'FORD MAKES £92 million profit, and we're called greedy car workers!' Those angry words came from David Wood, one of 8,000 car workers on strike on Monday in Solihull and in Gaydon, Warwickshire. They work for Land Rover, which is owned by Ford. The multinational wants to ram through a two-year pay deal giving them less wages than workers at Ford's Jaguar plants, and worse working conditions.
'They want us to work more for less', 'We'll have no life outside this place', 'They want to drive us into the ground', is the message from strikers on the picket lines at Solihull. It will be familiar to many workers across Britain. Land Rover workers are striking for 24 hours for the second time in the last two weeks. Each day's strike has halted the production of around 1,000 cars-costing Ford at least £20 million.
The workers' bitterness and anger pour out on the picket line. The cry of 'Scab!' rises up from hundreds of pickets every time a manager in a flash car drives past them. This is an official dispute. The workers' unions-TGWU, Amicus and GMB-have jumped through every hoop of the anti-union laws introduced by the Tory and now New Labour governments.
Yet the police have imprisoned the pickets behind ten foot high wire fences, and use video cameras to film the strikers. The outcome of this dispute could have an impact beyond Land Rover. Bosses' paper the Financial Times lists '12 months of flashpoints', detailing pay disputes, ballots and strikes across Britain in the car industry over the last year.
These include disputes at Aston Martin in Newport Pagnall and Bloxham near Newbury, Nissan in Sunderland, Peugeot in Ryton, MG Rover at Longbridge, and Honda in Swindon. At Land Rover the workers, who have not taken strike action in 16 years, have gone straight to organising mass pickets at the weekends to enforce their overtime ban and their strikes.
After workers at Ford's plant in Aveley, Essex, voted by 76 percent recently for industrial action against a threat to 150 jobs, the union is considering holding a national ballot. This is in an industry where the bosses thought fear of unemployment and bullying management had put an end to such disputes. As the Financial Times concludes, 'Rather than being cowed by the threat of possible loss of further production-and hence jobs-workers have reacted angrily.'
Duncan Simpson, the Amicus union's national officer for the car industry, comments, 'Some employers will say the unions' mood and attitude has gone back to that of the 1970s. 'But some of the stewards tell us that the employers' mood and attitude has gone back to the 1970s.'
Ford know how important this dispute is. That's why the bosses have so far been refusing to budge over the pay and conditions. Some workers are raising the question of escalating the action beyond 24 hour strikes. As David Wood says, 'Ford didn't think we would come out. They thought we were too weak. But we're fighting for a just cause. 'They always say do this or that, or you won't get another vehicle coming in here. It's total blackmail. I think if Ford don't want to talk, we'll have to escalate our action to days or a week on strike.'
'I think we should be escalating it, up to two or three days maybe,' says another, Anthony Heaton, as strikers around him nod in agreement. Paul Cooper adds, 'I think if they don't budge, we should go out permanently. Ford likes to throw its weight around but they've picked on the wrong lot with us.'
Escalating the dispute would increase the pressure on Ford. Mass meetings would give all the workers the opportunity to debate where the strike goes next. Ashok Kumar, one of the strikers, says, 'I hope we can set an example for other workers. Look at the post office workers. They won their dispute. I believe we can do the same.'
'I'll never vote Labour again'
'FORD ARE the lowest of the low. You're just a number to them. My dad was a miner and was on strike in 1984. I was an engineer before I came here. Now I'm on strike. I voted for Labour twice. I've always been Labour. I thought they might introduce a few laws for the unions. But with everything they've done, I won't vote for them again. I don't know who I'll vote for, but it won't be them.'
DAVID SNOOKS Land Rover striker