They made cannons to defeat Napoleon and Spitfires to beat Hitler and now workers in the heart of England are fighting their own Battle of Britain.
However important the salaries are to people with families to feed and bills to pay, the struggle by the 520 employees at a car parts factory in Birmingham is more than a workforce defending their jobs
Saving the historic GKN auto plant in Erdington is also about protecting one of the city’s poorer communities from renewed hardship.
It’s also about saving the future of motor manufacturing in the UK.
Because if US speculators Melrose – accused of asset-stripping and breaking promises – are allowed to shut the place next year, the damage will reverberate across the nation.
Steve Turner, a senior member of the Unite union, is preparing to ballot the workers on strike action.
He said: “Melrose must not be allowed to destroy a key part of the UK car industry. Unless the company U-turns, the whole of the British motor industry will be damaged.”
The factory is near Birmingham’s Spitfire Island – a roundabout with a sculpture of the fighter plane GKN helped build in the Second World War. It is a part of a manufacturer that was taken over by US-based Melrose Industries for £8.1billion in 2018.
Melrose vowed to turn a GKN, with a UK workforce of 6,000 and many times that number globally, into a “British manufacturing powerhouse” to clinch the controversial purchase.
Labour labelled the group “short-term asset strippers”.
It supplies components to Jaguar-Land Rover as well as Toyota in Derbyshire and Nissan in Sunderland.
But the American owners rejected Unite plans to invest in Birmingham and plan to export production to Poland and France. Melrose denies breaking any promises and maintains the plant is unable to compete with rivals abroad. Unite challenges this.
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Pragmatic Steve has widespread support to succeed Len McCluskey as General Secretary of Unite.
He has demanded Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and PM Boris Johnson convene a meeting to force Melrose into a rethink.
The future of GKN is emerging as a key test of the Government’s “levelling up” agenda, a vague pledge it has asserted will improve the lives of voters in poorer areas.
Erdington is one of Birmingham’s less prosperous areas, with unemployment above the national average.
Steve said: “If this was Germany, Angela Merkel wouldn’t be sitting back and doing nothing when the loss of skilled jobs, expertise and a key piece of manufacturing were at risk.”
Adam Armstrong, 35, followed his father and grandfather into the plant and has been with the firm 14 years.
He said: “ We are proud of what we do and we want to stay open for our families and community.”
Steve added: “There are tens of thousands of skilled jobs at risk as we transition to electric vehicles and step up to meet the… climate crisis but there are also huge opportunities.
“The failure of our Government to act now, protect those jobs and seize those opportunities to support UK manufacturing will, rightly, never be forgotten or forgiven.”
Erdington’s MP, Labour’s Jack Dromey, added: “To shut this factory would be a betrayal of British workers.
“If the Government was genuine about levelling up, it would be telling Melrose to keep the plant open and every day the Government doesn’t do that makes it part of the problem.”