Ford workers show the way

FOLLOWING last week’s unofficial strikes at Ford’s plants in Dagenham and Southampton, Vauxhall car workers have voted overwhelmingly for strike action too. The joint ballot of all workers from both the transport and engineering workers’ unions recorded a 78% vote for a strike, with 90% for action short of a walk-out.

As at Fords, the unions are demanding increased pay and a two-hour cut in the working week. Vauxhall will now be given seven days’ notice of a ban on overtime.

The strikes at Fords came as workers reacted in disgust to the company’s ‘final’ pay offer of 9.25% over two years. Dave, an engine plant worker at Dagenham, told me, “Things will certainly warm up. After two years without a rise there are very strong feelings. Who knows what will be in the budget?”

Brian, an assembly worker in Southampton, echoed his feelings: “The lads are totally upset with the offer. I wouldn’t like to say what will happen next.”

Emotions have been stirred up by rises of up to 150% that Ford’s directors have just awarded themselves. Profits have soared as a result of increased productivity achieved through speed-ups and new technology. “Southampton has seen 2,000 jobs disappear over the last 10 years,” Brian told me.

A meeting of 160 Ford union delegates on Wednesday was unable to decide on official action.

Yet the employers have been rocked back by the ‘illegal’ strikes and have displayed a marked reluctance to take “unnecessarily provocative” legal action. “We don’t want to disturb the balance of industrial relations,” a spokesperson remonstrated.

The ruling class as a whole is showing signs of nervousness at the lead given by car workers, whose pay deals normally set the pace in the private sector: “There could well be similar demands for wage rises across the economy which have been bottled up after several years of wage constraints,” groaned an Independent editorial (November 17).

Workers should consider how to turn their fears into reality.

Alan Fox