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Anger grows amongst industrial workers
THE GATE Gourmet struggle in Heathrow Airport has been a massive issue for thousands of trade unionists this summer. However, two other lesser-known disputes have lifted the lid on the mood of workers on the shop-floor of British industry.
Almost at the same time in July, there were unofficial walkouts in two factories because of the suspension of convenors and shop stewards.
As reported in the socialist over the last few weeks, the convenor in Rolls Royce in Bristol, Jerry Hicks was suspended and then sacked after a walkout at the plant.
Unfortunately, Jerry's campaign for re-instatement was ultimately defeated.
In Ford's Leamington foundry, workers walked out for two days after four senior shop stewards, including the convenor, were suspended on the grounds of a supposed offensive email. Many workers believe that the real background to the company's action was the overwhelming vote by the workforce against the management's budget plan last year.
These outbursts and others in many factories up and down the country, reflect an increasingly explosive mood amongst many industrial workers.
The defeat of the miners in 1985 opened the way for a managerial counter-offensive in British industry. Many right-wing trade union leaders preached the virtues of partnership with management. But in reality this was a cover for passivity in the face of a sustained attack on workers in manufacturing industry.
For much of the late 1980s and 1990s, this was disguised by decent pay deals for those left in work (often linked to productivity or efficiency deals), and better retirement packages for an older section of workers.
The new century however, has seen a much more vicious attack, with many age-old certainties under threat from management methods often imported from the USA.
Workers are continually threatened with low-wage countries to extract more concessions. Increasingly, especially in the car industry, there has been a ruthless increase in the super-exploitation of workers in a desperate bid to boost profits.
Companies such as General Motors and Ford spun off their component manufacturing (as Delphi and Visteon respectively) between 1999-2000 to allow them to give those workers 'special treatment' such as two and now three-tier wages and outsourcing of indirect jobs.
These spun-off companies were never going to be viable businesses. In the USA, Delphi has given the unions an ultimatum. They have to agree to $2.5 billion-worth of cuts by mid October or the company goes into 'Chapter 11', a form of administration.
Visteon has almost halved in size, with 24 plants being transferred to a Ford-owned holding company, with the threat of being sold off in two years time.
Now the attention has focused on Western Europe and particularly UK plants. It appears that Visteon is threatening unions with a vicious cost-cutting shopping list which would mean an end to the Ford 'mirrored terms'. This covers those workers who were Ford employees at the time of spin-off.
With these companies, like many others, the threat of Longbridge is there - workers made redundant with the pittance of £7,000 and a drastically reduced pension. But these are not phantoms like Phoenix.
Ford and GM may create these artificial companies but they are part and parcel of giant multi-national corporations, built on the sweat of thousands of workers world-wide.
The real lesson of Rover was that there was an opportunity for the unions to lead direct action, such as an occupation of the plant, to force either a real future or at least their proper redundancy terms.
The magnificent solidarity action by the baggage handlers in the Gate Gourmet dispute stopped the world for two days and could have won a victory.
This summer has seen the further trickle of jobs away in British manufacturing.
The prospect has even be raised that in twenty years, not one industrial job will be left! The increase in tension, with its few blow-outs has shown that the squeezing of workers can reach its limits.
The job of trade union activists is to outline a programme of action to offer a way forward. The last major centres of industry may depend on it.
In The Socialist 29 September 2005: