A threatened boycott of Peugeot's cars could force the French carmaker to reconsider its plans to close its Ryton Plant and save its 2,300 jobs, union leaders told a mass meeting at the factory yesterday.
A ballot for industrial action was being launched today at the factory near Coventry, with the result expected next month, as representatives from Amicus and the Transport & General Workers' Union considered their next move.
A day of action throughout Europe with workers at other sites in the PSA Peugeot Citroen group was another tactic being discussed.
T&G general secretary Tony Woodley and his Amicus counterpart Derek Simpson addressed the meeting, which coincided with another at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port factory, in Cheshire, where 900 jobs are also set to be axed.
Meanwhile at Ryton unions have drawn up an alternative proposal, including job losses and greater flexibility, in a bid to save the plant from closure.
The impact of a boycott of Peugeot cars in Britain would overshadow any saving the company could make by closing its Ryton plant, Tony Woodley told the meeting.
He said: "The company acknowledged that our trade union plan to save the plant is workable.
"It has admitted that if Peugeot builds the new product in Ryton from 2010, rather than in Slovakia, then it would make money. Yet Peugeot refuses to do that because it believes it can make more money by exploiting low-cost labour in Slovakia.
"So we can see the company's plan to shut down Ryton and shift production to eastern Europe next summer is not just about making profits; it is about chasing maximum profits."
Mr Woodley threatened a boycott of Peugeot vehicles which he said could influence the carmaker's decision.
"If the company refuses to see sense, the British carbuying public may need to spell out the message that skilled workers here are part of the community and deserve protection."
Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson said Peugeot workers were "justifiably angry" about the proposed closure of their plant.
"Given the kind of job losses that have been experienced in the UK and in the West Midlands, particularly in recent weeks and months, they will also be worried about what they can expect as alternative employment if the plant is to close.
"Our members' experience at other car plants, such as those at MG Rover, is that those who are lucky enough to find work again rarely find skilled work and are paid a fraction of the salary."
Des Quinn, regional officer for the T&G, said: "We had a meeting with the management of the company today and they confirmed to us that Ryton is profitable.
"This just confirms what we have always said; they are shipping jobs east to make even more money."
The unions are now advising their members to vote for industrial action - if only as a way to improve the package on offer.
A result on the ballot is expected on June 5, when the unions would decide their next move, said Mr Quinn.
"We are advising the staff to vote for industrial action. But it is the threat of a boycott which is a big scare for them, and will make Peugeot reconsider the future of Ryton as a profitable plant."