Direct Action Gets the Goods: Visteon Occupation Pays Off

The occupation of the Visteon motor parts factory in Belfast ended on May 3rd when the company gave in and agreed pay extra compensation of between six month’s and nearly two year’s money to the workforce for the loss of their jobs.On April 1st workers, members of the UNITE trade union, were given just six minutes notice that the plant was closing down. The agreement that everyone would get the same terms as Ford workers if there were redundancies was torn up by management. There was nothing on offer, just an instruction to clear out lockers and go away. Workers, many of whom had given decades of service, were going to get only basic statutory redundancy money.

Visteon is moving production to countries with weak unions and very low pay, their only interest in Belfast (and the English plants at Basildown and Enfield) was as assets to be sold. The occupation, on its own, would have only been an irritation to management. However, talk of Ford workers refusing to handle any parts that had previously been supplied by the closed factories, worried management sufficiently to get them into talks.

Now it is true that the workforce didn’t get their jobs back. Occupations by relatively small factories in a recession-hit industry were not going to be able to achieve that. But the workers did walk away with between six months and almost two year’s extra money. They would not have got that by writing to MPs, signing petitions or “using the industrial relations machinery of the state”. It was when they decided to take direct action that they put themselves into a position where they could look for solidarity and exert real pressure on their bosses.

Visteon was a victory, militancy was shown to pay. Roger Madison of UNITE said “they’ve only been offered this because of the actions taken, to lock themselves in a plant for nearly a month. It’s refreshing - it’s old-fashioned trade unionism.” If we want to create a different political climate where working people have the confidence to stand up for themselves, this is exactly the sort of action we need to encourage.

Workers Solidarity 110 July - August 2009 Edition

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