Workers at the threatened Ford plant in Southampton have reacted with anger at the company’s announcement that it is to close for a whole month over Christmas.
The decision will mean that workers will only be paid their basic pay over the period – precisely the time when most will have been expecting to
use overtime and shift allowances to pay for the extra expense of the “festive” period.
The plant will close from 5 December until 5 January, a full three weeks longer than any previous shutdown.
Ford worker Tony, who last month led a walkout against threats to close the plant, told Socialist Worker that the loss of pay could be devastating.
“I know one lad here whose mortgage is £1,300 a month. How’s he going to be able to pay that with his allowances gone?
“It’s even worse for people like the canteen staff. They’ve been told that they are going to be put on half pay.
“This company is playing with people’s lives.”
There are fears that the long shutdown could be a prelude to the running down of the plant, with workers returning after Christmas to a permanent three-day week.
“Long standing agreements on wage protection are being torn up, and so far the union is not putting up the kind of resistance we need,” said Tony.
Some also suspect that Ford has decided to close Southampton entirely.
Bosses at Ford’s US headquarters are considering a plan which would see an end to the yearly production of 75,000 Transit vans in Southampton, with the plant making 35,000 of the new Chassis Cab vehicles instead.
This could lead to the slashing of hundreds of jobs. But even this production is conditional upon massive new investment and is far from guaranteed.
The Unite union has called a mass lobby of the Tory-run Southampton city council on Wednesday 26 November at 10am and are calling for Ford workers from around the country to show support.
Shop stewards were pursuing other iniatives as Socialist Worker went to press.
These initiatives must be pursued quickly – otherwise the shutdown could sap the energy and initiative of Ford workers.
That the government could be made to respond to public anger over the issue of factory closures was demonstrated last week as it was announced that the Welsh Assembly would be pumping more than £13 million into retooling Ford’s plant in Bridgend.
The newly equipped factory there will be making new “green” engines for the whole of Europe – though even here there are expected to be job cuts.
Forcing New Labour to make a similar commitment to secure the future of Southampton will require a campaign that creates massive political pressure.
Recent experience at Rover and elsewhere has shown that MPs and ministers will mouth their support when they feel it necessary.
But most will back shoddy compromises if they think they can get away with it.
That is why it is essential that the union be prepared to back its campaign with the threat of using its industrial muscle.