Unite calls emergency conference to defend UK automotive industry from a bad Brexit

With now daily reminders that a ‘hard’ Brexit will prove extremely challenging for the UK’s car manufacturing industry, the country’s biggest union, Unite, is building an alliance between the workforce and the industry to secure a future for the sector.

Such is the union’s concern, Unite is calling an emergency conference to bring together representatives of its 95,000 auto members with industry leaders to press for determined government action to secure barrier-free trading access to markets in the European union.

Among those speaking at the event are the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey MP. They will be joined by David Bailey, professor of industrial strategy at Aston University and Mike Hawes, chief executive of the influential Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Announcing the conference today (Thursday 16 March) Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “On a daily basis we are encountering nervousness in the car industry as it considers its place in Brexit Britain.

“Unite is the foremost union for the UK’s car workers. Our members have worked tirelessly to turn this industry around to become the world class performer it is today. They work across more than 30 manufacturers building some 70 different models of vehicle. They are supported in this by more than 2,000 component providers employing hundreds of thousands of workers including some of the world’s most skilled engineers. It provides good, skilled jobs for working people and it makes a substantial contribution to the UK exchequer.

“A bad Brexit deal will put all of this at risk.

“So, we are bringing together those who run the sector and those working in the sector, to build common cause around what is needed to build a sustainable future for UK car making.

“I know from my discussions with the industry that investment decisions hang on access to barrier-free markets, and that this comes at the very time the industry also faces the challenges of automation and electric vehicles. We are, as a union, also embroiled in battles to defend our members’ pensions as companies prioritise shareholder rewards over decent treatment for retired workers.

“We are coming to Birmingham, a city with deep roots in carmaking, to say loudly and clearly that Unite’s members have fought before for a future for this sector and won. We will do so again.”

The conference – Securing a Future for the UK Auto Industry – will take place on Saturday 25 March in Birmingham, a city long associated with UK car manufacturing. It will bring together workers from all the major auto manufacturers and supply chain businesses to develop a plan of action to safeguard the country’s world-class auto industry, a sector with a £71.6 billion turnover.

The issues of automation, electrification, investment and the digital revolution in manufacturing will also be raised.

Unite has been lobbying for the government to declare ahead of Brexit talks that it will seek to secure access to the European Union single market and the customs union, so sending a much-needed signal to workers and UK manufacturing that a strong economy is a Brexit priority.

The union is opposed to sector-by-sector trade deals as these do not reflect the complicated nature of modern day manufacturing.

Unite represents around 95,000 workers in the auto manufacturing sector.