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Spark New Zealand : Vauxhall Plant At Core Of Election Fight

01/26/2015 | 10:11pm US/Eastern

The two major political parties repeatedly return to the economy as a major battleground - but who wins that argument will go a long way to determining who is in Downing Street with exactly 100 days to go until the General Election.

Labour has pointed at the impact the squeeze on living standards has had on families, while the Conservatives have been at pains to stress that austerity has led to the roots of economic recovery.

Go to the one place in Britain where the vehicle of UK politics' exalted white van man is still churned out by the thousand, and you can find a microcosm of these two fundamental strands of electionomics in action.

This week, ahead of GDP numbers, the Vauxhall factory in Luton had a remarkable victory.

Vivaro vans are now rolling off the production line all morning and all afternoon. The second shift has returned. Output could reach in excess of 60,000 vans.

About half are badged Opel and will be exported to Europe via Purfleet docks, but plenty will be loaded on to transporters and find themselves sold to small businesses and fleet providers across Britain's recovering economy.

A banner announcing "hiring now for 2015" is draped across the entrance, and hundreds of new jobs have been created. The workers are delighted. And a more potent symbol of recovery you could not get.

Overall, in 2013, UK car production beat that in France, and the latest figures for 2014 were the best since the global financial crisis.

Investment in the second shift in Luton is just part of the £7bn of investment going into UK car factories from its foreign owners - in Vauxhall's case, the US giant General Motors.

Stephen Withey, launch manager for the Vivaro, said: "Five years ago we didn't know we were going to have a job ... everyone was quite worried and now everyone's very excited.

"There's a lot of new talent here which is great for the future, a lot of training going on which should help us with any recovery.

"We've just got to make sure we launch the second shift successfully ... work on quality and work on the throughput and then we will be successful going forward."

In a mirror of jobs figures, which show record vacancies, he says it was not easy to find 250 new workers.

So you might imagine George Osborne and David Cameron would be parked there for large swathes of the election campaign.

In terminal decline in the mid 2000s, now the UK car industry is spewing out three cars per minute.

However, in the story of the rise of this factory, there is also the other side of that coin. And Ed Miliband might want to visit it too.

The foundation of the success of this place is the "Corridor Agreement" struck here and at the Ellesmere Port Vauxhall Astra car factory too.

Essentially the existence of the factory, its contracts to build new vehicles and the current recovery stem back to a combination of pay cuts, freezes, and flexible working deals struck in 2011-2012.

Clive Sinclair, who checks the quality of the vans, said: "We had pay cuts, having to do overtime on Saturdays ... it was a struggle, it was hard, but we had to do what we had to do.

"Everyone had to knuckle down but we were fighting for our future."

Some workers saw 10% pay cuts and new workers were recruited on different pay scales.

The truth is that in the car industry at least, the much-maligned unions were hugely accommodating.

The workers traded lower wages for a job, and eventually now, more jobs. And what goes at the Vivaro plant, also applies across the country.

The very real squeeze on living standards could be seen to contain the roots of the economic recovery. It has been part of the plan. They are inextricably linked.

Britain as a whole has been on a corridor agreement.

Two questions follow: perhaps those in Government should be far more in awe of the sacrifice of workers rather their own genius in saving the economy.

And the Labour Party should ponder whether they would take the deal of jobs for wage freezes, if offered.

(c) Sky News 2015

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