Thousands join Rover march

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Tens of thousands of people today joined a march through the centre of Birmingham in support of a campaign to save jobs at car giant Rover.

Tens of thousands of people today joined a march through the centre of Birmingham in support of a campaign to save jobs at car giant Rover.

Workers were joined by their families, union officials and church leaders from across the country for the mass protest which brought roads in the heart of the city to a standstill.

A stream of people stretching back as far as the eye could see set off with placards, banners, whistles and drums.

At the head of the march were three Rover cars - a 25, 45, and 75 models - the symbol of what demonstrators hope to save.

West Midlands Police estimated the number of protesters at between 30,000 and 40,000 but said that number could swell as the march continued along its route to a rally to be held in Birmingham's Cannon Hill Park.

Many of the protesters held placards which spelled out their strong feelings, especially towards BMW which made the controversial decision to break up the Rover subsidiary.

Among them read "Keep Rover Running" and "We gave everything for you".

As the march passed through one part of the city, carnations were handed out which had been donated by a wealthy flower seller from Birmingham in support of the campaign.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, was among many union officials to join the march and add their support.

"The number of people here today shows the level of concern about the company and about the community which relies on it," he said.

Duncan Simpson, chief negotiator for the AEEU, explained what they were hoping to achieve through the protest.

"This is a peaceful protest and it is sad that it has happened in the first place, but we are not calling for industrial action - we just want to voice ouir disgust.

"What you see here is a show of solidarity. Not just Rover workers, but the whole community and supporters from far afield.

"We have had coach loads arrive for this event, including workers from Ford's plant in Dagenham who see their jobs under threat.

"The message we are sending back to BMW is that their conduct will not be tolerated by the British people."

Later marchers began arriving at the park where the rally was to be held.

Estimates varied about the size of the crowd with police putting it in the region of 30,000-40,000 people, while organisers put the figure at nearer 100,000 marchers.

It took more than an hour for the marchers to cross the starting point in the city centre.

Along the way other union bosses, who are expected to address the rally, gave their reaction to the protest.

Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing Science and Finance union, said: "This has been a phenomenal success but it is not a funeral for Rover - it is a demand for action.

"We will be doing all we can to find a solution other than Alchemy Partners. They are part of the problem - we need to find a real solution.

"The strength we will get from today will help us in the days and months ahead."

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "We need a long term plan for manufacturing industry in this country because it is in a crisis at the moment.

"It is not just car making, you only have to look at the collapse of the textile industry and shipbuilding to realise the state we are now in.

"It comes down to the value of the pound and we estimate that if it does not come down by the end of next year just over half a million jobs in manufacturing in this country could be lost."