The Socialist 12 May 2009 |
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A victory at Linamar would be a victory for all workers
The sacking of Rob Williams by Linamar bosses is an attempt to remove a major impediment to their plans to worsen the pay and conditions of the Linamar workforce.
For that reason alone it is crucial for socialists and trade unionists to protest against this victimisation and to come to the aid of the Linamar workers who face a bleak future if the bosses are allowed to get away with it.
Under the leadership of Rob and his shop stewards' committee Linamar has been widely recognised as a fortress of militant trade unionism.
Throughout the industry even before the present recession, too many retreats in the face of the employers' offensive have been made. The terms used to describe these retreats, mainly imported from the USA, such as "give back" and "concession bargaining" speak volumes about the role of the national trade union leaders, and many shop stewards and conveners in the industry. Many union leaders had set the 'retreat' agenda long before the present recession set in and had decided to make concessions to the employers.
It is not always possible to stop every attack but if there is no attempt to mobilise the union members against the employers then defeat is inevitable.
The car industry still has a relatively high level of trade union organisation. But workers have seen their jobs and their living standards come under tremendous attack.
The onset of the recession has dramatically speeded up the process of cut backs. Employers have taken advantage of the widespread fear of car workers of losing their jobs and have introduced new working arrangements. These include in Honda in Swindon, annualised hours and temporary lay-offs, effectively without pay, by making the workers do extra hours to make up for the lost production days.
Across the world there is major retrenchment in the industry with the American car plants in a downward spiral of closures and cutbacks. Linamar itself is a Canadian company that supplies parts mainly to the big American companies such as Ford and General Motors. It is known as an anti-union company in which the Canadian auto workers' union has not been able to organise.
On the back of the recession, the Linamar bosses, like the Visteon bosses, thought that they could strike a blow for freedom to do what they like to the workforce.
The Swansea Linamar plant was a part of the Visteon network until recently. Visteon in its turn was "spun off" from Ford in 2000, when the previous union regime was promised that the workforce would have "mirrored" Ford terms and conditions.
In the succeeding years, new workers have been brought in on lower conditions and wages to the "Ford mirrored" workers. This undermining of workers' conditions was one of the main reasons that Rob and a new layer of shop stewards were elected on a programme of opposition to any more concessions.
When the bosses wanted to introduce changes that would undermine the terms and conditions of the workforce, Rob and the shop stewards were able to organise opposition. They forced the bosses to negotiate with the trade union until acceptable agreements were reached.
This is not a case of Rob always opposing management's plans as a matter of principle but of someone who would always explain clearly to the membership what was happening and what he thought should be the shop floor response.
Linamar workers learned to trust the judgment of their elected leadership. Unfortunately too many trade union leaders begin with an attitude that they have to accept the wishes of the management and spend their time working out how to get the shop floor to accept it. This is not always done consciously perhaps but comes about as a result of years of being unable to see a way forward.
The bosses' intentions are perfectly clear but the campaign for Rob's reinstatement has only just begun. Rob's reinstatement, if won, will not only mean that he will be back in the factory as the elected convenor but it will also be a mighty victory for all workers everywhere.