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The BBC's Stephen Evans
"A double-blow to car production in Britain"
 real 28k

Bill Morris, Transport and General Workers Union
"We have fulfilled our side of the bargain"
 real 28k

Monday, 24 April, 2000, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Unions pledge fight for Ford
Ford Dagenham
Dagenham's future has been in doubt for months
Prime Minister Tony Blair has held talks with the chief executive of motor giant Ford in a bid to persuade the company not to end car assembly at its Dagenham plant.

News of the talks came as unions pledged to fight to save the thousands of jobs under threat at the plant.

Mr Blair met Ford's global chief executive Jac Nasser to discuss the future of the east London plant, threatened with closure as part of a Ford shake-up to cut over-capacity in Europe.


Mr Blair
Mr Blair regularly meets senior businessmen
The government is anxious to avoid a further blow to Britain's motor industry, with 10,000 jobs already in jeopardy in the Midlands, as a result of BMW's sell-off of Rover.

Ford axed 1,500 jobs at Dagenham in February. It is widely reported to be poised to cut 3,000 more by closing down assembly lines.

Mr Blair's intervention signals a high political priority to stemming job losses in the manufacturing industry, which has suffered because of the pound's strength abroad.

Ford's profits in Europe fell sharply last year from 200m to just 29m.

It has announced a global review of its operations, and there are fears that Dagenham has been identified for closure in a restructuring plan to be announced in May.

Union anger

But on Monday unions questioned whether the Department of Trade and Industry has done enough to save jobs.

"Tony Blair's intervention is very welcome, but you have to ask where is the DTI? Time and time again they refuse to intervene even when thousands of jobs are at risk," a spokeman for the GMB union said.

"It is time the DTI pulled its finger out and realised that its main task is the the promotion and protection of British jobs," he added.

Transport and General Workers Union leader Bill Morris said they would do whatever they could to stop Ford closing down the plant.

He blamed the difference in labour laws between the UK and Europe for the threat to its future.

"It is not a productivity problem, it's not a quality problem - it is simply that it is easier and cheaper to sack British workers," he told the BBC.

He said this meant the cheapest option for Ford in reducing over capacity in Europe, was to shed jobs in the UK.

"We see no case at all for yet another body blow to be struck to the heat of our community," he added.

A Downing Street spokesman said that Mr Blair's meeting was not prompted by any specific concerns that Dagenham might be closed.


Assembly line worker
Dagenham employs 7,700
He said: "Mr Blair met Jac Nasser a few weeks ago and he has met him before. He has regular meetings with senior businessmen from time to time.

"I am sure that Dagenham would have come up as an issue, but I don't think it was a meeting called because of Dagenham."

The DTI is in regular telephone contact with Ford to keep itself updated on the progress of its review, the spokesman said.

The government was heavily criticised for being unaware of BMW's plans for Rover until the last moment.

A DTI spokeswoman said on Saturday: "Ford has made it clear to the government that its present review is looking at the problems of over-production and excess capacity across its operations throughout Europe.

"This review is not centred on issues which solely affect the UK. We expect an announcement from Ford about the outcome of the review within the next few weeks."

'Disaster' for Britain

Dagenham employs more than 7,700 people, with more than 4,000 working on the car body and assembly operations.

Managers at the plant have criticised poor productivity and the plant has been hit by unofficial strikes and allegations of workforce racism.

Steve Hart, regional organiser for the Transport and General Workers Union, said the union was "determined" that Dagenham would not close as part of the restructuring.

"It would be a disaster for our members at Dagenham. It would be a disaster for east London and Essex - which already has high unemployment - and it would be a disaster for manufacturing in Britain," he said.

If you want to ask the main candidates for Mayor of London about the situation at Dagenham in a live programme on Monday night, send your emails to londonmayor@bbc.co.uk

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See also:

24 Apr 00 | Business
Rival Rover bid 'set to collapse'
18 Feb 00 | Business
Ford slashes 1,500 UK jobs
20 Apr 00 | Business
Rover jobs crisis
03 Feb 00 | Business
Ford's European troubles
04 Feb 00 | Business
Is Dagenham doomed?
02 Feb 00 | Business
Ford staff vote for walkout
03 Feb 00 | Business
Ford to cut costs in Europe
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