HUNDREDS OF workers at Ford Halewood on Merseyside walked out in disgust last week after they heard of the suicide of a fellow worker. Halewood is the third Ford plant in the last month to be hit by an unofficial walkout.
John Farrington had been facing disciplinary action from management over the company's car voucher scheme. But the bosses kept him waiting for weeks. 'They were making him sweat,' says a Halewood worker. 'They hounded him. They should have sorted it out right away. He was under a great deal of pressure.' On Monday of last week John was due to have his final disciplinary hearing. But he did not show up for it. Instead he was found dead in the sea at Blackpool.
Workers in John's section, Engine Dress, were stunned when they heard the news. When the foreman coldly began dividing up John's work, it was too much. 'Half the lads just put their coats on and went. The other half had a meeting and then went. People were sickened,' says another worker. The action spread to two other sections of the Paint, Trim and Assembly (PTA) area and a section of the Body Plant. Production was brought to a standstill for the day.
'We had a meeting on the Trim Section, about 200 of us, just a show of hands. Then all of us went out,' says a worker. 'The shop stewards were against it. They wanted us to stay but the feeling was so bad nobody listened.'
Last week's walkout reflects the deep bitterness that exists across Halewood. 'Managers use the name human resources, but they have no humanity,' says another worker. 'They belittle you, degrade you and treat you like kids. They sit you outside the office for hours and then send you away. This is the result.'
The bitterness was clear outside the gates last week 'They're bullies in here,' said one worker as he hurried in. 'All the time it's don't do this, don't do that. You can't leave the production line for anything. Another put it more simply: 'Bastards. They are bastards.'
Halewood workers have been put through the mill. They were told to work hard and be competitive to win the replacement for the Ford Escort. Then, at the beginning of 1997, management said there would be 1,300 redundancies and even threatened to close Halewood. Workers staged an unofficial 24 hour strike. But union officials then accepted 980 voluntary redundancies. Since then workers have been told to work harder to ensure they build the new Jaguar car. Ford now owns Jaguar. 'All the time it's do this to get the Jag, don't do that or you won't get the Jag. It's sickening.'
'We've had enough'
'MANAGEMENT are like the Gestapo. They say they want Jaguar quality but Ford volume of production. You can't move off your own job. They don't want to pay you for walking to pick up stock or anything. They just want you standing there till you drop. They've taken all the benches out so you can't sit down if there's a gap in the work. They've retimed everybody's job and doubled the workload. If the line breaks down they just move your teabreak or your lunchbreak so they don't lose time. We have non-stop lectures and videos about 'The Jaguar Method'. Everyone is terrified of making a mistake. That is the significance of this stoppage. It is the first time that people have said they've had enough - let's have a go back at the company.'
FORD HALEWOOD WORKER