Ford-Visteon workers left their plants on Monday after inflicting a humiliating defeat on their bosses.
Around 600 workers across the three factories – in Belfast, Enfield in north London, and Basildon in Essex – marched off their sites simultaneously at 12.45pm.
They had been occupying and picketing the plants since they were sacked with no notice at the end of March.
They were originally sacked with nothing – but their militant action won significant redundancy packages.
Unite union convenor Kevin Nolan spoke to the crowd at Enfield. “This is a fantastic achievement for everybody,” he said.
To applause, he added, “I want to give a special thanks to the workers in Belfast. If it wasn’t for the inspiration they gave us we might never have done what we did.”
Belfast workers were the first to occupy their site – refusing to leave after being told they no longer had jobs.
They resisted several legal threats to close down their occupation. Workers marched out on Monday with their supporters and headed to a local hotel for a celebratory dinner.
Visteon workers are proud of what they have achieved. But the victory is bittersweet – around 600 people have lost their jobs and now face a grim search for work in the midst of recession.
Question marks remain, particularly over their pensions. “We won a good payout but there’s still a fight for the pensions,” Kevin said.
“We just want what’s due. We don’t want the company to walk away with a fund that we’ve paid into for ten, 20, 30 or 40 years.”
Despite this, it’s clear that the result has been a boost to the workers.
“This has to be seen as a tremendous victory,” said Phil Wilson, another Enfield worker.
“We should leave here with our heads held high.”
Piers Hood, the deputy Unite convenor at the plant, added, “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”
Bob Benham told the crowd, “You have made history.”
There was a celebratory mood as workers gathered to march from the plant. Some let off fireworks.
But people were also emotional as they prepared to leave the site for the last time – many after decades of service.
Tina Dhanjar worked at the company for 32 years.
“I’m happy with the deal – but I’d rather have a job than redundancy money,” she told Socialist Worker. “There are no hopes for decent jobs now. And the money won’t last forever.”
Mario, who has worked for the company for 20 years, added, “I’m 99 percent happy but obviously it would be better if the job was still there.
“In the back of your mind is what else we could have won. But at the start I would never have thought we could get this far.”
Debra helped to organise the picket rota at Enfield.
“We have given other people strength to fight back,” she said.
“The offer was good but the union should try and get more money from Ford for the pensions.”
It is unclear how the national union will pursue the fight for pensions. What is clear is that the only thing that can wring anything out of the bosses is pressure from below.
Workers have received details of their redundancy packages and are now waiting to receive the payouts.
As job losses mount by the day, others should follow the Visteon workers’ lead.
“We did it – and if we can do it so can others,” Alo said.
“Sitting at home doesn’t do anything. People need to fight for their rights.
“Through our struggle I’ve learnt how much support and inspiration you can get from other people.
“To other workers I’d say, we’ll be there if you need us. If they try to take your job away fight back, put your foot down and say that’s mine.”