The Socialist 2 September 2008
‘Them and us’ economy hits the rocks
Fight threat to Ford Transit plant jobs
Ford is cutting production, making contract workers redundant and hanging the threat of closure over their Transit plant in Southampton. This is not only a concern for the 1,200 workers there but for all Ford workers in the UK.
Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party
If Ford are allowed to close Southampton, the last Ford assembly plant in the UK, all that will be left will be engine plants in Bridgend and Dagenham, a body stamping plant in Dagenham, a transmission plant in Halewood (which is a joint venture), a distribution centre in Daventry and a R&D centre in Dunton.
Nine manufacturing plants have either been closed or transferred out of Ford over the last decade. This is in what has traditionally been Ford's number one market in Europe.
Southampton workers face the prospect of joining the graveyard of the British car industry - Longbridge, Jaguar Brown's Lane, etc.
We welcome the words of the union general secretaries and the full-time officials who have warned Ford that such is the importance of the plant to the other Ford plants that any attempt to close Southampton will trigger a national dispute. However, nothing can be taken for granted.
The last decade or so has seen the strategy of 'concession bargaining' - conceding cost-cutting measures, up to and including terms and conditions, has become the mantra of the full-time officials. Therefore, the campaign to fight can't be left to the same officers.
Ford will target older workers with what will appear to be generous redundancy/early retirement packages. These workers may reluctantly accept but the younger section, often from the same families, will have nowhere to go. For them there is the dole queue, preparing for low-skilled, low-paid jobs. This could be the prospect for all other Ford workers if Southampton closes.
A national combine meeting of all Ford shop stewards should be called immediately to give Southampton workers confidence that they aren't alone.
This should be followed up with mass meetings throughout Ford, with convenors and stewards from the different plants speaking. This can even be escalated to other car plants, particularly those who were in Ford, such as Visteon, Aston Martin and Jaguar/Land Rover.
An army of around 40,000 car workers could be prepared in this way.
Ford are in crisis because of their failed strategy of concentrating on 'gas guzzlers' and luxury cars.
They put the price of this on tens of thousands of workers in the US who have faced the sack or halving of their wages and attacks on their health care benefits. This is the medicine they want to dish out in the UK, starting with Southampton.
This alone will threaten the other UK plants but the threat of a massive new plant in Romania looms as well.
Of course, it is no accident that this is pay claim year in Ford UK but fighting closures goes hand-in-hand with maintaining workers' living standards.
Ford workers should demand the full financial figures to see where the profits have gone. Like all the big car manufacturers, Ford is leaving the US and Western Europe for cheap labour in Eastern Europe and China.
But the so-called logic of the bosses can't be accepted. If Ford can't guarantee jobs on decent terms and conditions and pensions, these plants should be taken into public ownership to be used for the public good not the self-interest of the bosses.
The starting point is the defence of the Southampton plant now.
National Shop Stewards Network Southampton meeting:
Defend Ford jobs and conditions
11 September, 7.30pm.
Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre, Hampton Park Way, Southampton.
Speakers from the Ford workforce invited.
For more details, contact Nick on 07833 681910
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