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A lifesaver for North industry.

Byline: By Ray Marshall

It was 20 years ago today that the deal was signed for one of the North East's biggest success stories.

Nissan agreed a deal with the Government to site its new car plant at Washington, ending years of speculation and months of negotiation for the coveted jobs prize.

Wales had always been the favourite destination when Nissan expressed an interest in building cars for its European market in Britain but, thanks to some dedicated campaigning, the North East won because of its willingness to adopt new work practises that were essential to the new pro-Japanese working style that was to be adopted.

Indeed, the new Nissan factory brought with it a revolution in the way companies were run. Gone was the normal them and us culture, which pervaded in British factories.

The new management style introduced at the Washington plant meant much more communication and integration between the shop floor and bosses, indeed the bosses were to be more team leaders than bosses.

There were only two offices, that of the managing director and the deputy managing director, and even these two individuals took more pleasure at being among the workforce than behind the office door.

Critics claimed that Nissan was only after the grants that would be coming their way and would soon cut and run.

Twenty years on the company is bigger than ever and more important than ever, with new models in the offing.

Part of the Nissan revolution was the one union for the whole of the factory. The union in question was the AEU, now AMACUS and although many quoted a no- strike agreement, it was never that, the good industrial relations that existed was put down to full communication between management and shop floor.

Everyone, from the MD downwards, and they still do, went to work in their blue overalls. Nissan also used what they called Kaizen, as their work ethic. Translated into English it meant continuous improvement.

There was many a myth that grew up with Nissan, the legend was that they started the day off with everyone exercising, in fact what they did have at the beginning of each shift was a morning meeting, to discuss the day ahead.

Many of the production line improvements came from ideas put forward by the workforce at these meetings.

There are no written job descriptions, no company songs or mottos, no clocking on, no privileged parking. During the first year 5,000 Bluebirds were produced, by 1989 around 76,000 cars came off the production line rising to 100,000 Nissan Bluebirds in 1991.

Last year, with a workforce of 4,500, the Washington plant produced 332,000 cars, with the Micra accounting for 100,000 of them. They are also very important to Britain's export trade with three-quarters of production going abroad.

Nissan has called everyone's bluff. They arrived in the North East to stay and also prosper, as did everyone in the region connected with the firm.
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Title Annotation:Remember When
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 24, 2004
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