Unions vow to fight any job losses from GM alliance

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The Independent Online

Unions around the world have pledged to defend their workers from any acceleration in the cost-cutting efforts at General Motors, the biggest car maker, should it go ahead with an alliance with Nissan and Renault.

The Transport and General Workers' Union in the UK is among those to have promised to monitor the three-way talks, which are set to begin later this week.

GM agreed last Friday that its chief executive, Rick Wagoner, would open negotiations with Carlos Ghosn, who runs both Nissan of Japan and its parent company, France's Renault. The idea was first mooted by Kirk Kerkorian, GM's 9.9 per cent shareholder, who has become frustrated by the slow pace of restructuring at the loss-making GM.

Unions and politicians have agreed that a three-way alliance could transform the global automotive industry, and fear that a deal would trigger massive job losses.

Ron Gettelfinger, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), the biggest automotive industry union in the US, expressed concern over the plan, which was more likely to prove a distraction than a solution to GM's woes. "We're seeing a further erosion of good jobs in the country should this come about," he told a radio station in GM's home city of Detroit. "The entire complexion of the auto industry in the future will be determined by this."

Unions in the UK declined to make any public comment on the proposed alliance beyond saying they were monitoring the talks, but they stand ready to put pressure on managers should negotiations proceed to detailed talks of cost-cutting in Europe, where there are significant areas of manufacturing overlap.

Unions in Germany have already expressed their fears for further job losses.

Mr Gettelfinger said he did not believe Mr Wagoner would ultimately recommend joining the Nissan-Renault alliance, but would rather concentrate on the existing restructuring plan. This involves 30,000 voluntary redundancies and the closure of 10 factories in order to get the ailing North American operation back into profitability by 2008.

"I do trust that Rick Wagoner and his team can get this behind them as quickly as possible and stay focused on what they were really starting to make inroads on, and that's moving General Motors forward," Mr Gettelfinger said.

GM's shares and bonds have risen sharply in value since the alliance was first suggested, as Wall Street cheered the prospect of more aggressive cost savings.

Mr Ghosn gained a reputation as "le cost cutter" after turning round Nissan since 1999.