WHAT A contrast. Ford workers strike unofficially for a day. The result: one of the most powerful capitalists in the world almost immediately flies across the Atlantic. Rail union leaders call off a one day strike over safety by guards because it is declared illegal by a high court judge. The result: Railtrack could get away with murder.
It was the horrific racist harassment of Sukhjit Parma in Ford Dagenham's engine plant that made Bill Morris of the TGWU request talks with Jacques Nasser, global head of Ford. But it was the brilliant walkout by 2,000 Ford Dagenham workers that forced Nasser to agree.
It was a political strike that united black, white and Asian workers together against racism. It was illegal, held without a ballot. Ford's management did not dare use the anti-union laws. The Ford strike showed that when workers are united and confident the bosses' legal threats melt into air.
Think what rail workers could have achieved had they struck following the Paddington disaster, demanding safety before profit. Think what effect the rail unions could have had if they had insisted drivers were not taking out trains until they were fitted with the ATP safety system. Strike action could have won not only ATP but also the resignation of the boss of Railtrack and the renationalisation of the railways.
Yet a strike by guards was called off despite the fact that both major rail unions, the RMT and ASLEF, have policies calling for the repeal of all the Tory anti-union laws. And their leaders, Bob Crow and Mick Rix, have appeared on platforms calling for defiance of the law.
The illegal walkout by workers at Dagenham has succeeded in forcing Ford bosses to agree to the unions' plans for new equal opportunities procedures. Now the crucial question at Ford is, what does it mean for workers on the shop floor? There are no guarantees that the plans, still to be finalised, will stop the foremen from treating workers like animals to be bullied and abused.
Ford workers should not be afraid to use their power again. But workers everywhere should take heart from the Ford workers' stand. They have shown that workers cannot only defy the law, they can humble a multinational giant.