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Visteon struggle tenth anniversary
When factory occupations stayed the hands of the bosses
Ten years ago, in response to Visteon UK (a US-owned car components company that had been spun-off from Ford) pulling the plug on its operations with the loss of nearly 600 jobs, workers fought back by occupying plants at Enfield, Basildon and Belfast.
Socialist Party members participated in the occupations and other solidarity actions, as well as the ensuing pensions' battle.
This struggle was at the start of the Great Recession - following the capitalist financial crash triggered by the Lehman Brothers banking collapse.
Below we reprint a shortened article from the Socialist (5 May 2009), which draws a balance sheet of this workplace struggle and why it was a success.
The hard-nosed Visteon bosses thought that they could just summarily close 'their' factories, throwing workers out onto the streets, with measly compensation.
But they have been prevented from doing this by the marvellous action of the Visteon workers, backed up by widespread solidarity from the rest of the working class.
There is no doubt that, compared to what was offered at the beginning, the settlement is a considerable achievement on the part of these workers.
Mass pressure has compelled the bosses to offer more reasonable redundancy terms than they originally intended.
Unfortunately the factories have not been saved. If the workers' suggestion that they be nationalised (by the then Labour government) and kept open through alternative production had been adopted, they could have been.
Instead many of these workers will now add to the remorseless rise in unemployment in Britain. It is against this background that the opposition to closure of the factories, felt by all Visteon workers, is particularly keenly felt in Belfast. Northern Ireland already has the outlines of a desperate rise in unemployment.
Some of those who were made redundant may get jobs later - although this is a remote prospect for many. It is also likely that these jobs will be much lower paid.
And there is the loss of skills, which will go with the redundancies. Following the collapse of MG Rover in 2005, the Work Foundation reported that two-thirds of those who found jobs suffered swingeing cuts in pay, with the average loss being £5,640. That was before the recession which will worsen the situation.
There is also the unresolved issue of the workers' pension rights. It is not ruled out that the bosses could try to renege on the pensions. This must be met with firm opposition from the trade unions.
(In 2014, after a five-year campaign, Unite and the ex-Visteon workers won a £28 million victory, securing their pensions from previous owner Ford after their pensions had been slashed when Visteon went into administration).
But the lesson of this dispute is that the Visteon workers would have received next to nothing without determined class action, including occupations of their factories, for a time in the case of Enfield and Basildon, and throughout the dispute in the case of Belfast.
Benchmark for struggles
Moreover, the initiative to occupy did not come from the trade union full-time officials, but from the workers themselves.
These workers have now set a benchmark for all similar struggles in Britain. They have 'learned to speak French' - ie adopting the militancy of the French workers.
This lesson will not be lost on other workers who will face similar attacks in the next period.
This victory must be built on in the struggle against the mass redundancies that loom. The starting point must be opposition to all redundancies and defence of every job.
But, fundamentally, the defensive and offensive struggles of the coming period must be linked to the fight for socialist change in society to replace the rule of the dictatorial bosses with a socialist planned economy.
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