Workers at the Visteon car components firm have put themselves at the heart of the fightback against job cuts by occupying their factories after they were summarily sacked on Tuesday of last week.
Their fight has transformed the struggle to stop workers from suffering the effects of the recession.
Workers at Visteon’s Belfast site led the way by refusing to leave their workplace after being told the news. Occupations spread to the company’s other two sites in Enfield, north London, and Basildon in Essex on Wednesday.
The occupations in Belfast and Enfield were continuing as Socialist Worker went to press.
Kevin Nolan, the Unite union convenor at the Enfield plant, told Socialist Worker, “A lot of us are in danger of losing our homes because we won’t be able to pay the mortgage. We’ll stay until we get some justice.”
Visteon bosses treated the workers in an appalling way. Around 600 staff across the three plants were called into meetings with just a few minutes’ notice.
Administrators told them they were sacked and that they would get no redundancy pay from the company – some will not even get their last week’s pay.
Many had worked for the company for decades. Workers in their 50s have had their pensions frozen.
Some, who were not in work on Tuesday, found out that their job had gone from the TV news, or from security guards when they turned up at their factories the next day.
“I’ve been made redundant before, but I always got proper notice,” said Linda Bartell, one of the occupying workers in Enfield. “Our grandfathers fought for the working rights we have, but there is no respect here.”
Visteon was originally part of Ford, but the multinational giant spun it off in 2000. Many of the workers are still employed on Ford terms and conditions, which guaranteed them against compulsory redundancy.
At a minimum, the workers are demanding that their bosses honour these contracts.
John Ramsey, who is occupying in Belfast, started at Ford straight from school. He told Socialist Worker, “With six minutes’ notice they informed us brutally that we were all sacked. People were devastated.
“After the announcement I was clearing out my desk. But then everyone came together and said, ‘we’re not going’.”
Many workers in Enfield say they too should have refused to leave after they were sacked, but that initially they were in too much shock to do so.
Paul Hunt has worked at the plant for over 19 years. “We were in the pub on Tuesday night when we heard that Belfast workers were occupying,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We decided we should organise something ourselves. Our occupation is fantastic – we’ve had so much support from people and spirits are high.”
In Basildon, around 40 workers occupied their plant on Wednesday as more gathered to protest outside. After meetings with police and administrators – and threats of arrest – the workers agreed to leave at around 6pm.
Some now think they should have defied the threats and stayed in. Workers there have set up camp and have a well-organised rota system to make sure enough people are outside the factory at any one time.
“I’ve worked here for just short of 30 years and I feel we have been kicked in the teeth,” said John Vevers, a Basildon worker. “We’ve worked really hard and made every efficiency saving the company has looked for – and this is how they treat us.
“We will carry on making a noise until we get a result.”
Workers in Enfield have defied security guards, police, the receivers, bailiffs and a court order demanding that they leave. At every point there were arguments about how they should respond to the escalating threats.
Yet the occupation has gone from strength to strength. In the first couple of days, some workers felt that if bailiffs arrived with the correct paperwork then they should leave.
But on Friday the workers claimed squatters’ rights. The plant is now covered in signs that read, “We live in this property. It is our home and we intend to stay here.”
The occupation is now organised using a rota system, and the workers hold mass meetings to discuss the way forward.
They have also organised to take their fight to other workers. A delegation visited Ford’s Dagenham site and spoke to workers there about their situation. Others have spoken at union meetings to build support.
Their struggle has inspired workers across Britain and support has flooded in. Hundreds came to a rally in support of the Visteon workers in Enfield last Saturday.
Unite union official Steve Hart told the rally, “Nothing can stop our solidarity. This union will not stop its support for our members.”
Visteon workers are setting an example for the whole trade union movement.
As the recession deepens, attacks on workers’ jobs, pay and pensions will grow. Bosses have so far got away with dumping thousands of people on the scrapheap.
Visteon shows that it is possible to fight back. This struggle could be the start of turning the tide against the bosses.