A mood of gloom mirrored the grey skies over Ryton yesterday as workers gathered for mass meetings to decide their next move.

Many complained of feeling betrayed by Peugeot, the car company they had served for many years; the only reward for their loyalty almost certain redundancy.

Despite the union's fighting talk, one 39-year-old operator, who declined to give his name, said he did not believe there was the stomach among the workforce for strike action.

"I think the company has made its decision. I think that decision was made a long, long time ago.

"I don't think production will be here into the middle of next year.

"When the C shift went, they were told on a Saturday, given their 90-day notice and told not to come back."

He continued: "We've done absolutely everything the company's asked us to do, taken a reduction in wages, and changes in shift patterns.

"I know the unions are opening negotiations to save the plant but if that fails they should focus on trying to get the workers a better redundancy package."

A fellow worker, who also did not want to be named, said: "It's a case of que sera sera, whatever will be will be.

"It's a damn shame mind, it's a great workforce here."

Asked about possible strike action, he added: "I don't think that sort of thing will work at all."

Steve Gordon, a 45-year-old processor, said the job losses had been on the horizon for a while.

"I don't see what striking could do, they'll just sack you," he claimed.

"I don't see what the Government can do either, seeing as the company's made its mind up."

There seemed to be mixed emotions between different generations of workers.

Michael Mushing, who works in the body shop, said he was pleased.

The 54-year-old has had worked at the plant for 37 years and will be putting in for early retirement as soon as possible.

"We're going to live a lot longer once we're out of here," he explained.

"They've exploited the workforce these past few years. We've bent over backwards and they've kicked us in the face.

"I'm pleased I can get out and do something different. It's the young lads with kids and mortgages I feel sorry for."

Hundreds of workers left a meeting with management at the Ryton plant this morning.

Most refused to comment but one man said bosses had been discussing plans for the company for the next year. He claimed the meeting, which was held at the Peugeot Sports and Social Club, had not involved any track workers, who would hold their own discussions later.

Asked if he had been reassured, the man said: "Yes, I believe so. I think the company is doing the best it can do."

He said the terms and conditions of redundancy had not been discussed. A meeting of shop stewards was later convened at the same venue.

Des Quinn, regional officer of the T&G said: "We intend to take this fight not only to Peugeot, but to the centre of Government and force the Government to change employment legislation, to ensure that not only Ryton has a long term future, but the rest of manufacturing in the UK."

Roger Maddison of Amicus added: "Ryton has played a key part in Peugeot achieving record sales in the UK over the last 20 years.

"They made the most successful car in Peugeot's history, but rather than invest in the the employees here at Ryton, they have decided to move to Eastern Europe to make massive profits even bigger. People feel totally betrayed."