Ford workers ready to fight
'Bring us boss's head on a plate'
"FORD WORKERS united will never be defeated." That was the chant of over 700 workers from Ford Dagenham last week as they staged a brilliant lobby of a meeting between the company and the unions. They were demanding that Ford reverses its decision to stop car production at Dagenham-the death knell for the plant, for thousands of jobs, and for the local community. The mood was militant.
Workers banged their placards as they shouted, "We want a future," and, "No sell-out." There were angry chants of, "We want Nasser [the global boss of Ford]," followed by, "Bring us his head on a plate!" Scores of coaches from the plant brought workers to the lobby. Shop stewards were expecting 400-500 workers. They gathered at the gates of the plant early in the morning and persuaded many more workers not to go to work but to get on the buses instead.
As a result both the PTA and the body plant at Dagenham were virtually silent all last Thursday morning. Management, desperate to get some production done, even agreed to pay workers if they turned up for the afternoon-unheard of for a lobby of the company.
Workers piled off the buses with banners and then staged a short march to the company's headquarters in posh Bayswater. As they marched to the doors there was a surge forward, which forced the police aside, and calls of, "Come on, let's get them!"
TGWU union official Tony Woodley had to urge workers to stand back. "We want to save Dagenham," one worker told Socialist Worker. "It's disgusting what they want to do, and they shouldn't get away with it. They think they can walk away when they want to and leave a trail of desperation behind them. They told us we had a future. They are utter bastards."
"Where is Ken Livingstone today?" another worker wanted to know. "He should be backing our fight." "We've come to save jobs, to save our plant," said another. "The company is breaking all its agreements with us. Many people will be affected by this, not just Ford workers. We've got to stop the closure. We've got to strike. Without a strike, we will get nothing."
A strike ballot was precisely what Tony Woodley announced. Unions are to ballot workers at Dagenham for strike action after the July shutdown.
"We've got to pledge all our support for them," says a worker at Ford's Leamington Spa plant who was on the lobby. "We are threatened with closure too if we don't turn a �9 million deficit round to a profit. So by supporting the Dagenham plant, we are supporting ourselves." And the convenor of Ford's Croydon plant says, "A majority of our plant would back any kind of action for Dagenham. There is a general fear for jobs at every plant. There are only hollow words from Ford. There are no guarantees for anyone."
That is true. But last week's lobby showed the potential for workers' resistance to beat Ford.
Involve every Ford worker
FORD IS trying to divide and rule. It is saying it will end car assembly at Dagenham, which will mean the PTA and the body plant will close. But Ford claims it will keep the Dagenham engine plant open. It even claims it is to make new investment in the engine plant. In fact, that investment was originally announced three years ago-Ford has just re-announced it.
There is already a division between the unions at Dagenham. This was intensified by the row over the unions' response to the racial harassment of Sukhjit Parma. Now Ford is hoping to exploit those divisions to the full. It is hoping the engine plant-which has the power to stop Ford Europe-will not strike because workers think their future is safe, leaving the PTA and the body plant to fight alone.
The unions must tackle this division. Instead they announced last week there will be a ballot of only the PTA and the body plants, not the engine plant. This will reinforce division. The leadership of the unions in the engine plant are not the same as ordinary workers.
Workers in the engine plant can be won to support strike action. But it would take a campaign. By not balloting the engine plant, the argument won't even take place. "I couldn't believe it when I heard it," says a worker in the engine plant. "We must not be cut out of the fight."