Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/550/6455
Unions must fight to defend Ford jobs
"You could gift wrap a Fiesta, stick it in the back of a Transit, sell the Transit and still make a profit", were the words of former Southampton Transit manager. The scandalous truth is Ford want to make more money and shift production from their Southampton plant to Turkey.
Nick Chaffey, Socialist Party and National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) Southampton
Rather than fight the Ford propaganda machine, local politicians are lining up to join the chorus of gloom. In a letter to a local Ford worker, Southampton Lib Dem MP Sandra Gidley writes: "They are currently being produced at a loss."
The truth is, Ford have made massive profits from the Southampton plant in the past and now. One plant manager confessed in recent years Ford made £315 million in a single year. Ford in Europe have made profits for the last nine quarters, record profits in the last six months.
Ford workers in Southampton have made these profits for Ford out of increased productivity. In 1978 around 5,500 worked in Southampton. In 2008, 1,200 workers produce the same number of vehicles.
Intensification of work
Yes, Ford have retooled the factory but ask anyone on the line and they will tell you how work has intensified. An average grade 2 production worker earns £28,000 a year. Workers have calculated this means £370 in labour costs for every £18,500 vehicle.
No wonder then that on 1 September 2008, Stephen Odell, CFO (Chief Bean Counter) of Ford Europe told Automotive News that the Ford Motor Company were "delighted" with the Southampton plant.
To keep the plant open and capable of producing the new Transit in 2011 will require £100 million in retooling, a task that will need to begin soon if Southampton is to be ready to build the new van. That is chicken feed for Ford. They recently made over £1 billion from the sale of Jaguar, money that was taken out of the country to balance Ford's US losses.
In the US, Ford are benefiting from a share of $25 billion in loans from the US government between them, Chrysler and GM.
Ford's claims of an operational loss at Southampton is the difference between the profits they make in Southampton and the extra profits they make from the super-exploitation of Turkish workers at Kocaeli, described by those who have visited it as "an army camp". When pressed to explain Southampton "losses", Ford bosses have said nothing! Unions should demand Ford open the books.
As news spilled out into the local press following the announcement of the ending of Transit production, revelations over the payments to Ford's bosses added fuel to the fire. Ford president Alan Mulally "earned" over £25 million in the last two years.
According to Unite, the top seven Ford bosses earned in a year more than the total cost of retooling Southampton.
On Friday, 3 October, 120 contract workers are to be sacked. Without investment Transit production will end in 2011, a threat to over 1,000 Ford jobs and hundreds more in the area. £40 million at least will be sucked out of the local economy in lost wages. As if nothing could get worse, workers were offered overtime last weekend to catch up on recent lost production. There were few volunteers!
Unions must fight
The mood of anger must be organised and turned into a ferocious blaze which will scorch the plans of Ford bosses. An appeal to the trade unions and workers of Southampton would put thousands on the street in a demonstration of solidarity. Ford's lies must be exposed and an army of car workers must be mobilised to stop the closure threat to Southampton and elsewhere.
Ford's Blue Book, its agreement with the unions, made a commitment to Southampton's future which it is set to betray. Other plants around the country have closed without a fight being waged. This cannot be allowed to happen again. There is no time to lose, to delay would be fatal.
Southampton Shop Stewards Network Meeting
Defend Ford Jobs
Sunday 5 October, 7pm
Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre,
Hampton Park Way,
A Ford worker speaks: "It's a fight for all Ford plants".
At a Southampton meeting of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) on 21 September, a Ford worker explained his ideas about organising a defence of jobs at Ford:
"Let us not forget that we enjoy a good lifestyle that is paid for through the salaries and wages from the Ford motor company. I for one would like that to continue at Ford, that the next generation benefit from the same source.
But let's not forget past struggles. There was an eleven-week strike in the early 1970s just to lay down some rules we know as the Blue Book. There was a nine-week strike to bust a pay rise ceiling of 5% against a background of double digit inflation.
There have been many other struggles over the decades, like equal pay for women for work of equal value. The line workers' allowance was also something that had to be fought for.
A long list over the years but when our unions ask for the investment for the new Transit, Ford start complaining about the cost compared to Turkey, that we're over budget by many millions.
In the recent past, Ford have asked and got the productivity and efficiency improvements they require. This is something we have achieved through our unions at great cost to everyone.
Some workloads have been raised from 80, 90 or 100 to 110% and these demands are every year. Now that we need them to keep faith with us, they say we can't have a proper mix of work for the new van, just the chassis cab.
£100 million would secure the new model. Now you compare that to the salaries and bonuses of the top Ford bosses. They have lost billions in the US. Sales in Britain compared to Europe have been second to none and that's all Ford vehicles, with the Transit as the top selling commercial vehicle for decades.
Look at what the successful Spanish unions and government campaign achieved. The Spanish government slapped on a special tax until Ford agreed to build a factory and provide work for the Spanish people. They're now to build the new Fiesta there in 2009. What's wrong with that?
Our Labour government should be saying enough is enough. But they're not.
Where is the money from the sale of Jaguar or Land Rover? It's all gone, £1 billion, like thieves they ran, nothing invested in the British Ford industry. So said our national Unite official Dave Osborne at our mass meeting. He, with many others, has fears for the rest of the industry.
The proposed new chassis cab for Southampton is not enough to sustain production at Dagenham Press or one of our engine plants. If that's the case the job losses will not be in the thousands but in the tens of thousands.
We should not let this happen without a fight. Just look at the mess the service industries are in across the country. They have been telling us that this is the new industry for Britain. Are they mad or what? Estate agent, insurance salesman, try banking! I don't see a success there!
What all nations need is a balance, a mixed economy. Work reflecting the success of the nation's market.
To secure the future we need to talk tougher, link up with the other plants next on their list. Someone said the baby boomers won't go quietly, so let's show them what we could do. Our union leaders need to up the ante across all plants. This is not just our fight, it's a fight for all Ford plants, it's now or never!"
In The Socialist 2 October 2008:
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party review