Voices

Gone in 2016: Holden back the tears

A newspaper report this morning claims General Motors will wind-up Holden’s factory in 2016… are media reports doing more harm than good? Former Holden factory worker, James Middleton says yes.

IN LIGHT OF media-driven rumours overnight that Holden will close the doors of its Adelaide-based factory (Elizabeth) in 2016, I’d like to say a few things about the effect the media speculation has on the workers. Remember them? The individuals. The mums and dads. The young people who’ve followed their parents to the General’s door…

The media talks about Holden’s workers and the many thousands of supplier company employees as a mass, not as individuals. And this hurts thousands and thousands of people. The people that bang on about closing Holden and that Holden’s to blame for the quality of its cars, well, that hurts too.

A little bit about me. It was 2009 when I took a separation package from Holden. I was lucky. But the decision to leave wasn’t an easy one. I had a young family, a mortgage and all the bills that go along with that.

But the uncertainty of the industry as a whole (not helped by media vultures), led me to believe that it would be better to pursue a career in an industry that wasn’t going to slow down for a long while. So I gained some training upon my departure from the General, and moved into mining.

Having worked on the shop floor at Holden for nearly 11 years, well, I’ve got to say, it was quite a ride to be working there during its boom years of 1999-2003. And then the wheels started to grind to a halt. Why? Well, I reckon it was low tariffs on imports and the sheer number of choices made available to punters.

Make no mistake, it is very much talked about on a regular basis amongst those that weld, press, and fit-out each car that rolls off that line. See, uncertainty breeds uncertainty. Rumours from that morning’s paper, or blog can flare out of control; and the speed at which something can be transferred through 2500 people beggars belief. It is a morale killer. And a shop floor with low morale is not a nice place to work.

At the end of the day, only those working in the factory at Holden can relate to one another. Sure, we can all hope for the best, but it’s out of our control and theirs too – the decisions are being made by people in suits. The sad truth is the workers just have to suck it up, knowing they did everything they could to build good cars.

I might have left Holden four years ago, but I still have many friends who still work in the factory at Elizabeth, and while it is all well and good to “hope for the best” for them, the future doesn’t look too bright. Let us not forget, that these are people like you and me, they have mortgages, families, bills to pay, and children that need clothes and schooling. Many of the people working there have partners, wives and even children working there and at supplier factories also.

Should Holden’s factory close its doors for good in 2016 as is being predicted, it’s not just there that the pain stops. Without the car being made, there is no need for the fuel tanks, the door trims, the steering wheels, the headlights…the list goes on and on.

The worst thing about this whole situation is that we’re staring down the barrel of losing not one but two of Australia’s automotive icons from the last 75 years. Ford has already bitten the bullet and put its staff on notice, which, for my money is incredibly brave and noble of them.

By doing this, they have not necessarily made life easy for their people, but what they have done however, is given them the chance to think about what they’re doing, and what they’re going to do. One can only hope that Holden will follow in its footsteps and do the same for the guys and girls on the floor at their plant.

One thing that a lot of people, and I mean politicians and the mainstream media, have had their two cents about is whether it is financially worth it for the government to continue with bailout packages?

For my money, I think there has to be an alternative found to financial assistance. The government hasn’t really assisted in spite of its massive bailouts over the years. I think it would have been more helpful to raise import tariffs when this started becoming an issue; perhaps the Government could have offered a subsidy for people to buy Australian?

But the heart of the matter is this: Is building a car in Australia a competitive option? No! Do we need an auto industry in Australia? Yes.

I, for one, wait with baited breath and cheque-book at the ready for the last of the models to roll off the line; if not to nail my flag to the post one last time, just to buy a piece of history.


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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober