The problems of Chrysler are typical of the problems of the whole British economy today. The facts are clear. Partly because of the oil crisis, partly due to the world economic recession, the motor industry is in difficulty all round the world. For some years to come, every producer will face the prospect of poor sales and excess capacity.
Firms in other countries, like Volkswagen, have cut their coats accordingly. Throughout the world no car firm can hope to survive unless it has the courage to streamline its operations, unless it is relentless in improving its competitiveness.
Here in Britain, the problems are particularly serious.
As the Government's own Think Tank says today, we have too many models, too many plants; costs and prices that are far too high; productivity and morale that is far too low. That is what the report tells us.
All is not yet lost. But the moment of truth is desperately close. The basic faults can be remedied. But certainly not without pain. And only if the right decisions are taken now. [end p1]
Management, unions and shareholders have been slow to realise what has been happening. They have become caught up, and finally deadlocked, in a web of hostile attitudes.
Meantime, our power to compete has ebbed away. It has been a classic failure of human relations. We have turned our eyes away from reality.
But now the crunch has come. With Chrysler.
The Government has already taken over British Leyland, commissioned studies of the motor industry's prospects; taken powers to intervene as and when they choose; and created the N.E.B. National Enterprise Board
Armed with all these powers, only a month ago at Chequers the Government promised a fresh approach. A whole new strategy. Picking the winners. Backing success. At last they seemed ready to recognise the harsh realities of economic life.
Then came the first warning rumble from Detroit. The Harold WilsonPrime Minister spoke of a pistol at his head. He seemed ready to stand firm.
But what has happened today? We have heard a very different story. Mr. Varley, the Secretary of State for Industry, told the House of Commons that Chrysler is to be rescued. The Government's resolution had crumbled.
Most of the jobs at risk are to be saved. But for how long?
There is to be a new Chrysler car, too. But again for how long? Until a hundred and sixty million pounds has run out?
And now the Government argues, we can relax again.
But can we? [end p2]
Mr. Varley 's statement was greeted by the House of Commons with scepticism and anxiety. And rightly so. It offers no real answer to the problems of the car industry. That is why we shall vote against the Government in Parliament tonight. [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 2200 16 December 1975] What is the sense in saving jobs at Chrysler today, only to threaten them at Leyland or Vauxhall tomorrow?
What's the sense of new machinery and investment, without any assurance that it will earn its keep? The steel industry already knows that. Why try to preserve models and plants when we already have too many? Where's the sense in spending so much money, money from profitable concerns, when we have been given no assurance it will bring any real answer to the industry's fundamental problems?
British Leyland, Vauxhall and Ford have been placed in peril. For they have been weakened in the market place, and weakened on the shop floor. [End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 2200 16 December 1975.] The Government have lacked the resolve to do what ought to have been done. What are they now to say to the workers in the steel industry, who face bigger job losses than Chrysler?
To the Railwaymen and Shipyard workers? To the countless workers in every firm where jobs are at stake.
Firms who have fewer production problems than Chrysler and good records of industrial relations.
Firms who can claim, with more justice than Chrysler, that much smaller sums of money could have assured their survival. [end p3]
It is now clear that the Government have sacrificed their whole industrial strategy by giving in without a struggle to short-term pressures.
They have gone for the easy option. In the long run they will not save jobs, they will destroy them. This is not job preservation but job destruction, not backing winners but creating losers.
The Chequers strategy, if it meant anything, rested on the simple truth that we could only have the illusion of security at work for everyone today, at the cost of jobs and prosperity tomorrow; that high and profitable employment could only be secured if we were willing to earn and work to keep them.
As one Treasury Minister said a few months ago: “There are still some who believe that when redundancies are created by a company's no longer being able to sell its goods, that the Government can, and should, bail it out” .
“Even if the money were available, and when we are already borrowing £9,000 million, it isn't. Bailing out unviable companies cannot, in the long run, save jobs” . That was the truth.
With today's news it is as though the Chequers meeting had never happened. Our industrial future as a competitive nation has been called in question in international markets.
One can only conclude that the Government's sole purpose is day-to-day survival.
The day cannot be far away when we shall have to face up to our fundamental difficulties. It could have been today. The task would have been painful and demanding. But we should have made a start.