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Visteon: editorial comment
London Socialist Party meeting held in support of the Visteon workers (April 2009) with convenors from Visteon Basildon and Enfield, Rob Williams and Brian Denny, photo Paul Mattsson
The hard-nosed Visteon bosses thought that they could just summarily close 'their' factories, throwing workers out on to the streets, with measly 'compensation'. But, as Frank Jepson's gripping and inspiring account shows, they have been prevented from doing this by the marvellous action of the Visteon workers, backed up by widespread solidarity from the rest of the working class.
There is no doubt that, compared to what was offered at the beginning, the settlement is a considerable achievement on the part of these workers. Mass pressure has compelled the bosses to offer more reasonable redundancy terms than they originally intended. Unfortunately the factories have not been saved. If the workers' suggestion that they be nationalised and kept open through alternative production had been adopted, they could have been.
Instead many of these workers will now add to the remorseless rise in unemployment in Britain, which could leapfrog to three million, or even to 3.6 million by the end of next year. It is against this background that the opposition to closure of the factories, felt by all Visteon workers, is particularly keenly felt in Belfast. Northern Ireland already has the outlines of a desperate rise in unemployment.
Some of those who were made redundant may get jobs later - although this is a remote prospect for many. It is also likely that these jobs will be much lower paid.
And there is the loss of skills, which will go with the redundancies. Following the collapse of MG Rover in 2005, the Work Foundation reported that two-thirds of those who found jobs suffered swingeing cuts in pay, with the average loss being £5,640. That was before the recession which will worsen the situation.
There is also the unresolved issue of the workers' pension rights. It is not ruled out that the bosses could try to renege on the pensions. This must be met with firm opposition from the trade unions.
But the lesson of this dispute is that the Visteon workers would have received next to nothing without determined class action, including occupations of their factories, for a time in the case of Enfield and Basildon, and throughout the dispute in the case of Belfast.
Benchmark for struggles
Moreover, as Frank Jepson indicates, the initiative to occupy did not come from the trade union officials, but from the workers themselves. These workers have now set a benchmark for all similar struggles in Britain. They have 'learned to speak French', adopting the militancy of the French workers. This lesson will not be lost on other workers who will face similar attacks in the next period.
This victory must be built on in the struggle against the mass redundancies that loom. The starting point must be opposition to all redundancies and defence of every job. A key part must be the building of the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign among the young people who will be among the first on the dole queues.
But fundamentally, the defensive, and offensive, struggles of the coming period must be linked to the fight for socialist change in society to replace the rule of the dictatorial bosses with a socialist planned economy.
In The Socialist 5 May 2009:
Defend victimised trade unionist
No 2 EU - Yes to Democracy
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