BY 6AM around 500 strikers had gathered at the entrances to Land Rover’s plant in Solihull on Monday. They were not deterred by the high fences that the police had put up to pen them in.
As managers in suits drove past them, the pickets jeered and noisily beat on the fences. This 8,000-strong workforce has not taken strike action for 16 years. They have put up with “flexibility” and gone along with pay deals. Land Rover bosses boast that the company is one of the most profitable parts of the Ford motor empire.
Now these workers have had enough. “We’ve given everything. They’ve taken the piss out of us,” is how one picket at the Lode Lane entrance summed it up. There were also pickets at Land Rover’s plant in Gaydon in Warwickshire.
In the run-up to this week’s strike there have been pickets of up to 1,000 workers at Solihull on the weekends to enforce their overtime ban. The workers have also withdrawn their flexible working agreement.
Their anger boiled over when they saw the strings attached to Land Rover’s 6.5 percent pay offer.
“They want ‘Martini’ working -any time, any place, anywhere,” a TGWU shop steward told Socialist Worker.
“That means they can move you around as they like. If you’ve been there 30 years you might be on a job that suits you. But they want to move you. If the gaffer doesn’t like you, he can put you on a worse job. They’ve also changed the shifts, which means we get less shift allowance. This strike is not really about pay.
“The gaffers don’t respect us. They treat us like shit. We’re not machines, we’re people. We want to be treated like human beings. It’s bad enough having to come in here 24 hours, seven days a week to do a monotonous job. It’s a job in itself just coming in here!
“If you’re on the track it’s the same job every day. Now they are saying we want you to work harder for less pay. I think they’d like to break the union down. We’re all union here. We voted for Tony Blair, we thought he’d work with us.
“But he doesn’t want to know. He’s turned his back on us. Then with things like tuition fees, it hits people who work here who’ve got children that maybe would like to go to college.”
“All of us have got families. We’d like to spend extra time with them,” said one worker. But they are saying if production stops for whatever reason, we’ll be expected to stay behind to make up the time. What if you’ve got childcare arrangements? They have their plans and we’ve got ours, with our families. But of course ours don’t come into the equation.”
Another worker added, “At a meeting I stood up, backed by others, and said if all these conditions are just ‘on the table’ and they don’t really mean anything, then take them out of the pay deal. But they won’t. They are just going to keep coming back to us if we don’t make a stand.”
The overtime ban and now strike action is hitting Land Rover. Ford confirmed that no vehicles were built at the Solihull plant for 24 hours because of the strike. Normally around 1,000 vehicles a day are produced.
“We might be losing money, but they’re losing more,” said one worker.
The strikers at Lode Lane cheered as the pickets that police allowed to approach cars and lorries entering the plant succeeded in turning away a lorry that had driven over from Italy.
The workers’ unions-the TGWU, Amicus and GMB-are discussing the next step in the pay battle, which could include further strikes. The workforce is angry and determined.
As Mohammed, one of the strikers, said, “In the name of flexible labour, Land Rover want slave labour. I haven’t been able to attend the last couple of weekend pickets because I was in London for the demonstration in support of women wearing the hijab and I went to the Respect conference.
“But I’m on the picket line this morning. We don’t want to work in a sweatshop in conditions that are worse than the 1950s and 60s. This is the 21st century. We’ve taken a lot of bullshit and now we have to take a stand before it’s too late.”
Ford announced on Monday of this week that it was closing its Aveley pre-production site in Essex with the loss of 150 jobs. The TGWU union is recomending to its members that a national consultative ballot is held to defend the plant.
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