On Tuesday March 31st workers at Visteon factories – making car parts for Ford brands – across the UK were told that Visteon Corp could no longer prop up the UK branch, and so they would all lose their jobs with immediate effect. That night a hundred workers at a plant in west Belfast occupied their workplaces, and the next day were followed by their colleagues in Enfield (north London) and Basildon in Essex.
We present here comments from a number of workers involved in the Enfield occupation.
Steven Johns from libcom spoke to Shane, who has worked at the plant for over 30 years.
“It started as a spur of the moment thing. After we were sacked we would hold with the comeback between 10 a.m. and 12 noon to pick up our tools. When we got to the gate we were told we weren’t allowed in. Someone noticed a gate was open and slipped in and it has spread from there, with people texting on mobile phones. We’ve got about a hundred people occupying the place now, and we’ll be here as long as it takes. Our jobs are gone now, we know that, but we want what we are entitled to – we’re still on our Ford contracts.
“When we need to make decisions about the occupation we just hold a quick meeting.
“The last time we had a big industrial dispute was back in 1978 when we had a nine week strike. But even though that was such a long time ago people have still stuck together now, it’s very impressive.”
People from The Commune also interviewed several workers:
“I’ve been working here for nineteen years. I’ve always been working for Ford and we were Ford workers, but in 2000 this place was farmed out to Visteon. At the time the union signed a deal with the chairman of Ford Motor Company to guarantee all Ford workers the same terms and conditions under Visteon. We had a contract with Ford. They’ve broken it. It’s disgusting. Can’t they see that we had a contract and we need them to stick to it? It was signed by the union – I was at first in the AEU, but now it’s Unite – and what we’re demanding is that Ford sticks by their side of the agreement. We don’t want any trouble – there’s been lots of redundancies before, down from around 1100 when I started to around 220 today – and it was always voluntary redundancies. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to say yes sir, thank you sir, and lie down and let them walk all over us. We’re staying until they honour their side of the deal”.
“This has been handled very, very badly. I’ve been here a long time, a lot of us have worked here a long time: one guy’s been here 41 years. Can you imagine, working here as a young boy, working your whole life and then being told ‘you’ve got no job tomorrow, mate’? Very bad. People have families, they’ve got mortgages, kids to pay for… I can’t just sign on – but I got a letter today for my redundancy claim, but you only get five days to fill it in, and I can’t take the risk I’ll lose any money. They’re giving us nothing, a few hundred quid’s worth, it’s nothing… But it’s not just us and our jobs, this is for everyone. It’s a small seed, but you have to start doing something.”
“Some of us were in the T & G and some in Amicus before it became Unite, but it wasn’t the union running it. The convenor, Kevin Nolan, we’ve not seen him here the last couple of days. I guess you could say it was the Irish factory which gave us the idea. On Tuesday afternoon some of the girls signing on at 2 were told don’t sign in, just go to the training room. Visteon management had a meeting and were told about the company situation and that we were out of a job. Just like that – ‘you’re out’. We were allowed to come back at 10 the next day to come and pick up our things. I was so shocked, and we all were, so we didn’t do anything. So we saw on the news what they’d done up in Northern Ireland and when we went back the next day to get our stuff, we just refused to leave again. It was a spur of the moment thing. Some of the security guards were worried by the number of people and tried to stop people going in, but we said we’re not leaving ’til we get some answers and someone from Ford comes to speak to us. The union is going out to get a meeting, and they’ll tell us what’s going on with Ford and what they’re prepared to offer us and what to do. We need to get the money from Ford even if they close this place down. We had an agreement, so we want Ford to step in.”
“We have three meetings, one on the roof, one inside and one by the steps, as there’s seventy or eighty of us inside, some come and go. It’s informal though, the convenor sends texts around and we chat about what we’re doing. We’ll see what happens, [on Thursday] the bailiffs came round but their notice was all wrong. They’d got it all messed up. The address on the notice to get us out wasn’t for here, it was for a pile of rubble, so we said fine, take it! And it was on behalf of a judge, not from a judge, so it was all wrong. They’ll have to come back. The police haven’t been a problem. We keep an eye out over these steps, and some people are in charge of getting food in and looking after stuff like phone chargers. We’ll see. We’re staying here until Ford gives us an answer. We’re waiting to be told what to do.”
“Three carloads went up to Dagenham. Charlie Kimber [an SWP member] organised it. It was great, they were very well received and it’s good to get the solidarity. Down in Southampton – that’s Transit vans – the union says they won’t handle Visteon stuff.”
Socialist Worker also interviewed several members of staff. Elma Walker and her husband Paul have both worked at the Visteon car components plant for over 20 years.
They were made redundant along with the bulk of other staff there yesterday.
“It comes as a kick in the teeth,” Elma told Socialist Worker.
“People worked on Monday and Tuesday and were told afterwards that they weren’t going to get paid for it.
“We were just made immediately redundant with no redundancy package. The meeting was horrible – my brother works here too and he was in tears.
“I’ve worked here for 21 years and I’ve never been out of work. I don’t know how to go about sorting out benefits. The main thing now is to keep a roof over our heads and feed our three children. It was a struggle when we were working, so I don’t know how we’ll manage now.
“The worst thing about it is the way we were treated – that’s why we’re so angry. There’s no humanity in it – they wouldn’t even let us stay to empty our lockers.
Toni Tagliarini and Tina Dhanjar have both worked at Visteon in Enfield for 32 years. Tina told Socialist Worker about the process that led to the workers being sacked.
“Yesterday at 1pm we were told there would be a meeting in an hour’s time. At that meeting we were told we were finished – no redundancy pay, no notice, our pensions frozen.
“We’ve poured all that work into this operation and now we’ve been thrown aside with nothing. It can’t be right that people are allowed to get away with this – that’s why we’re demanding justice.”
Visteon used to be part of Ford until it was spun off in 2000. “Because we’ve been here so long we are still on Ford contracts,” said Toni. “That should mean we get proper consultation and payment, but that’s all been ignored.
“We want the plant to stay open, we want work and jobs – but we are certainly also demanding our rights over redundancy pay and everything else we are owed.”