Socialist Worker

Fighting back can beat the bosses

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 2151

Visteon workers and their supporters demanding justice on a protest in Belfast last month   (Pic: Norman Briggs)

Visteon workers and their supporters demanding justice on a protest in Belfast last month (Pic: Norman Briggs)

Millions of workers feel fear and anger as bosses use the recession to slash jobs. This will drive thousands of people to join the Unite union’s national demonstration for jobs in Birmingham this Saturday.

The march is a great national focus over jobs. It takes place as every day brings further news of redundancies and greater insecurity for ordinary people.

The Corus steel company announced last week that it will close its Redcar plant on Teesside with a loss of 2,000 posts. The Legal and General insurance group plans to make 560 staff redundant, many of them in processing centres.

The Weststar firm is set to takeover the LDV van makers’ company in Birmingham. But workers still have not been given any indication of the timescale or how many jobs could still be lost.

Saturday’s demonstration will put workers’ demands over jobs to the fore.

But the warm words of trade union leaders will not stop the bosses making us pay the price for their crisis.

This will only happen when people take action in their own workplaces. This means strikes, pickets and occupations.Inspirational

Recent inspirational examples by three groups of workers show that ordinary people can fight back and win – at the Visteon, Prisme and Waterford Crystal companies.

All were told that they had been sacked without redundancy pay as their companies had gone into administration. But none of them accepted it. Instead they took militant action – and won a number of their demands.

Around 600 workers at the Visteon car components plants in Basildon in Essex, Enfield in north London and Belfast were sacked at the end of March.

Workers in Belfast refused to leave the plant and took it over. As Socialist Worker goes to press they are still in occupation.Those in Enfield also occupied for nine days. Basildon workers also occupied for a brief time. Both Enfield and Basildon have held 24-hour pickets of their sites since coming out.

Ford sold Visteon off in 2000, promising the workers Ford terms and conditions for life. The workers focused their campaign on pressuring the multinational to honour its obligations to them.

They threatened to spread their action to shut down Ford plants in Britain – and forced the company to backtrack and offer redundancy packages.

Trade unionists from across the country showered Visteon workers with solidarity, so they weren’t left on their own. The workers’ action is continuing while they wait for the money to be paid.

Raymond Dixon, a former shop steward at Visteon, told Socialist Worker, “We’ve sent a strong message to other companies that they can’t treat people like this and get away with it. We have to make sure we don’t forget this as the same thing will happen to other workers.

“I’m happy that something has come out of this but it’s not finished – we need to know what happened with our pensions.”

Workers at the Waterford Crystal plant in Ireland underwent a similar experience to those at Visteon.

Tony Kelly, the Unite union chief steward at Waterford Crystal, explained, “We were due back to work after the Christmas break on 5 January, but we heard that morning that the company had gone into administration.

“We were still working for three weeks before the administrator said he couldn’t find an interested party for the business so we were put on a three-day week.

“Then, one Friday, the administrator said he was closing the gallery and sacking 440 workers. People converged on the gallery on instinct.

“There were a few scuffles with security guards but they knew they couldn’t hold us off. That was when the occupation began. It lasted seven weeks. Lots of people related to our fight.

“Around 7,000 people marched in Waterford to support us, and we led the

100,000-strong trade union demonstration in Dublin in February against the government’s handling of the economic crisis.

“We had discussions with the KPS company and they offered £10 million to workers in addition to statutory redundancy. They took over the company which meant that 176 jobs were saved. There is also a feasibility study underway into manufacturing in Waterford.


“Pensions is now a huge issue for us, as our fund is in deficit. There is no pension protection in Ireland and it looks like we’ll have to take it to the European court.

“There is a lot of anger in Waterford over this issue.”

Workers at Visteon and Waterford believe that people should follow their example and refuse to be pushed around.

Tony said, “The occupation highlighted a lot of issues. It showed that to have any recognition with the receivers you can’t just sit back and watch things on TV.

“You’ve got to do something to get the focus on yourselves. We made the TV cameras come to us in the factory. We didn’t get a totally satisfactory ending, but if we hadn’t stood up we would have got nothing.”

Wez Ullah, a Visteon worker at Enfield, said, “I hope our result will have an impact on other workers. We see so many companies going to the wall that it’s become like the norm. But we’ve shown that you don’t have to just accept it.

“I’d say to other workers:regardless of how secure you think your job is, get organised now. Have a plan B.

“If this company can do it then others will want to do the same.”

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