'IT'S A war in there.' They were the angry words of a Ford Dagenham worker this week as the giant plant in Essex was again hit by strike action.
Some 400 tool room workers struck officially over pay on Tuesday of this week. They wanted their claim for a bonus to be taken seriously in the pay talks with the company that began that day. Up to 200 workers in the paint shop walked out unofficially on the same day. They were angry that management is trying to stitch up a shop steward.
'They're saying a steward assaulted a foreman. It's rubbish. The company has been on the ropes over racism and bullying - this is about them trying to score a point back,' said one worker. The shop steward and the foreman had a heated row over productivity last week. A whole day later the foreman decided to complain. He claimed the steward grabbed him by the throat, abused him and tried to tear his jacket.
Management refused for days to take a statement from the only witness to the row. Instead they suspended the steward on the word of the foreman. There is now to be a full internal investigation. The steward could be sacked if he is found guilty. 'We'll have to ballot. We'll have to take them on over this one,' said a shop steward on Tuesday morning as workers lobbied pay talks between the company and the union. If we sit back and do nothing, they'll sack him. That's the only way to stop what is going on. It's all a big political game. It's despicable. Our steward is a pawn in all this, but he might become a casualty. That's what they are prepared to do.'
There is seething resentment that the high profile meeting between the global boss of Ford, Jacques Nasser, and the unions has resolved nothing. 'They're not sorting out any of the fundamental issues,' said another worker. 'It's just the structures. If anything, things have got worse at the plant since the Nasser meeting. Management are just digging in. They want to regain the upper hand.'
Another steward says, 'It's got to the stage where I'm afraid to go in the office without a witness. You don't know what they are going to accuse you of. But they never suspend foremen when they abuse and harass us.'
A paint shop worker who walked out on Tuesday morning says, 'Management are lying through their bloody teeth. They're letting the foremen have meetings when they want, but not us. We've still got right jokers working over us. We stopped for an hour on Monday and voted to strike if they suspended the steward. Then on Tuesday morning, when we heard that they had suspended him, we just upped and left. The mood was pretty good.'
Swift action is now vital to make sure Ford management don't dare to sack the shop steward. A group of striking tool room workers were amongst those lobbying the pay talks on Tuesday. They too are determined to keep up their action. 'We had a full day strike in September just after Ken Jackson of the AEEU said he wanted a strike free Britain! We've been striking an hour here, an hour there, since then. We're going to see what comes out of the talks and then take it from there.'
Workers were hoping their union convenors would not mess about in the pay talks for long. 'We want Ford to discuss our claim. If they don't we should walk out and ballot for action,' says another worker. A fight over pay could unite all the different battles taking place in Ford.