NEWS: Hundreds protest the planned closure of GKN Chester Road factory

Words by Adam Smith / Video & pics supplied by Unite the Union

On Wednesday 7 July, more than 220 people braved torrential rain to protest against the closure of GKN‘s factory on Chester Road in Erdington.

Unite the Union organised the protest in response to owners Melrose International’s announcement the sprawling plant would be closed next June with the loss of 519 jobs.

Workers have taken the first step to strike this summer and are expected to take a ballot on industrial action in the next few weeks.

Union representatives also protested outside Parliament in a bid to force the Government to back their alternative plan for the factory.

A defiant Frank Duffy, Unite Senior Rep, addressed the crowd at Sorrell Park, Pype Hayes, in the shadow of the giant factory.

He told Erdington Local: “We are not giving in. It does not make sense to close this factory, we have proved we can make a profit and we will do everything we can to stop Melrose.

“They want to throw 519 loyal, skilled and dedicated workers on the scrapheap.

“Could you imagine a French or German multinational company shutting its only home plant and moving the work to elsewhere in Europe, there would be a national outcry.”

Unite regional secretary for the West Midlands, Annmarie Kilcline, also attended the protest.

She said: “The protest demonstrated the strength of feeling among workers at GKN and the local community against the plans to close the factory.

“This is a highly viable factory which should be preparing to play a key strategic role in the move to electrify the UK’s automotive industry. Closing the factory would be an act of gross industrial vandalism.”

She added: “It is not just the workers at the factory who would be affected by the potential closure but hundreds of workers in the company’s supply chain and the local community would all  suffer job losses.

“It is essential that the government makes good on its promises to provide assistance and they work with Unite and local politicians to keep this factory open.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey, who helped draft the alternative business proposal, backed the GKN workers.

He said: “What Melrose is doing to GKN is outrageous, I stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers in Erdington. If they decide to take industrial action then I will support them.”

Speaking at the rally, Birmingham City Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward had messages for both Melrose and the GKN workers facing unemployment.

He said: “Step in now and work with the workers at GKN to save this plant. Anything less is simply a betrayal of the hard-working, loyal & dedicated workforce.

“I assure you the city will stand with you and support you all the way in this dispute”

Despite the viability of the factory and potential massive Government backing Melrose still plan to relocate GKN operations from Chester Road to Poland.

Melrose said: “GKN Automotive has fully considered the counter proposals put forward. However, the outlook for the highly competitive automotive market remains unchanged.

“Regretfully, therefore, we are proceeding with our proposal to close the site. Supporting our people continues to be our priority.”

Unite the Union and GKN workers protest closure of Chester Road factory

To find out more about GKN Automotive visit www.gknautomotive.com

For more from Unite the Union visit www.unitetheunion.org

For more from Jack Dromey MP for Erdington visit www.jackdromey.co.uk  

Mayoral hopeful Liam Byrne MP backs GKN workers – calling proposed Chester Rd closure “unthinkable”

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by the office for Liam Byrne MP

Under-threat workers from Erdington’s GKN Driveline factory held a protest outside the plant’s gates this week.

In February, Melrose Industries announced plans to close the Chester Road site with the loss of 520 jobs – but Unite the Union and local politicians are fighting to keep the factory open.

Labour’s West Midlands Mayoral candidate Liam Byrne MP joined workers on Thursday, calling the closure of GKN Driveline “unthinkable”.

He told Erdington Local: “As a region we need more facilities like GKN in Erdington, not closing them down. I wanted to come to Chester Road to show my solidarity with the workers here. If I am Mayor of the West Midlands in a month’s time, I will be behind everyone at GKN.

“I’m sure they have earmarked the land for housing. But Erdington needs industry, because if you build big housing estates without jobs they will end up being full of unemployed people.”

He added: “We need to leading the way in new green industries, just like Joe Biden is doing in America, and historic industrial infrastructure like GKN should be part of this new economy.

“If elected I will be doing everything to convince owners Melrose to keep these jobs in Erdington.

“We will find a way, a solution to keep this factory open.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey has been working with Unite the Union to create a business plan to keep the Chester Road factory open.

He said: “These workers are outstanding at what they do and they have been thanked by losing their jobs. There are people here who have worked here for 20 years, people whose family have worked here before them. There are skilled jobs here and they should celebrated not axed.

“Melrose’s representatives said at a House of Commons select committee they would listen to alternatives to closure, and the Government have said they will support an alternative.”

He added: “Melrose need to know they cannot buy a company with 262 years of industrial history and then close down, if they think they will get away with it then they have another thing coming.”

