“We were made redundant without any notice, we weren’t offered any redundancy pay, we were going to lose our pensions, and then they were going to make us into criminals for objecting to it!”
“The real people are the people that pay their taxes and try their best to keep within the law. But the law has failed us, and this is the reason why we have to take the action we have taken. The law does not recognise us. You can see the amount of support going on there. People are fed up of the status quo and we need change and we need it now.
“It’s not acceptable what’s happening, what they are doing to people, it doesn’t matter how many of us are sacrificed because we are only commodities that’s to their disposal at any time. We need to take action before it becomes too late. We need to make sure that government understands that we have the power, we are the power, not them, and that we will exercise our rights.” - Enfield Visteon workers
Sacked Visteon workers are into the third week of their campaign against Ford and Visteon motor companies.
More than 600 people working at manufacturing plants in Basildon, Belfast and Enfield were made redundant without notice when Visteon UK went into receivership on 31 March. Workers in Belfast and Enfield occupied their factory. An initial occupation by Basildon workers was bullied into leaving by Essex police, but the workers there mounted pickets and continue to campaign, including protesting at the plush home of their ex-boss Steve Gawne.
Enfield workers agreed to leave their picket at noon on Thursday 9 April, thereby complying with a commitment made by Unite lawyers at the High Court on Monday 6 April. The factory’s convenor Kevin Nolan and deputy convenor had been threatened with prison unless the workers agreed to leave the plant, allowing the receivers to take possession.
In the end the workers agreed to leave through a combination of pressure from the law and from their own union, fear of police violence should they stay (this was heavily played on by Unite officials), fear of getting a criminal record which could make it harder to find a new job, and hopes that a financial package which had been offered would turn out to be substantial. As far as we understand, the decision to leave was taken by democratic vote; some opposed leaving on grounds including:
• The size of the financial offer was not known and Visteon were not to be trusted
• Picketing of the factory could be deemed illegal and pickets could even more easily be attacked outside the plant.
In the event, the financial offer revealed to Unite at talks on Wednesday 15 April was insulting: the company would pay workers 16 weeks’ pay, no more than the statutory minimum the company should be paying redundant workers had it not gone into receivership. Unite rejected the offer and is trying to get further talks with Ford and Visteon, arguing that since Visteon workers were promised Ford terms and conditions for life when they moved from Ford to the new company, and since the fortunes of the two companies are still interlinked, Ford has a moral obligation to be involved in what happens to Visteon workers.
When the Enfield workers left the plant, filing one by one down the fire escape, a chanting crowd of around 300 supporters greeted them. It was both a great moment, and a sad moment. A defiant Kevin Nolan was carried by some of his comrades on their shoulders through the crowd. Some workers thought the Unite regional officials present who had been involved up to the last minute in urging the workers to leave looked smug as the workers left — “Job done”, as one worker put it to me.
The workers have now mounted a 24-hour picket of the gates to the plant to prevent tools being moved out, or, less likely but not impossible, a new workforce, on worse terms and conditions, being moved in. A team of heavy looking security guards had moved into the factory while the workers were occupying as they had only been able to occupy the paintshop and the roof. Now security have the entire inside of the building and are living on site.
Most of the sacked 200 workers are involved in the new phase of the campaign; and a support group has been set up which supplements the pickets, helps to raise money, and discusses tactical issues with the workers.
In Belfast, the workers are still in occupation — although they were due in court on 21 April — and the whole community is rallying around; Visteon workers joined an Irish Congress of Trade Unions rally in Belfast on 17 April that drew more than 1,000 people.
Visteon UK made parts for Ford and for Jaguar/Landrover. The workers believe that these companies will soon get through their stockpiles of parts and that the tools to make new parts will be needed. Support on the pickets is welcome at any time.
Visteon UK is an arm of the struggling Visteon Corporation based in the US. Visteon employs about 34,000 people worldwide. Visteon was created by Ford in 1997 and spun off in 2000, but the company’s fortunes have been bound up with Ford ever since. Visteon Engineering Services, to which many of the Visteon managers transferred, is still trading, and employs 400 people at its offices in Endeavour Drive, Basildon.
This is a fight for the whole labour movement and for others, such as environmental campaigners, who want to engage with industrial workers.
Unite’s role, the lessons
Comrades in Unite union should put pressure on the leadership to pursue negotiations on behalf of the workers with Visteon and Ford companies; facilitate links between Visteon and Ford plants; raise money throughout the union; finance the pickets and provide hardship money to the workers — this fight must not be allowed to die. For Unite officials, getting the workers to leave their occupation is not ‘job done’ — their work should be only just beginning!
The Visteon workers have been buoyed by the support they have received, and found themselves working with people they didn’t have much time for before. They’ve also discovered new bonds of solidarity among themselves.
As one worker explained: “When we decided to occupy we ran up onto the roof, not really knowing what we were doing. When I looked around me, I was surprised at the faces I saw: not the young militants – if we had had young militants in there – but a real mixture of faces, including older people, middle-aged women.
“Before we all used to get on, but there were still divisions between salaried staff and hourly paid, and between CCRs [Cost Competitive Rate employees hired on lower rates than former Ford or even early Visteon employed workers] and the rest. That’s all gone; out here we are all equal.
“The anarchists or socialists have been here from the start as well — they were up on the roof before we were! I would say interest has dropped away since we ended the occupation — for some people it was just the occupation that mattered.
“In the past, I would have thrown socialist leaflets in the first bin. Now I would read them... possibly.”
Money and moral support needed urgently
Pass solidarity messages and take collections in your union or campaigning body. To get money quickly to workers at Enfield Visteon, send cheques payable to “Haringey Solidarity Group” (write ‘Visteon’ on the back) to Haringey Solidarity Group, PO Box 2474, London N8. To pay by bank transfer:
Account name: Haringey Solidarity Group. Account number: 50642971. Sort code: 089037. Bank: Co-op