Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Saturday, 16 May 2009 16:12 UK

Workers call for action on jobs


Workers on why they are taking part in Brirmingham's protest march

Thousands of workers from across the UK have taken part in a protest march in Birmingham to call on the government to help the UK's manufacturing industry.

The demonstration was followed by a rally in the city, which was chosen as a venue because almost one-in-10 people in the West Midlands is now unemployed.

Former head of employers' group the CBI, Lord Jones, took part in the march and backed short-term aid for firms.

He joined motor and steel industry workers whose jobs are under theat.

They included employees of Vauxhall and Jaguar Land Rover, which has plants in Gaydon in Warwickshire, Castle Bromwich, Coventry and Solihull in the West Midlands and Halewood in Merseyside.

Marchers at the protest
Hundreds of marchers waved union flags and banners

Workers from Corus-owned Teesside Cast Products in Redcar, where up to 2,000 jobs are under threat, were also at the march.

Organisers estimated that 7,000 people, many carrying red Unite flags and banners of union branches from across the country, braved rain to take part in the procession. The police said there were between 4,000 and 5,000 protesters.

Unite wants the government to agree to measures ranging from short-time working subsidies to keep people in work to more state aid for firms.

Tony Woodley, joint leader of Unite, told the rally at the end of the march that the union's mission was "to get ministers to wake up and act to halt the jobs crisis".

He said: "Our message today is it's no good bailing out the banks if you are not looking after the workers, their jobs and their homes.

"It's not banks we should be looking after, it's workers.

"We cannot risk seeing another forgotten generation of young people who cannot find work and have their lives ruined as a result."

He told the rally in Centenary Square that banks which had been saved by public money must free up funding for short-term subsidies to allow firms to keep open plants until the economy recovers.

"We need factories and plants open for when recovery comes because if they go they will be gone forever," he added.

'No bail-out'

Lord Jones, a former trade minister, said he had formed an unlikely alliance with Unite to urge the government to act to support businesses and young skilled workers.

"We need to [maintain] the skills of this country in manufacturing... ready for the upturn," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"This government is talking a fine fight but it isn't putting anything into making sure that happens.

"This country's manufacturing sector is reformed and fit-for-purpose. This isn't bail-out time. We have got some fabulous manufacturing business, selling around the world.

"All it needs is to keep the skills here in the short term - about one year - and that's why I'm marching for the first time in my life."

Lord Digby Jones
Lord Jones said Unite were 'spot on' in their call to protect manufacturing

Lord Jones stopped short of backing Unite's call for redundancy protection for British workers.

He accepted that the labour market flexibility he championed made UK workers more likely to lose jobs than rivals in Europe.

However, he said it also meant they would be more attractive to prospective employers when the economy picks up.

Labour's Jim Sheridan - one of 96 MPs who have signed a motion supporting the march - joined the march.

The MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North told the BBC: "We need to make sure the banks help these companies invest in the infrastructure to ensure jobs and skills are still here.

"It's not just the financial sector that's crucially important to this country. If we lose the manufacturing base, we will never get back to it again."

Among those marching was John Cooper, a worker at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire.

He said: "Workers in the motor industry are suffering short-time working, reduced pay and there are genuine fears over its future.

"The government should support real industry... the way Germany and Spain's governments are. It's no good bailing bankers out and letting industry die."

Rising unemployment

The March for Jobs follows another week which saw thousands lose jobs, with BT and Legal & General announcing cuts and official figures showing a 244,000 increase in unemployment to 2.2 million.

Manufacturing has been one of the worst affected sectors, with redundancies more than doubling in the first three months of 2009 to 67,000, up from 29,000 in January-March 2008.

A spokesman for the Department for Business said the government was working hard to support companies with "real help", adding that its Enterprise Finance Guarantee had received more than £375m of eligible applications while more than 2,000 businesses had been offered loans totalling more than £186m.

The spokesman added that more than 124,000 businesses had gained agreement to defer payment of tax worth over £2.2bn.

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