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Saturday, 1 April, 2000, 03:35 GMT 04:35 UK
Demo police hide BMW bikes
Protester throws paint over BMW sign at Rover factory
BMW has outraged opinion in the West Midlands
By Midlands business correspondent Mark Foster

As the tens of thousands of people on Saturday's march take to the streets of Birmingham, the police are marching alongside them.

This is not an overt demonstration of support by officers for the Rover cause but an act of diplomacy.

Normally an event of this size would be headed by police motorbikes, stopping traffic and marshalling marchers along the route.

But West Midlands Police officers will be on foot. The problem is their motorcycles are made by BMW.


BMW dealership sign sprayed with grafitti
Police will keep their BMW motorbikes away for fear of offence
Such is the feeling against the German company it was felt wiser to leave them back in the police compound for fear the mere sight of the blue and white symbol would spark trouble.

It is an indication of the strength of feeling running against the Bavarian Motor Works that has seen the BMW sign outside Longbridge daubed with paint and the words "Stabbed in the back".

Anger

The word "scum" was sprayed over the front of the BMW dealership just a couple of miles from the Rover car plant at Longbridge.

BMW drivers on Birmingham's roads have received two fingered salutes from other motorists. The car once seen as a symbol of executive success is now a target for abuse, better left in the garage.

BMW's announcement that it was breaking up Rover and selling it off, had the impact of a betrayal or a bereavement in Birmingham and the surrounding area, where so many jobs depend on the Longbridge factory.

Nine thousand workers at Longbridge, who had accepted all the changes in working practices, job losses and demands for improved productivity, felt they'd been sold down the river.


BMW HQ Munich
Protesters hope to "rattle the windows" of BMW's Munich HQ
Suppliers, who'd had their prices driven down by 20% over the past two years, saw the bulk of their business drying up.

Dealers who had been promised new models if they invested tens of thousands of pounds on improving their premises now saw a future with empty showrooms.

Frustration

The march has been criticised by some, the Institute of Directors among them. They say this will send out the wrong message, and Birmingham is in danger of talking itself into recession.

They point out there is still a strong automotive sector in the region with Jaguar expanding rapidly and Peugeot workers getting bonuses for soaring profits and output.

But for the thousands of people directly affected and who feel powerless in the face of global business, this will be their chance to vent their frustration and send a message of protest they hope will reach out and rattle the windows of BMW's four cylinder building in Munich.

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01 Apr 00 | UK
Thousands march for Rover
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