that vital prop away, and now Ford has only to transfer production of Kuga and Focus models to its own facilities in Mexico and India to render Bridgend defunct. Its sister engine plant in Dagenham must be feeling the breeze too.
Ford management blame loss of the JLR contract as the immediate trigger and the usual EU remain chorus is pointing the finger at Brexit, but it is plain to see that Ford has long been planning to move a stage further in the export of car production to low-wage economies, regardless of JLR or Brexit.
Repudiating suggestions that Brexit is to blame for the decision, the boss of Ford Europe, Stuart Rowley said: “This action has nothing to do with Brexit and the simple way to think of that is, if Brexit never happened, would there be a different decision, and the answer to that is no.”
In fact, back in December 2018 Ford was already announcing that it planned to restructure its operations right across Europe. The closure of Ford’s French plant in Bordeaux and the cull of thousands of Ford jobs in Germany (in the twin pillars of the European Union no less) showed the way the wind was blowing, with or without Brexit.
Workers at Bridgend are right to resist plans to close their plant. Neither they nor their fellow workers in France, Germany, India or Mexico are responsible for the mismatch of productive capacity to consumer demand that is convulsing the car industry globally.
It is the profit-hungry anarchy of capitalist commodity production that is to blame, not the workers, upon whose exploitation the bosses rely to make their dizzying profits.
If Ford is incapable of making proper use of the plant at Bridgend, despite having been given substantial sweeteners by the Welsh government, the plant should be nationalised without compensation and the threat of redundancies removed forthwith.
And if there is no demand for more cars in Britain, let the factory be turned over to producing something that people do need.