Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/554/6563
Saving jobs at Ford
Thousands of car workers in Ford are facing the reality of the credit crunch. Many of them could be laid off until the New Year. This means that they aren't being made redundant but are paid their basic pay minus their shift rate. The 'three-shift allowance' is 27.5%, so this is a massive cut in wages at this time of high inflation.
A car worker
Unions in Ford must put together a fighting strategy that convinces Ford that closures and redundancies would be costly. This requires a clear, well thought out plan and the mobilisation of the members in a serious struggle.
'Concession bargaining' - the giving away of cost savings, up to and including terms and conditions, without a struggle, should be truly dead and buried.
In an economic crisis, in towns and cities and even countries where car plants represent the last remnants of decently paid manufacturing work, there are more factors at play than pure profits - but only if the unions are prepared to wage a serious fight.
There are two dimensions to a struggle such as this - the industrial and political. Before the recession started to bite, Ford announced its intention not to build the new Transit in Southampton. This would mean that the plant would effectively close in 2011 with the loss of 1,100 jobs directly and probably thousands more in the supplier companies in the area and elsewhere in the UK. Many of these jobs would be in other Ford UK plants.
The strategy of the union officers was to tie the sourcing issue with the impending pay claim. Consequently, despite 5.25% being offered in the first year and RPI plus 0.25% in the second and third years, it was rejected by the union side. They are now waiting for a meeting with head of Ford Europe John Fleming to discuss Southampton.
Ford workers will be concerned that a well meaning strategy of putting Southampton at the centre of the pay talks could have given the initiative to Ford. This meeting could be taking place at a time of lay-offs and Fleming will be keen to remind the national union officers and the convenors that the unions in Germany and Spain have given concessions.
However, the action of Southampton workers last week in two walk-outs showed that this can be turned on its head. Rather than go the way of Spain and Germany, which could confuse and split the UK workforce when the 5.25% is on the table, last week's action shows that the unions should have confidence in their members.
Ford should be made aware that the Transit must stay in Southampton, the future of other UK plants must be secured and a pay award - nothing short of what is on the table now - will be acceptable.
But time is running out. A deadline should be given to Ford, after which a campaign of convincing the union members to take further industrial action must be waged. In this situation, a national demonstration, for example on the first weekend in December, in Southampton targeted at all Ford workers and all UK car workers (plus an international appeal to workers abroad) could really raise the sights of members.
The unions should put on free transport in every area and should send a letter to all car workers on their books advertising the demo, explaining that what happens in Southampton today could happen to them tomorrow.
Ford should be made to think that the unions will do whatever it takes to save any of the UK plants. The lessons of the occupations of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in the early 1970s and of Caterpillar in the late 1980s should be studied by Ford workers and stewards.
If Ford says that 'normal' production is impossible in the economic situation then an alternative plan of production could be drawn up in these threatened plants. This could be linked to providing for an improved public transport system or more environmentally friendly private transport.
If Ford is not prepared or is unable to provide the necessary investment to keep the plants open then they should be nationalised, just as the banking system has been saved.
However, the car industry shouldn't be 'saved' to be given back at a later date. It should be nationalised with no compensation to the likes of wealthy Ford shareholders; and placed under workers' control and management.
Huge pressure can be exerted on the Brown government to take this major step, which is a drop in the ocean compared to what has been committed in the banking industry.
Will the New Labour-tied unions like Unite be prepared to campaign for this? Only if they are put under massive pressure by a mobilised militant workforce. The jobs of tens of thousands of workers in and outside Ford may depend on it.
"Building the fightback in the unions including the crisis in the car industry"
Introduced by Rob Williams
NSSN vice-chair & Unite Convenor Swansea Linamar Plant (ex-Ford / Visteon) - (personal capacity)
Session at 'Socialism 2008' - a weekend of political debate hosted by the Socialist Party
1pm - 3pm, Sunday 9 November 2008 - School of Oriental and African Studies, Malet St, London WC1 - Room B211
In The Socialist 29 October 2008:
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