Rover: 'We've worked so hard, and they do this to us'

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The people of the West Midlands are struggling to come to terms with the idea that car production will cease at Longbridge.

The people of the West Midlands are struggling to come to terms with the idea that car production will cease at Longbridge.

Hundreds of workers gathered outside the factory gates in the hope that each other's company might lighten their burden. Others sat disconsolate in a local park. Wives and partners told how their menfolk had been trying to "keep busy" to fend off depression since being sent home last week.

Police were concerned that shock might turn to anger and anger to violence. Riot police were held in reserve in case the workers vented their fury on the fabric of the plant. They were not needed.

One of those who gathered outside the plant was Martin Lee, who lives in nearby Rednal. He joined the company on a youth training scheme apprenticeship 20 years ago and worked in the finance department. The 36-year-old, who is recovering from heart surgery, said he was unsurprised by Shangai Automotive's decision: "I didn't think they had any intention of buying the plant," he said. "We've got no assets. We've got worthless cars because there's no warranties. There's no land or anything left."

Mr Lee, who has two children, began applying for other jobs as soon as the announcement was made last week that MG Rover had gone into administration. So far he has drawn a blank. "We've got no right to go on if we're not making any money," he said. "It's a shame we didn't get the Mini because we'd be flying now. It's a sad day really."

Alexander Brindley, 52, a welder with 15 years' service, criticised managers for failing to communicate with workers. "They've just let us down. They must've known ages ago but we've been told nothing. We've worked every day, harder than we've ever done since they took over in 2000 and they've had no trouble. And then they do this to us."

Mr Brindley's wife, Lillian, 61, said: "I just can't believe it is being closed and I won't believe it until they put the lock on the gate and say it's all over."

Car drivers passing Q gate blew their horns in support of the workers, many of whom had gathered in nearby Cofton Park. Jeffrey Ali, 45, a production manager on the MG-TF sports car, said he was shocked at the news but realised it was a possibility. "That's it. We know that's it. But we still can't believe it," he told reporters. "I'm not blaming the Chinese. At the end of the day, business is business. The vultures will now be circling and, unfortunately, we're the pickings. It's a sad day."

Mr Ali estimated that at least one in three families in the local area would be directly affected. He said advisers at the local job centre told him workers were eligible for £58 a week unemployment benefit but thought most people would struggle to survive on that.

Sarah Kennings, whose husband Richard worked on the assembly line, was visibly upset. She said: "It's been a living nightmare not knowing where the next penny is going to come from to pay the bills. We thought the Government would pay the wages until at least May.

"We've just been told that from next week there will be no more wages. How are we supposed to live?"