In 2000, the Goodyear Corporation acquired Dunlop Tires Ltd, a British subsidiary of the Japanese-based Sumatomo Group, with factories in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Washington, Sunderland, in an agreement that secured Goodyear a generous 75 percent of the company. That acquisition gave Goodyear the famous Dunlop brand, dominance of the tyre manufacture in western Europe and access to its car industry. Most importantly, Goodyear had gained the industry of one of the most efficient and skilled workforces in the world.
To the casual observer, this may have seemed a bright new dawn for Dunlop and its workers. The Washington plant was the most efficient in Europe and the world leader in research and development. Its workforce was the most productive of any tyre manufacturer, and under the colossal corporate umbrella of Goodyear, surely Dunlop’s workers could feel secure in their jobs. However, if any of Dunlop’s workers were under that impression they were soon to be confounded by the callous machinations of their capitalist oppressors, whose one interest in buying Dunlop turned out, as a response to the world crisis of overproduction, to be to eliminate Dunlop as a competitor. On 5 July 2006, the last of the three factories (Washington) closed down.
With hindsight, the goal of the Goodyear conspiracy against its own employees has become clear, and the experiences of the workers at Dunlop’s Washington plant helps illustrate the methods used by the capitalists.
The first changes were to the factories’ governance, which saw the adoption of particularly oppressive American-style management philosophies with which the company broke the morale of the workers and any semblance of the solidarity that existed. To aid in this project, Goodyear increased the number of management and non-production staff in a mockery of any claim to efficiency.
This expanding group of petty-bourgeois managers strove to intimidate and atomise the workers by any means, from punishment for trivial infractions to threats of swift dismissal for the most vulnerable and junior workers. With the false promise of reward for those who helped oppress their fellow workers, the management pitted Dunlop’s proletarian workers against each other. An atmosphere of perpetual insecurity quickly developed and, fearing for their livelihoods, the resistance of Dunlop’s workers to such measures was soon broken.
With the potential opposition seen off, Goodyear moved on to plunder and ruin their new acquisition, stripping it bare of all expertise and equipment, and exploiting the workforce ever more completely.
To achieve this, the company cruelly deceived the workforce, telling them that, in order to secure their jobs, they needed to be more productive. Yet, all the while, Goodyear had ceased to invest in the factory, which quickly deteriorated. The extra personnel only added to the company’s running costs, and their aggressive, divisive, wrecking management helped ruin the once prosperous Dunlop. The capitalist owners exhorted the workers to greater labours even as they conspired to steal their jobs away from them. They promised them that toil could save them even as the factory grew increasingly dilapidated.
Then, in April 2006, the end finally came. After the workers had given all they could and the factory was no longer viable, it was announced that the Washington plant would close, with the loss of 585 jobs. The redundant joined the 20,000 other workers Goodyear has similarly laid off in eight other factory closures since 1990.
“Lay-offs … are the consequence of modern capitalism.” These are the words of Sam Gibara, the former CEO of Goodyear. This illustrates how contrived redundancies and planned obsolescences are just part of the exploitation armoury that modern corporations utilise as they scour the globe. Goodyear has exploited an existing asset in Washington and has moved on to eastern Europe in search of new markets to penetrate and new workers to exploit.
The comments of this Goodyear executive were reinforced tenfold by voices within the factory and wider society that convinced many workers that their factory was in a struggle to survive and overcome economic circumstance by increasing efficiency. This efficiency was invariably gained through their labour and privations.
Management are always trying to tell us workers that we can’t do anything about the laws of the market; that our position is hopeless and resistance is futile. Naturally, they ‘forget’ to mention that ‘market forces’ only prevail in market economies, ie, capitalist economies in which production is geared exclusively to making profits. Under capitalism, as Marx succinctly put it in Capital: “the object that labour produces, its product, confronts it as an alien being, as a power independent of the producer”.
But capitalism is not the end of history; it is not the pinnacle of human development. On the contrary, it is the historic mission of the working class to smash capitalism and establish socialism, a system where the economy is run not for profit but planned in order to satisfy the needs of the working class. Socialist economies are not buffeted by market forces because the market does not drive production, as a result of which the laws of the market do not hold sway.
In response to the Dunlop closure, redundant workers have asked several questions. Where are the government and their objections? Why do they allow such corporate pirates to exploit their own people?
But these are the wrong questions. The government and the exploiters are but two sides of the same coin. No help can come for us from within the system of oppression. As the Dunlop workers’ situation grew more desperate, far right ideologies began to factor into the thinking of many, which further divided the workforce against themselves. For those who would deceive the workers, ideas such as racial division or foreign infiltration serve to reinforce the false consciousness that the system relies upon. By blaming the ills of one group of workers upon the mythical machinations of another, the capitalists succeed in diverting proletarian anger away from themselves.
The decline of Dunlop and the story of its workers are illustrative of capitalist exploitation in Britain. Yet we can also appreciate the enduring applicability of Marx and the Marxist prescription for the ills of myself and my fellow workers.
Only by awaking the class consciousness of the proletariat can the cruel system that has exploited Dunlop’s workers be overcome. Only when the working people become fully conscious of the true nature of their situation, aware of their common interest and common enemies can their oppressors be overthrown.