The Socialist 7 April 2009
Visteon car workers fight for their rights
Reports from Visteon plants in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon
The battle to save jobs at Visteon is still going on. The occupations and the determination of the 600 Visteon workers to fight back against big business attempts to make them pay for the crisis has inspired many other workers. We carry below reports from the three Visteon plants in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon.
Socialist Party cheered
The occupation of the West Belfast Visteon plant is rock solid. The plant is now adorned with banners attacking Ford for betraying the Visteon/Ford workers. Unite flags now fly from the factory roof.
Peter Hadden, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland)
Rob Williams, convenor of what, until recently, was the Visteon plant in Swansea, visited the Belfast plant over the weekend and got a rousing reception from all the workers. On Friday night the workers lined both sides of the gate to applaud his entry, and did the same on Sunday when he was leaving.
Meetings were arranged at various times over the weekend so that Rob, and the local stewards, could get their message across to every worker. The biggest applause on the first night came after Rob said that Unite national officials should issue an instruction to Ford workers to boycott parts from other suppliers and when he added: "Tony Woodley should ring Gordon Brown and tell him that if, as a result of this action, a hair of any worker's head is touched or a penny of the union funds is taken, the millions that Unite gives to New Labour will stop forthwith."
The second loudest applause came when John Maguire, the plant convenor, in thanking the Socialist Party for our support, said: "the Socialist Party is doing the job that the unions should be doing in supporting workers in struggle."
A special Socialist Party Bulletin has been very well received. The key issue in everyone's mind is to force Ford to honour their commitments on redundancy, and also to protect the pension rights. But the dispute is also about jobs. There is general agreement with the call in the Socialist Party bulletin for the plant to be taken into public ownership and - if there is no market for the engine components now made there - for the necessary investment in design, retooling and retraining to allow the skills of the workforce to be used to make alternative products.
The messages of support that have come in from CWI members and supporters around the world have been greatly appreciated and have pride of place on the canteen walls. Keep them coming.
Send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Always carry a toothbrush with you"
There is an eerie silence in the Visteon Enfield plant with all the machinery idle. There is also anger and sadness that this silence was caused by a deliberate act of sabotage by the Visteon management.
Mick Cotter, chair London Craft branch (Unite)
I spent Thursday afternoon and night inside the plant with around 80 workers. I was inspired by how quickly those occupying had organised: banner waving protest rotas on the roof, food collections, television etc. There was a real camaraderie amongst everyone there and genuine hospitality towards those of us that were there in solidarity.
In the early stages they were relying on their national union officials (Unite) to sort out the mess. They were limited to demanding fair treatment and for Ford who 'have a moral obligation' towards a workforce that was once employed by Ford to step in and offer proper redundancy payments or alternative jobs.
However quite rapidly, as a result of the occupation, (there is not a lot to do but talk) many were coming to far more radical conclusions about things like the economy, the decimation of British manufacturing, and the lack of proper job opportunities for young people and other workers currently on the dole.
Overwhelmingly almost everyone I spoke to hated New Labour. Most were former Labour voters and most were saying there is no voice for ordinary workers in politics today with a very sympathetic ear to the Campaign for a New Workers' Party.
Eventually some of us tried to bed down on cardboard. Some lucky ones had blow-up beds and some just chose to stay up all night chatting. I can't say it was comfortable but it was satisfying.
When I woke in the morning a worker who had bedded down nearby, on seeing my union bag and copy of The Socialist, asked where I was from. His next sentence was how much they were inspired and appreciated the fact that others were prepared to come along and support them and how we were keeping them going.
It's difficult to reply to a comment like that. It seems inappropriate to say: "We're just doing our job". So I just said: "It's OK mate we'll be with you to the end".
It wasn't a nice feeling leaving the following day but solidarity is needed outside too. I was taught to always carry a copy of the paper wherever you go, I could add to that now 'always carry a toothbrush', you never know!
Please send messages of support to Enfield and Basildon via: email@example.com
"It's ours now"
On 31 March, after working an eight hour day, five minutes before the end of their shift, over 200 workers at Enfield Visteon got handed two bits of paper. These were to claim money off the government. Nothing more.
As one worker, Jay, said: "They used us like guinea pigs and then pulled the plug on us on Obama day when the cameras were pointing elsewhere."
Nine and a half years after the workers being promised 'jobs for life' under Ford and with £1.1 billion left in their coffers, how can Visteon still claim insolvency? This is the question on the mind of many angry workers.
