'All the flexibility we've given Ford-it's just not been recognised'
Ford payroll, engineers, computer workers
White collar staff gear up for strike
By Sam Ashman
"THIS IS a big move for us. For many of us this is the first time we've ever been on strike. But Ford is not taking us seriously. The company don't believe we will take action. We are going to show them." They are the words of a white collar worker at Ford. Over 2,000 of them are preparing to strike.
The workers are not happy with Ford's offer on pay and hours. But the main issue at stake is pensions. Ford says it just wants to merge the white collar workers' fund-which has a huge surplus-with the hourly paid workers' pension fund. By doing so Ford will save 11.9 million per year for the next 13 years. Staff fear another Robert-Maxwell-style rip off. "They want to cream off our pension money," says a worker at the Dagenham plant in east London. "There will be absolutely no benefit for us, when that money could be used to really improve our pension benefits in old age." The workers involved in the strike action include payroll staff, engineers, designers and computer workers.
Some of these workers are described by the media as "Middle England". But like many others given that term they are sick of their bosses. "We get no recognition from the company. All our efforts, all the flexibility we've given them-it's just not recognised," says one union rep. TGWU and MSF union officials have agreed a programme of action:
- A one hour strike for mass meetings on Monday 21 February.
- A one day strike on Thursday 24 February.
- A one day strike and demonstration in Warley, Essex, on Tuesday 29 February.
- A three day strike from 6-8 March.
Computer operators control the company's "just in time" system of parts delivery. That means on strike days parts for car production could run out. Other engineers are responsible for repairs and maintenance of the production lines. White collar unions across Ford Europe also say they will not touch any work the company tries to get them to cover. At last week's meeting of reps from across the country, some thought the action was not hard-hitting enough. "In my plant I'd say 25 percent want to go all out," says one rep from Dagenham. "Feelings are strong. I just phoned up with the news and the response was, 'This is not harsh enough. We should go out for a week, straight off'."
Manual workers might be tempted not to back the white collar staff. But Ford would love nothing more than to divide workers. That is why Ford is spreading rumours that Dagenham might close, or that its Paint, Trim and Assembly section might be run down. As a Dagenham PTA worker says, "The company are trying to undermine the unions whatever way they can, whether it's threats of closure or blue collar versus white collar. "It is a political tactic from management."