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(Updated May 3) Ireland & Britain: Car workers occupy plants over jobs -- Support Visteon workers!

May 3, 2009 -- Workers at Visteon, following a four-week battle, have gained a victory. After the occupation of the Visteon plants and 24-hour picketing when the company announced its liquidation, Ford/Visteon bosses were finally forced to concede to the workers' demands. Workers in Enfield and Basildon have already voted in favour of the deal, while those at Belfast will be voting soon. Below are reports and videos that recount events as they unfolded.

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April 9, 2009 -- Socialist Appeal -- Visteon workers in Enfield, having been threatened with mass arrest by a court order, agree to leave peacefully under the recommendation of the union on April 9, 2009. Some workers feel that ending the occupation is a mistake, despite an agreement by the Visteon management to enter into negotiations.

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Listen to the Speakers' Corner show, broadcast on Resonance104.4FM in London, on the Visteon factory occupations in Britain with interviews from inside the factory. The radio show was done by Will Roche, member of BECTU.

Click here to download MP3-file (23MB)

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March 31, 2009 -- Socialist Resistance -- 200 Visteon car plant workers in Belfast are blockading their factory after the company went into administration today. If they get away with it, over 600 workers in ex-Ford factories in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon will be sacked and left to claim statutory redundancy from the state. Even workers with over 30 years' service will only get about £9000 and most workers a lot less.

Also, their pensions plus those of ex-Visteon workers in Swansea and retirees will go into the Pension Protection Fund, which will result in reduced payments. This is the brutal side of capitalism -- no bailouts or bonuses like the bankrupt fat cats but bare minimum pay outs and the dole. Visteon UK executives have jumped ship are now employed by their own spin-off ``Visteon Engineering Services''. A life raft for rats escaping the sinking ship!

Visteon was spun-off by Ford in 2000 as a device to slash costs at the expense of the workforce. Two and then three-tier contracts then followed as well as outsourcing of ``indirect'' jobs. However, for Visteon bosses this wasn’t enough.

They’ve spent the last three-and-a-half years demanding that Visteon workers break their Ford ``mirrored'' contracts. No doubt there will be some in the unions who will agree with management that if only the workforce had agreed cuts in their pay, pensions, terms and conditions, insolvency could have been avoided. The reality is however, that Visteon, like General Motors’ spin-off Delphi, was never viable.

Visteon workers were correct to resist and have had at least more income by doing so. It was that successful battle that has given the Belfast workers the confidence to resist now.

These workers want to put pressure on Ford to intervene to stop the sackings. They are appealing to the unions in Ford to support them by not using parts shipped in to replace those from Belfast. If that fails, the occupation can be built to involve the trade union movement and working-class community to force
the government to intervene to nationalise Visteon to save these jobs.

Messages of support/offers of help to John Maguire, Belfast Unite Convenor, at 078 1659 0380

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April 1, 2009 -- Socialist Appeal -- Visteon workers in Enfield and Basildon have joined with Belfast workers in occupying their plants. Management have put the firm into administration. Belfast workers have been defending their occupation by staying in overnight. The workers are taking action because they have to. They were just brutally kicked off the premises without any notice. If management get away with this, 600 workers at the three plants will be sacked and left on the minimum statutory redundancy pay. Statutory redundancy pay is paltry. Even workers with 30 years’ service are only entitled to £9000 and most will get far less.

In Belfast John McGowan, shift leader at Visteon, said: “I’m just dumbstruck. I feel it’s totally unjust the way we’re being treated by the company. They have had redundancy packages in the past due to the downturn in sales.

“Last year they were offering redundancy packages of £30,000 minimum. Now they’re telling me for my 30 years loyalty to this company I’m getting a redundancy package which is capped at just over £9000. That’s totally unjust and unfair.”

The background to the dispute is that Visteon was spun off from Ford as a scam to attack workers’ pay and conditions. Before incorporation in 2000 the plants were part of the Ford combine, making parts for the cars. The workers were on the normal Ford wages and conditions. The bosses’ idea was to uncouple workers’ pay at the component suppliers from those in the main plant. Visteon workers have consistently fought attempts to downgrade their labour since 2000, but now management says the firm is losing money.

Going into administration will also put the workers’ pensions in peril. The money will end up in the Pension Protection Fund, where it will in effect become a zombie fund, with no top-ups and guarantees to the workers and pensioners not honoured, as they would have to do if Visteon were a going concern.

No flies on Visteon management. They have setup a separate outfit called Visteon Engineering Services, which is in effect a life raft to carry their own pensions to safety away from the wreckage of Visteon that they have created.

Over and over again Ford management swore blind that the creation of Visteon was not just a device to enable them to dodge out of their obligations to the components’ workforce. Redundant Ford workers have always walked away with a decent package in the past. In 2000 Ford gave workers cast iron guarantees, which they have shamelessly broken.

