Fight brewing in car plants
'We've had enough,' say Peugeot workers
Strike set after vote, 3,000 could be out
By Sam Ashman
"THE WORM is turning." That's how car workers at Peugeot's plant in Coventry were joking to each other last week-about themselves. The 3,000 workers at the plant threw out a deal on working hours that everyone-management, trade union officials and their own shop stewards-was telling them to accept. Instead they voted to strike.
If the action goes ahead it will be the first major strike at the plant for 20 years. "When our shop steward read out the result last week the colour completely drained out of his face. He went completely white. We were all just laughing at him," says a worker. "Why should we take this? Everyone at the plant knows that management is selling cars hand over fist. We all know their profits are going through the roof. We've eaten humble pie. We had things stuffed down our throats. Now we've had enough. We've got bargaining power. We know it and we want to use it."
The plant makes the Peugeot 206, a bestselling car. The company's profits last year were up 52 percent to 455 million. Management claim the hours deal will mean a shorter working week.
They say it will cut hours from 39 to just under 37-in line with Peugeot plants in France. In reality the deal could see people doing 46 hour weeks at times, and will wreck family lives for some. The company wants workers to do an average of 36 and three-quarter hours a week over any six week period.
That could mean being dragged in for compulsory overtime on a Friday night in a busy week without any extra pay. Peugeot bosses can do this because they have already introduced what are called "annualised" hours, which mean you work as and when management says. The company is selling so many cars that nine months ago it took on workers on temporary contracts for a new weekend shift-Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Now Peugeot wants these workers to work Mondays as well.
"This will completely cock up arrangements for childcare," explained one worker. "Workers have organised our lives around this weekend shift. Now they want us to tear all that up. But it's not that easy if you have a partner who works in the week. Who looks after the kids? We're not having it. If there is to be a shorter working week we want to be the ones who feel the benefit. The company should take more workers on-and on full time proper contracts."
In a consultative ballot three months ago workers voted 86 percent to kick the offer out. Union officials and stewards continued to insist it was a good deal. "They told us they didn't want to ballot for a strike because of all the other problems in the car industry. But if we stomach longer hours that won't help the workers at Dagenham or at Rover. It will only help Peugeot."
Officials dragged their heels for months until finally calling a ballot for action, thinking the feeling in the plant would have drained away. But workers voted by 60 percent to 40 percent to strike.
"The mood in the plant is a rock they just can't crack!" says the worker. Workers are set to strike for a day on 27 July-the day before their summer shutdown.
Then they plan an all-out strike from 21 August, after the holiday. On that day Peugeot bosses say they will impose the deal. TGWU official Tony Woodley was set to be in desperate negotiations to cobble together some compromise in order to avoid a strike.
Peugeot bosses know they are vulnerable. They told the Financial Times last Saturday that a strike would wreck their output. That's all the more reason for the workforce to keep up its rock-like determination.
Hit Ford to hurt Ford
Dagenham to ballot on action
SOME 250 people packed into a church hall in Dagenham, east London, last week. They were there to discuss how to fight Ford's plan to effectively shut its huge Dagenham plant.
There was a fantastic spirit of unity in the meeting between the Ford workers present and people from the local community who came to show their support. A group of shop stewards from the plant were cheered as they marched in at the start of the meeting with placards.
Tony Benn MP and Paul Foot, the campaigning socialist journalist, were then cheered to the rafters when they spoke of the need to fight the company. Paul Foot urged workers at the plant to strike and humble bully boy multinationals.
Tony Benn pointed to how Ford is such a giant corporation it is as big as a country like South Africa. "The real question is," he said, "should society be run by the people who invest their lives in working or by people who just invest a little bit of money?"
There was a taste of international solidarity when a Spanish worker, who works for a Ford supplier and was visiting the factory, spoke in the discussion. He condemned Ford in broken English, and told the meeting that the decision was wrong because it was bad for the workers and families of Dagenham.
A shop steward from Ford's Basildon plant in Essex brought a message of support and solidarity to the Dagenham workers. He told the meeting, "This fight can't be left to Dagenham alone. Dagenham's fight is our fight."
The TGWU union convenor of Dagenham's PTA plant, one of the three factories that make up the giant complex, then spoke of the plan to ballot for strike action after the summer shutdown. "We've got to hit Ford. We've got to hurt Ford. We are determined to have a successful strike and make them change their decision."
A worker from the Dagenham engine plant said, "Management has worked hard to create divisions. We must work hard to create unity. Our arguments over this issue are unbeatable. But good arguments won't win this. Industrial action must hit Ford."
He was cheered when he said, "They keep telling us we must get closer to Europe. We should look to how French workers deal with their problems!" And a member of Dagenham Labour Party, who is also in the CWU postal workers' union, said, "We already have groups of unemployed kids around here and that is without Ford going. We will support you all the way. This has been a very good meeting. Now there must be a local campaign."