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Visteon takeover: Workers' determination defends conditions
The sale of the Visteon car components plant in Swansea to Canadian company Linamar on 8 July marks the end of a chapter of heroic struggle by the workforce in defence of their jobs, terms and conditions and pensions.
Alec Thraves, Swansea
In 2000, Ford spun off the majority of its component manufacturing globally, thereby inventing Visteon (in the same way as General Motors produced Delphi).
This was part of their strategy to reduce costs, enabling them to employ workers on different 'tiers' - terms and conditions. Also, they were able to 'trade' with their former selves on advantageous terms. For example, in Swansea brake drums were bought from Ford's Leamington Foundry at a more expensive price than the finished product!
In reality, for Ford it was a win-win situation. They avoided a generalised struggle against the closure of four plants in the UK and boosted their profits by screwing Visteon for price reductions. It was also part of Ford's moves out of the UK. In 2000, there were at least 14 trade union convenors represented on the national negotiating committee, now there are only seven.
The past eight years has been a period of constant pressure from Visteon, both in Swansea and nationally to reduce costs at the expense of the workforce. Alongside brutal efficiency savings on things like the outsourcing of indirect jobs to contractors, the new second-tier Visteon New Hire (VNH) contracts, introduced in 2001, were designed to save money and fatally divide the union.
In 2005, this philosophy was extended. The union unfortunately allowed in the third-tier Cost Competitive Rate (CCR) contracts. The union officers argued to the shop stewards at the time that it was impossible to retain work without these changes.
Former Ford workers on Ford-mirrored terms (FMT) were 'persuaded' to support it on the basis that 'you won't be affected'. However, this only made management confident to attack everyone's contracts. As a reaction to this, in July 2005, a more combative shop stewards' committee was elected.
From September 2005 to December 2006, Swansea helped to inspire the rest of the Visteon UK plants to defy the company's attacks. Unfortunately, much of the time, they were confronted by the conservatism of their own officers.
Time after time, Visteon workers showed that they were prepared to take action to defend what they had. This bound together the different tiers, resulting in all contracts receiving the Ford pay rise in December 2006. For the first time in six years, Visteon UK management had been defeated.
From that moment, Visteon made it clear that Swansea was for sale. However, all three potential owners, including Linamar, made it clear that the terms and conditions, particularly of the FMT workers were unaffordable.
Linamar's first proposal would have meant wage and pension cuts for all contracts. But when this was modified to a final offer where only the FMT contracts would be affected, they must have felt that it would be agreed.
However, incredible solidarity was shown when workers on all contracts rejected the proposal, staring at the threat of possible closure if the sale failed. Therefore, the sale to Linamar is on the basis that all contracts, including pensions, are unaffected and the FMT workers retain their link with future Ford pay deals.
Rob Williams, Unite convenor, told The Socialist: "This is an incredible victory but has only proved possible through the struggles of the last three years. As with the contracts fight, it has been sometimes successful and sometimes unsuccessful - like the battle to save the brake discs in 2007.
"But by being prepared to fight, every step back has been on the basis of winning some concessions. Also, while the existence of the three tiers of contracts has been an historic setback, Swansea workers have shown that, providing that workers are prepared to fight, there are no final defeats.
"But reducing the gaps between the tiers and eventually eliminating them and on the best level has to be a constant aim of the union.
"Linamar have promised to invest in the plant. Swansea workers will be encouraged by this but will be wary of broken promises. When one chapter closes, another opens!"
In The Socialist 16 July 2008:
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