Melrose Industries bought GKN in 2018 in a controversial hostile and promised to keep the Erdington plant open. GKN can trace its history back to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and has been at the forefront of engineering in the UK ever since, the Erdington site assembles automotive parts.

Frank Duffy, GKN‘s Unite convenor at the Chester Road plant, said: “We have got more than 500 workers here and we are not giving in. We are not working on the premise that the factory is closing because it makes no sense.

“We have not been given redundancy terms yet which is a good sign the factory can remain open.”

To find out more about GKN Automotive visit www.gknautomotive.com

For more from Unite the Union visit www.unitetheunion.org

For more on Liam Byrne MP visit www.liambyrne.co.uk  

NEWS: “Hooligan masks” sold in Erdington pubs, ahead of mandatory face covering measures on 24th July

Words by Adam Smith / Pics of pubs by Ed King – pics of masks supplied by anonymous

Frightening hooligan masks” are being sold in the pubs of Erdington – ahead of next week’s Government deadline for everyone to cover their faces in shops and on public transport.

The “Zulu masks” with the logo of the feared Birmingham City Football Club hooligan group The Zulus are being snapped up for £5 by Blues fans wanting to “look hard” on the street.

However, Aston Villa fans have complained the masks will worry young and old people as they are “inciting violence.”

Steven Lee, aged 53, said: “This is typical Blues. The Zulus are known for hooliganism. If my son, who is a teenager, is wearing his Villa mask, sees someone on the bus with this Zulu mask of course he is going to be afraid.

The fact that hooligans are cashing in on their violent past during COVID-19 pandemic is frankly sickening. They are being bought by idiots trying to look hard.”

He added: “It looks like the Villa are going to be relegated so next season we will be playing Blues, and I bet a lot of their hooligans will be wearing these masks on derby days, it will be chaos.”

Another Villa fan, who did not want to be named, added: “I give it a week before one of masks is used in an armed robbery or some street violence, celebrating criminals is just wrong.”

However, the mobile salesmen who has been hawking the masks around the pubs of Erdington, said: “It is just a bit of fun, I sell Villa, Blues, Liverpool, Manchester United masks and my supplier offered me these Zulu ones and they have been pretty popular.”

The salesman, who refused to be named for fear of recriminations, told Erdington Local: “I was a Zulu myself so I know most the people who are buying them are not remotely hooligans, I should be getting congratulated for helping stop the spread of the virus.

I’ve been in the Red Lion, The Charlie Hall, Church Tavern and the New Inn, amongst other pubs, and will continue selling these Zulu masks until they run out.”

The Zulus were formed in the early 1980s and quickly became notorious. standing out among other firms as they were multi-cultural whereas as others were mostly white – they featured heavily in the 1989 Gary Oldman film The Firm and various football violence documentaries since.

However, in recent years prominent members like Barrington Patterson have become celebrities in their own right – raising £100,000s for charity. Zulu members also organised a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Birmingham city centre earlier this month where the masks were seen in public en masse for the first time.

I was driving past the coach station, turning right onto Rea Street, and got caught in the middle of the Blues-Black Lives Matter march,” describes one eye witness, “everyone was wearing masks, but some of the bigger lads had the Zulu branded masks and t-shirts on.

There were mainly standing at the sides of the procession though, almost like security. I wouldn’t have argued with them, they looked pretty fierce, but they weren’t giving anyone any trouble. I think there was an EDL march happening in Birmingham on that day too.”

Downing Street confirmed everyone in England will have to wear a mask in shops from Friday, July 24 as well as public transport which came into affect in June.

After legislation is passed in Parliament people could get fined as much as £100 if they are found not wearing a mask in a shop or on public transport.

To find out more about the Government’s request for the public’s use of masks from 24thn July, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/face-coverings-to-be-mandatory-in-shops-and-supermarkets-from-24-july

OPINION: Black Lives Matter protest in Birmingham

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Chris Neophytou & Jobe Baker-Sullivan

As far as I’m concerned, the police in America might as well be a terrorist organisation.”

I was spellbound by the thousands of people who gathered in Birmingham for the Black Lives Matter protest. There were people of all ages and races. There were children, and even a few pet dogs. It was in response to George Floyd’s death – which has caused shockwaves in cities around the world. I was proud to be there for Birmingham’s show of solidarity.

Initially, it was a scary experience. On my way to Birmingham Library, where the speeches took place, I was handed a slip of paper from an organiser with ‘advice on arrest’. I became anxious as the crowds gathered momentum – lest we forget, there is also the possibility of being infected with coronavirus.