Lloyd says: "We need immediate action and funds in our accounts. Our mortgages are coming out at the end of April.
They have taken the money out of our pockets and moved all the profits around to make it look like they have nothing."
Visteon should be forced to open the books immediately to show where the money has actually gone. "It's all a smokescreen", says Lloyd. Already they have set up a new company, Visteon Engineering Services, to siphon the remainder into. "They want the government to pick up the tab for their mess and for them to just walk away", says Phil.
The basic demand on the hand-sprayed placards dotted around the balconies of the occupied site is 'give us our jobs back', on Ford terms and conditions as promised.
Unite leader Tony Woodley has called for a Europe-wide boycott of Visteon parts but as Kevin, the convenor and leader of the occupation says: "We need to see action off the officials, not words".
It is important now to keep the occupation going. "It's ours now", shouts one worker to his sister from the roof as she shakes her fist in support.
Furious workers picket plant
When they were moved over to Visteon by Ford the workers were promised Ford terms and conditions and a job for life. Some had brought the letters with that guarantee on it to the factory gates and could not believe that it had turned out not to be worth the paper it was written on. Their ID cards still say "Ford".
Many of the workers have worked there for 20 or 30 years. Some brought their "30 years' service" commemorative vases to the picket. They have families and big mortgages.
One guy had been to see his mortgage company already, who had told him they didn't want to evict people from their homes, and extended his mortgage till he is 75. Others were ringing up the job centre for appointments to start their entitlement to money and support for mortgages and rents, and couldn't get through due to the high volume of calls.
One worker said: "This is all I've done for 30 years. They don't use the machines we use in here anywhere else. I'll end up collecting trolleys in Tesco." Another had saved a few thousand pounds to help pay for his children's university tuition fees - now that will have to be sacrificed.
Workers feel that they have bent over backwards to keep the plant going, taking cuts in pay and bonuses, working beyond what was required of them to get work done, and now that's all been thrown back in their faces. Some say they've learned the hard way that all the bosses' talk about partnership and making sacrifices together for the good of the company means nothing - it's just raw exploitation.
Heavy-handed policing and threats of arrest forced the workers reluctantly to come out of the factory on Wednesday evening. But they were back en masse next morning to protest at Visteon Customer Technology Centre (VCT), just up the road from the Basildon plant. This is allegedly an 'independent' company, in reality another way of siphoning off Visteon profits to make it look like Visteon itself has been making a loss.
The VCT centre is still working, and Visteon workers protested at it to call for support from the workers inside. Some workers did come out to join the protest. The building was protected by two rows of tooled-up police. Managers were escorted to their posh cars by three policemen each. One worker leading chants was threatened by police for 'causing offence' to management!
The Basildon workers rightly call for solidarity from Ford workers, especially at Dagenham, not far down the road.
The home-made signs outside Basildon Visteon plant summed up the angry mood of the sacked workers: "We want justice", "Sold out by Ford", "How do you sleep at night?"
Eleanor Donne, Jacques Botjer and Greg Maughan
Members of Basildon Socialist Party spoke to Wayne Stevens, Unite deputy convenor at the picket outside the plant: "We had been on short time doing three days a week, but there was no suggestion that the plant was going to close. There was even talk that we may get four days that week. However, at the end of our shift on the Tuesday we were called to a meeting in the canteen. The managers told us that one hour ago the company had gone into administration".
Workers were furious that administrators had been dealing with Visteon for at least 60 days, but no warning was given. In the time that the managers knew the company was 'going under' workers produced thousands of pounds worth of parts, which are now stockpiled in the plant.
While staff were grafting, management were breaking a sweat making sure their backs were covered. It seems a number of Visteon UK executives have had their pension funds transferred to Visteon Engineering Services so that they're protected. This is while allowing Visteon to go into liquidation so as to avoid the payouts the workforce are entitled to! No wonder banners hang outside the plant reading 'Frauds Motor Company'.
Alongside the constant pickets, other activity is being organised to make sure their situation is known as widely as possible in the area. Sunday saw a protest march and rally which was addressed by stewards Frank Jepson and Scott Edmonds, as well as Paula Mitchell from the Socialist Party, amongst others. Wednesday 8 April is 'family day' on the pickets, with workers getting their partners and kids along, while visits with leaflets to other local manufacturing plants are now being co-ordinated.
All on the pickets are solid and willing to stick things out until the situation is resolved.
In this issue
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news
Socialist Party workplace news