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From The Socialist newspaper, 4 January 2007

Visteon

Strike action brings victory

WORKERS AT Ford's parts organisation, Visteon, have achieved a breakthrough on the pay deals for the three 'tiers' of contracts in the workforce. These deals represent a massive victory for these embattled workers employed in the plants spun-off from Ford in 2000.

Visteon workers have three types of contract - those which are supposed to be the same as Ford contracts - 'Ford-mirrored', workers with Visteon contracts and workers with Competitive Cost Rate (CCR) contracts.

The deal they have won is worth 4.25% in the first year and 3% or inflation plus 0.5% (whichever is the greater) in the second year. The third tier have also won an additional year of inflation plus 0.75% plus finally a sick scheme which is not reliant on the discretion of management!

This from a company that for 15 months has been threatening its employees with a two-year pay freeze and loss of holidays. They offered a choice of these and other attacks, which would have cut living standards by over 15%, or insolvency for the company.

Rob Williams, the Swansea plant convenor, told the socialist in a personal capacity: "The workforce stood firm, despite many transferring back to Ford. Despite the workforce being divided into three, there has been tremendous unity within the five plants - Swansea, Belfast, Basildon, Enfield and Halewood.

"The battle shows that it's possible to mobilise the shop floor behind a fighting leadership as an alternative to the failed 'concession bargaining' strategy of the full-time union officials. This is the idea that you can only fight the threat of closure or the outsourcing of product by the shop floor conceding their terms and conditions. But this strategy hasn't saved any car plants, just made them cheaper to close."

The workforce's refusal to work overtime has revealed two things - firstly, the limitations of the anti-trade union laws and secondly, the power of a relatively small group of workers in an industry where 'Just In Time' delivery means that assembly plants don't carry much stock.

There may be only 2,000 Visteon workers making a variety of products but you can't make a car with only 99% of the parts!

This has been a gruelling campaign for the company and the officers but the workforce has grown in confidence, culminating in stoppages in Enfield and Basildon while Swansea stopped for 20 hours.

The trade union officers advised the national negotiating committee to put the company's package of proposals to a vote, which was then rejected by a 99% majority. That was the starting point for the final battle for the ex-Ford workers to gain the pay rise awarded to Ford workers. This is in accordance with their 'mirrored' agreement when Visteon was spun-off from Ford six years ago.

It was this breaking of the contract that helped unite everyone in an heroic struggle which rightly culminated in all workers getting the same rise. This brings to an end the workers with Visteon contracts' nine-month wait and CCR contracts' six-month wait for their pay rises!

Despite this victory, there are serious battles to come. Visteon is clearly looking to flee the UK, seeking low-wage economies in Eastern Europe and China. They will be coming back for changes to the final salary pension fund, threatening its closure or again raising the threat of administration.

However, they will be facing a workforce emboldened by a victory after six years of setbacks. A workforce that has learned in struggle the lesson that, even in the most difficult circumstances, it is possible to fight and win. This is a struggle that all workers in manufacturing industry and beyond should study and seek inspiration from, particularly when their backs are against the wall.

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