17 August 2000
The meeting that saved Rover
New details on the behind-the-scenes talks that resulted in the Phoenix Consortium taking over the Rover car business are revealed today in this year's English edition of the German trade union magazine, "Die Mitbestimmung".
The magazine publishes an interview with Manfred Schoch, a leading trade unionist and the chair of the powerful works council at BMW. He says the crucial breakthrough came on 30 March this year when he together with two British trade union officials persuaded the chair of BMW to offer the same financial support to Phoenix as to Alchemy.
"The three of us - the two British trade union representatives, Tony Woodley from the TGWU and Duncan Simpson from the AEEU, and me - managed to get Professor Milberg to agree that the two interested parties - Alchemy and the Phoenix Consortium ... should get the same financial support. It was a question of ?500 million ... to make up losses. That was the breakthrough."
Schoch believes that it was this crucial concession that made it possible for the UK representatives to get financial guarantees for Phoenix and so save so many jobs. Looking back he says:
"I accept now, of course, that we didn't do enough to sell this success to the public. But it saved Rover!"
Schoch believes that the contacts made in the European works council, a body of employee representatives from Germany, Britain and Austria, set up under European legislation, helped to create the links that saved Longbridge. The European works council consistently opposed the closure of any of the plants.
The interview with Schoch provides a new insight into the relationship between Rover and BMW, from someone who was on the inside of the big decisions. It also provides an example of the influential position of employee representatives in a key German company.
Notes to editors"Die Mitbestimmung" is a monthly magazine published by the Hans-Boeckler Foundation, the educational and research foundation of the DGB, the German equivalent of the TUC. As well as the editions in German, Die Mitbestimmung now also has an annual edition in English.
The key theme of this year's English edition is the comparison between how German and British companies are run. As well as the interview with Manfred Schoch from BMW, there is also an interview with Michael M?nks from Mannesmann, which has just been taken over by Vodafone, a study of industrial relations in Germany, the UK, France and Spain, a look at the problems of getting UK representatives for the European Works Council at Deutsche Bank, and two articles on German efforts to combat unemployment through the "Alliance for Jobs" at both national and workplace level.
Manfred Schoch was able to exert pressure on BMW's management because of his position on the company's Supervisory Board. Under German law this is the body to which the Board of Directors reports and it must include employee representatives. In February 1999 the Supervisory Board forced Milberg's predecessor, Bernd Pischetsrieder, to resign from the board. Schoch says that it would not have been possible to get BMW to move on Rover "without our position on the Supervisory Board".
BMW initially planned to sell Rover to the British company Alchemy Partners, which would have led to very substantial job losses at the Longbridge plant
Copies of the English edition of Die Mitbestimmung are available price ?3.50 from Labour Research Department, 78 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HF
For further information contact Margarete Hasel, the editor of Die Mitbestimmung, on 0049 211 77 78 192