On 28 January, the same day that industry figures were issued showing British car manufacture last year to have sunk to its lowest level since 1984, GKN announced its latest plans to axe capacity and shed yet more jobs, closing its Chester Road factory in Birmingham.
The closure of the plant, making drivelines for JLR and other automotive companies, is planned to be completed in a year and a half, wiping out over 500 engineering jobs in the process. In all probability, the jobs will be exported to other sites in Europe, further crumbling away Britain’s industrial heritage and capacity.
This is but the latest act of vandalism to be committed by GKN’s owners and puppet masters, Melrose Industries, since the latter took the company over in an £8bn hostile bid in 2018.
The public outcry at seeing GKN fall prey to these notorious asset-strippers prompted the government to make a show of insisting that, if the takeover were to go ahead, Melrose must promise to invest in GKN’s future in Britain. The takeover went ahead.
To nobody’s very great surprise, a year later the news broke that GKN’s Kings Norton factory in Birmingham, making aircraft windscreens, was to close with a loss of 170 jobs, in flagrant breach of the undertakings Melrose had given.
And now comes the news that another GKN factory in Birmingham, the Chester Road plant, is to go down the pan, robbing over 500 jobs and delivering another body blow to engineering in the Midlands.
When the Kings Norton closure was announced, a spokeswoman for Melrose made a point of saying that the decision was taken by GKN management, without any pressure from the parent company. But the lady did protest too much, only succeeding in drawing attention to the way in which GKN’s future has become a plaything in the claws of vulture capitalists.
GKN, which traces its history back to the founding of the Dowlais Ironworks Company in 1759, was effectively ambushed by Melrose. What proved decisive in the takeover battle was the more than 20 percent of GKN shares held by hedge funds and other short-term, get rich quick investors. These fly-by-night shares just tipped the balance in favour of the raiders, giving them a total of just 52.43 percent.
The future of companies like GKN is just too important to be gambled away in a speculative frenzy driven by short-term greed, with no long-term interest in developing the country’s manufacturing base.
If the future of British manufacture cannot be safeguarded under capitalism, then it must be prised loose from the stranglehold of private ownership and nationalised.