The occupying workers are appealing to Ford workers for solidarity in the form of blacking alternative sources of supply for the components Visteon have always delivered. Putting Visteon into administration is a squalid manoeuvre to load the crisis in the motor industry onto the workers. But the workers are fighting back! We see the unity in action of Protestant and Catholic workers in Belfast, and of British and Irish workers across these islands.

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On April 6, 2009, seven days after occupying their factory in Basildon in  Essex, the Visteon car plant workers decide to visit their former boss, Steve Gawne, at his country manor to hand deliver a letter demanding justice be served.

Irish Republican Socialist Party: `Nationalise Visteon under workers' control'

April 8, 2009 -- The IRSP on April 7, 2009, accused local politicians of rerouting responsibility regarding the investment and manufacturing crisis in the North of Ireland. The IRSP employment spokesperson Sean White, told activists last night that it was easy to blame a global economic crises or credit crunch rather than blame the companies and bankers who intentionally created the crisis; a crisis created in the interest of profit.

The current economic situation may be global; but the loss of jobs locally is a consequence of the Stormont Programme for Government with its dependency on inward investment. Job losses are the result of policies in favour of the employers whilst ignoring the needs of workers.

The long-term needs of the workers were known at Visteon UK when Stormont was subsidising the profits of its directors.

Sean White went on to say; “There is no ‘natural’ order to the economy. There are no innate, static laws overriding economic behaviour. It is a myth to say nothing can be done. What is termed the ‘economy’ is the way people work, to produce goods and services, and then decide how, where when to sell or use what they produce. People decide rightly or wrongly. It is people who make success, make mistakes. It is people who gamble for profit. It is people who exploit other people. We must move away from treating the economy as if it is a fluke in the weather.”

All economists know that recessions and inflation don’t just happen. They are caused. The banks deliberately restricted the flow of currency; that is a fact, a fact not disputed by the bankers. Bankers were aware that a restriction of currency gives way to a recession.

The banks responsible for investment have so far ignored the pleas from the First Minister Peter D. Robinson MP MLA and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness. On December 16,  2008, First Minister Robinson and deputy McGuiness and their executive colleagues Nigel Dodd and Arlene Foster tmet with the chief executives of local banks to explore further initiatives to ease the impact of the present economic downturn on consumers and businesses. To date there has been no response.

Who governs? The banks or the elected representatives?

The IRSP is asking whatever happened to the billions investment promised to create new jobs in current industries. A small number of people made decisions regarding how this money was used or if it was used. The IRSP believes that the Irish people deserve answers.

Companies are downsizing or closing as a consequence of poor investment. Of course there is the immediate response car sales are down by an average of 33%, but remember in generic terms profit averages 40%. Decreases in profit are compensated with job losses and cuts in labour; in turn increasing the workload on workers. There is no evidence of any major investment outside of construction. But there is evidence that the banks responsible for investment paid increased bonuses to their directors.

Transnational companies here are not facing unreserved profit loss. TNCs require extensive returns; not marginal profit. The reported losses of Visteon UK are percentage falls in profit. However, such profit is not great enough for TNC investment.

Visteon UK's reported losses totalled £669 m. However in the West Belfast section of the company administrators found no evidence of any losses. According to the IRSP spokesperson there is not a single component produced by Visteon that we cannot match in terms of a nationalised industry.

Different members of the Stormont Government have come out with statements in support of workers who face job losses. But they place no blame on the employers. There is an illusion that Stormont cannot and does not want to interfere in free-market capitalism. An illusion partly created by the first and second ministers when they visit the US with their begging bowls and partly the Programme for Government. They over emphasise no government interference.

In fact, without Stormont with its inward investment policies, TNCs could not exist at all. Government actions and programs have tended to reinforce and stabilise the basic relationships of all TNCs; guaranteeing private property rights, supplying British and US business (including Ford and later Visteon UK) with needed inputs (like reliable infrastructure and skilled, disciplined workers), expanding markets and managing social relationships in a way that promotes both stability and profitability. If Stormont can interfere on behalf of the bosses, it can interfere on behalf of the workers.

What was not considered by our MLA’s waltzing about in Stormont and should be, is that workers continue to produce the said components for Ford or any other car company. The assembly has already stated that “we are a growing, a dynamic, innovative economy, in a position to invest and build our own infrastructure with a highly trained workforce.”

The factory should be nationalised under workers’ control. But that would be too radical a step for any of the parties in Stormont already committed to administering the neoliberal economic policies of the pro-business Brown government in Westminster.

[Originally published in the E-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, The Plough, Vol. 6, No. 4, April 8th 2009.]

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