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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Manufacturing on the march
By Jackie Storer
BBC News Online political staff in Bournemouth

"These are not messages from the awkward squad - they are just awkward messages," declared Derek Simpson to wild applause from a 2,000 strong demonstration by manufacturing workers.

From the back of a flatbed truck, the suited leader of Amicus, one of Britain's biggest trade unions, pledged to fight all the way to reverse the weekly loss of 2,500 jobs in manufacturing.
Factory workers
Amicus estimates 2,500 jobs are lost each week

Only moments earlier, a river of red flags weaved its way through the usually genteel seaside town of Bournemouth. Its destination: the centre where Labour is holding its annual conference.

Past the Pavilion, the Imax and in sight of Harry Ramsden's chippy, they walked.

Most looked like they had come straight from the factory. Some wore t-shirts emblazoned with the Amicus log. Some pushed buggies or wheelchairs.

As Mr Simpson climbed on to his makeshift platform, he was greeted by the deafening sound of whistles, cheers and the chant: "Tony Blair, he don't care".

Overseas influence

Many of the workers had risen at dawn to board buses to the south coast to attend the protest. But that early start had done little to diminish their anger.

Harry Jones, who works for TRW in South Wales making power steering for Land Rovers, Volvos and Ford, summed up the general feeling: "We want to wake Tony Blair up and get him to realise how many manufacturing jobs are being lost overseas to almost Third World countries like the Philippines.

"I'm not far off retirement, but there are youngsters coming in and there will be no jobs left for them," said the 53-year-old former miner and father-of-three.

Stop the haemorrhaging of British jobs
Derek Simpson
Amicus
"Because of the jobs that are being lost, crime has gone up. People are being deprived of money and wealth. Tony Blair ought to think about that, but what's he doing about it?"

As Mr Jones pondered his future, Mr Simpson, a left-winger who was popular with the crowd, urged the government to follow the lead of Germany, France and Italy to find policies that will defend UK manufacturing.

"Stop the haemorrhaging of British jobs," he appealed to applause.

"We need the legislation that will protect us, that will give us the same protection rights that will consider the social consequences our colleagues in Europe already enjoy."

Campaign continues

Workers listened. One group had a banner from "Rolls Royce Bristol ... shop stewards committee", another with "Vauxhall Motors AUEW Ellesmere Port 'United we stand'. Another simply said: "Bomber Blair doesn't care".

Mr Simpson assured the gathering that ministers were "looking at these matters".

But if Labour achieves a third term, he warned: "We will still lose jobs, we will still campaign to stop it. We will be more successful in the future."

But while Mr Simpson was well received, his colleague Roger Lyons, general secretary of MSF branch of Amicus, was greeted by cries of "get out", "let Derek lead it, not you".

Despite this, Mr Lyons said he wanted to pay his respects to all the protesters for their campaigning commitment and strength of purpose.

'Missing' MPs

He said there was no reason why a country like the UK, home of many inventions, should not be manufacturing them.

But as Mr Simpson tried to wind up the meeting with a couple of good natured jokes, one worker called out: "Where are our MPs?"

It was a sentiment that was not lost on Kev Coombes, a 45-year-old convenor at Aerostructures in Hamble, Southampton.

"They seem to be conspicuous by their absence," he shook his head grimly. "Why aren't they supporting us?

"We are losing our trades. We have no apprentices. We have no future in the skills base. No-one is listening," said Mr Coombes, a married father-of-three.

Pete Russell, 44, from Dana Spicers, an engineering firm producing vehicle axles, said: "Our jobs and industry need protecting.

"We hope the message is loud and clear. We are not going to watch our jobs being sent abroad."

With that, the despondent group wandered slowly away.




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