But the intention of this protest was noble.

People chanted in full voice: “George Floyd, remember his name!” organically, along with other slogans. There were signs containing anti-establishment messages, messages of hope – some tongue-in-cheek, some with wise quotations. The one that resonated with me was the powerful, ‘They want our rhythm not our blues.’ As a musician, I believe that a vast amount of popular music owes a lot to talented, pioneering yet anonymous, often intentionally uncredited, black musicians. And as a white musician, I believe we stole their music but we didn’t alleviate their sorrow.

By chance, I spotted some people I know from Erdington. Pastor Rasaq Ibrahim from the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) joyfully handed me a free face mask, before disappearing into the crowd to give more to strangers.

Feeling fully equipped, having brought my vinyl gloves and voice recorder, I joined the crowd outside the library to hear passionate speakers selected by the Black Lives Matter group using a portable PA, often doubled with a megaphone. It was only audible if you were very close to the action, but people were happy to start chants in their own pockets of activity. I caught most of the speeches, with various speakers commending the multi-ethnicity of the crowd, the fact that this protest cannot be the last, and getting the crowd to kneel as a gesture of solidarity.

The fight is not black verses white; the fight is not black verses Asian. The fight is not black verses any race. The fight is against racists,” one speaker sermonised, followed by rapturous applause.

A couple of hours later, we marched, from Centenary Square, along New Street, to protest symbolically in front of the Lloyd House Police Headquarters.

An acquaintance of mine spotted me in the crowd. Like all the following speakers, she is black and wishes to remain anonymous. She is from Castle Vale: “Everyone’s out here. Black, white, Indian. Fighting for the same cause. It’s like the most peaceful protest I’ve ever been to. The message is clear. All anybody wants to have is an enjoyable life, and some people are robbing them of that.

Me personally, I feel like Black Lives Matter is inclusive to everyone as well. As far as I’m concerned, the police in America might as well be a terrorist organisation. The George Floyd incident was filmed, but it’s like, this has been going on for decades. This protest is saying, stop it. Just stop.”

I too had fear that this day would not remain peaceful, having seen the news of tear gas and looting in America. Trump’s response was to threaten to send in the army to cease the unrest, yet here in Birmingham I see an army of well-meaning citizens mobilizing to bring positive change.

One man, from Moseley, tells me: “As you can see, everybody’s behaving and respecting. Not many police officers. In general, I’m quite blown away because also, nobody with grey hairs like us! The majority of people are under 30. It’s mixed like hell mate! Proper mixed… It’s been an excellent day, a great day.”

We stopped our conversation to admire the marching crowd as it circled around Colmore Circus. Buses had come to a stand-still, and cars sounded their horns as they drove by in solidarity.

This is different from every other one [protest] because it’s worldwide. And it’s unfortunate that the people who commit the crime are telling other people to be peaceful!”

Another male I knew from Erdington was a little more sceptical of the speakers present at the protest: “to be honest, I think it’s just a façade. There was no direction on the mic in what they were saying. There were people on the mic saying: ‘if you’re not down with XYZ then you’re not XYZ’.”

Black Lives Matter itself as an organisation is not without its criticisms. It has been accused of being militaristic, police-hating, and has had a history of confrontation in the public domain – a prominent Black Lives Matter activist and writer, Shaun King, was banned from Facebook in 2016. Although King’s censorship was later redacted by the social media giant and labelled ‘a mistake’.

But whilst agitation can be seen as an important part in evolving debate, it can also lead to messages getting blown out of proportion in a media frenzy – a difficult balance no doubt Black Lives Matter, and many activist groups, will be all too familiar with. And if you need an example of how this can go wrong, just Google ‘Katie Hopkins’.

But the response to the George Floyd murder, for that’s what it is, has been the most recent flashpoint of a whole history of anti-human abuse. Black lives do matter, and as offensive as it is to even need an organisation to clarify that the conversation about race needs to be kept alive, by everyone.

And personally, from my corner of the crowd and community, it was important for me to be part of this historic event in my own city. And as a musician, and a human being, I can only pray that finally a change is going to come.

For more on Black Lives Matter, visit www.blacklivesmatter.com

Jobe Baker-Sullivan is an Erdington based musician and arts ambassador, leading the Erdington Arts Forum and the Active Arts Evenings of Creativity. For more on Jobe Baker Sullivan, visit www.facebook.com/JobeSullivanMusic

For more on the Erdington Arts Forum, visit www.facebook.com/groups/cafeartsforum/