News emerged at the end of last week of what looks like a significant victory for the Visteon workers. I’ve written about this dispute before. Around 600 workers were sacked at the end of March with a few minutes notice – and the employer then denied them even the pensions and the redundancy pay they were due.
Visteon workers used to be employed by Ford until 2000, and were on Ford contracts. When it came to the sackings, though, Ford managers simply said, ‘Nothing to do with us’.
The workers quite rightly fought back, with occupations and pickets of their plants to prevent the bosses moving machinery out. What really swung it was the threat of secondary action by Ford workers. There was a serious and growing mood amongst the Visteon workforce to take the fight to Ford, and picket out Ford plants. This could have cost Ford millions.
The outcome? Ford has been forced to acknowledge its responsibilities to the workers. They’ve been offered redundancy payments totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds, with some workers likely to receive as much as £40,000. They haven’t saved their jobs – but they have won a significant victory nevertheless.
There are lessons to be learned from this. When the Visteon workers occupied their workplaces, this was of course against the law. The threatened solidarity action by Ford workers would have course have been against the law. It is very, very difficult – in the context of Thatcher’s anti-union laws, perpetuated by Blair and Brown – to win an industrial dispute and stay within the law. The economic crisis means that workers are likely to face an absolute onslaught of pay cuts, axed pensions, and mass job loss. Our unions can either meekly obey Tory law – or can put their members first.
The Visteon workers didn’t win by asking nicely, or by waiting in the vain hope that a Labour Government might start treating ordinary workers with respect. They fought back, and they were right to do so. Their victory sends an important message to other workers as redundancies soar. When they come for our jobs, we can fight back and we can win.