The Rover Takeover: Factory staff shed few tears over ownership: The Workers

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TONY HALLATT, 57, a fusion welder, has worked at the Cowley plant for more than 40 years, his father was there for 30 years - two generations spanning the rise and demise of an industry.

He has seen his first employer, Pressed Steel become part of British Leyland, then Rover, then British Aerospace, now BMW.

Like the cars their new German owners make, sentiment for the British car industry is a luxury Rover workers feel they cannot afford.

According to Mr Hallatt: 'Most people will say if this takeover keeps them in work, then it's a good thing. Nobody is going to turn round and say I won't work for a German firm, if that means he is out of the door.'

Between 1980 and 1990, 20,000 of the 25,000 jobs at Cowley went out the door. The factory's front gate faces a building site covered in piles of sand, a redevelopment of what used to be Lord Nuffield's Morris Motors factory, turning out Morris Cowley's, then Minors and finally seing the name disappear in the early 80s with the Ital. The destruction of the British motor industry is something the community regrets, but has grown used to.

Rover's workers were summoned to meetings soon after they clocked on at 7am yesterday. Their managers told them the news which had already been leaked on local radio and spread like wildfire around the factory.

A decade or two ago there would have been a walk-out, and a mass meeting, while the management waited anxiously at their desks. Yesterday they asked a few questions, and settled back into their jobs. The leak angered them more than the news itself.

The workers have come to view speculation over new owners like potential suitors in an arranged marriage, not undervaluing themselves.

'If Honda has wanted us, it has had plenty of chance to make a bid,' Mr Hallatt said.

And they are proud that at least they were desirable.

'Five years ago nobody was interested in purchasing Rover. There was nothing here anybody wanted. We were facing a bleak future. BMW might be the right answer for us,' Mr Hallatt said.

'It shows we make good cars,' Fred Willett, 40, said.

At their meetings yesterday morning, the workforce were assured that Rover's Five Year plan would go ahead, that BMW saw the range of luxury cars at Rover complementing BMWs. Some of the workforce were privately sceptical that the Rover range would continue intact, but most were happy enough at the prospect of building BMWs in Cowley if that was what the Germans wanted.

John Power, Lord Mayor of Oxford, used to work at Cowley, and predicts jobs will go: 'Every time there's been one of these takeovers at Cowley, we've lost jobs.'

A woman who runs the newsagent opposite the works sells fewer papers than she used to. She declined to give her name because her business depends on the goodwill of the owners. But she voiced a sneaking regret about BMW: 'It's a pity they're not British,' she confided.

(Photograph and graph omitted)