Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/497/2681
Visteon workers continue fight for jobs
Visteon workers in Swansea are involved in a bitter dispute with management that spilled over into two stoppages last week, one of them for 24 hours.
Visteon UK management have been trying to stop brake production at the plant. Traditionally, when Visteon (and Ford, when they directly owned the plant before they 'spun' it off in 2000) wanted to break a sourcing agreement, they started negotiations about replacing it with another product. However, Visteon have made it clear that their only plan for Swansea is to sell it.
With no replacement work, Swansea shop stewards committee have been totally opposed to the plan, particularly as 170 jobs would be affected.
Management first tried to pull the plug in February but the stewards held firm. They forced the company to employ 40 new temporary workers and make 40 existing temps permanent. But on 29 March, Ford closed Leamington Foundry which supplies Swansea with most of its brake rough stock.
On the same day, Visteon informed the stewards in Swansea that brake production would end by summer shutdown. This infuriated the shop floor and there was an immediate ballot for action.
Unfortunately, due in part to the anti-trade union laws and also to other delays, it was 14 weeks from the mandate to when Swansea workers could actually take action. By this time the disc work had gone, as well as most of the permanent jobs, with around 60 temps waiting to be terminated.
Despite this, the workforce were determined to use the industrial action to send a message to management that they couldn't just come in and break sourcing agreements. Also, they wanted to fight the plan to make 'surplus' skilled workers into operators.
The convenor, Rob Williams explained their demands to Alec Thraves for the socialist: "In a perfect world we would be having this fight with the brake work still here but we felt that the company should pay a price for breaking agreements and putting people on the scrapheap. We want them to reduce the pension age for skilled and unskilled workers. This would avoid the need to de-skill tradesmen and allow us to make some temps permanent. Also, we believe that all those who are left in the plant should get a 'compensation' payment for the brake work going. We told the company that if someone came into your house and stole your TV, they should pay for it."
Since 13 July, the plant has been on an official 'work to rule'. The unions were offered talks if the action was suspended but since the date for talks was 16 August this was refused!
On 17 July the company tried to crush the action. They started to give verbal instructions to run machines 'out of process', or outside of tolerance.
Normally, an operator will only do this if the foreman or engineer puts the instruction in writing. This protects the worker.
They initially tried to make a steward run a machine. They threatened to put him 'off pay' (stop paying him) but backed down. Then they threatened him again when he wanted a written instruction to run 'out of process'. When they carried out the threat the shopfloor responded by walking off the lines.
Rob explained: "We would have returned to work if he had been put back 'on pay' and given a written instruction but it was clear that management were trying to provoke us." When they put everyone 'off pay' it started the walk-out.
The morning shift next day agreed to go back to work and suspend the 'work to rule' to allow talks with the company on condition that a log-book was used for these instructions.
The company agreed to sign the instructions and give the operators a copy.
But the talks next day were a waste of time. The company outlined an early retirement package for the skilled workers but nothing else. They gave some hazy information about the proposed sale of the plant.
This angered the workforce and the next day, the action was restarted. The company then went on the attack again.
They reneged on the agreement about the log-book. They took two workers 'off pay' and again the shop floor took solidarity action, this time for about four hours.
Management were taking a hardline approach because summer shutdown was starting that day with only a skeleton crew in work. This was shown when they refused a union compromise that a verbal instruction would be followed if a shop steward signed to witness it. Despite the company's provocation, the men returned to work when we agreed that any such instruction would be responded with a grievance procedure.
Rob explained: "This is a vital struggle. We are showing a brutal multi-national company that they have to fight to take work off us, now and in the future. Hopefully, we are also sending a message to other workers that despite the odds you can fight back."
In The Socialist 26 July 2007:
Postal workers' strike
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Tales from the council chambers
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party reviews
Workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis