enfield ford/visteon occupation ends with no conclusion…

Some supporters at the occupation at Enfield Visteon produced this article on the end of the action

The occupation was an inspiration for many – the spirit of the workers who refused to submit to being blatantly robbed by their bosses seemed to be what many had been waiting for, for far too long – the early possible signs of a resurgence of class struggle. Now that the occupation is ended without any clear victory in sight, some reflection is needed on the strengths and weaknesses of what has happened. It is always easy to be wise after the event, and necessary to be careful not to forget who initiated this struggle and took the risks. Any criticisms are as much of ourselves as supporters as of the occupiers. Still, we’ll never get very far in developing our struggles if we don’t reflect on where we went wrong and how we all might do things better next time.The union pursuaded the workers to end the occupation today (Thursday Apr 9th) without any details of the rumoured deal being made known to them. They are told all will be revealed on Tuesday. The obvious question is – why then not wait until Tuesday to decide whether to leave the factory? There will be different answers from different interested parties. Some workers may say they are tired from constant occupation and/or that they have been pursuaded/pressured by the union that the bosses have insisted the occupation must end to guarantee the unspecified possible deal. The union may also claim that there could be legal penalties for failing to comply with the undertaking given in court on Monday to leave the factory by noon today. But none of this appears very convincing or in the workers’ interest; they have surrendered their greatest bargaining asset, the possession of the plant, its machinery and stock. So the negotiations restart on Tuesday from a weakened position for the workers. The picketing that is planned to replace the occupation will be less effective in preventing repossession of Visteon property. And legal threats can probably be applied to enforce restrictions on picketing activity too.

The rough conditions in the factory shouldn’t be underestimated, but another few days might have made all the difference to the outcome that may determine the workers’ long-term financial future. (The Ford pension fund is already 100s of millions in the red.) It had already been suggested that a rota system could’ve been set up, with help from supporters, to ease the strain of manning the occupation.

The union may claim that the undertaking they gave in court on Monday – that the occupation would end by noon today – left them open to legal penalties; but even the judge queried if they could guarantee the obedience of the occupiers. One would think that all the union would’ve needed to do to protect themselves is to say that they had made an effort to pursuade the occupiers to leave. The occupiers themselves could have stayed with no legal sanctions hanging over them other than a standard possession order common in squatting cases. The agreed undertaking with Visteon was that they would not seek possession while negotiations continue. Visteon – and the union – made that conveniently obsolete by agreeing to postpone revealing any details of the deal until Tuesday (if there even is any deal). One can speculate that if a really satisfactory deal was on offer the union would already be shouting it from the rooftops.

The union and the left have already begun to claim this struggle as a victory on the grounds that it forced the company to the negotiating table and that it has inspired other workers. These are partial truths, though any real assessment would have to be made after any deal is sealed. But the fact that the workers have been maneuouvred by the union into a vulnerable position where they could easily be screwed is something not to be glossed over, as the left will want to. This false optimism is only a means of repressing reflection on limits and strengths of what has happened, and a recipe for a repeat of the same errors in the future.

In the final meeting of occupiers no real opposition was expressed to the union’s direction to walk out. This despite some occupiers in earlier conversation expressing a desire to carry on until a decent deal is struck. The same union convenors, who in the beginning had said they and the other occupiers would never leave until a satisfactory deal was agreed, were now obliged to convince the workers they must leave with nothing guaranteed, only rumours of a possible mysterious deal to come. Some in the meeting voiced serious criticisms of the union for keeping them in the dark about developments and not giving enough support to the occupation, but most were by now either relieved or resigned to walking out. The union’s authority to ultimately decide the fate of the workers was not challenged. Early on in the occupation, when it was mentioned that the union might pressure an end to the occupation against workers’ wishes, a couple of workers replied “ah, but we are the union”, as if the workers’ collective voice could control the union structure. But once negotiations were organised by officials – on the other side of the world – and the whole process becomes remote and secret from the workers in the hands of specialists, they become dependent not on what they know, but on what they’re told. And we know from long experience that the union hierarchy has its own vested interests to protect that often don’t coincide with that of the workers.

As the occupiers came out, the SWP – never ones to miss an opportunist photo-opportunity – swamped the crowd with their placards and chanted ‘the workers united will never be defeated’. Under the circumstances, this had a hollow and ironic ring. It began to feel, as nearly every strike has in the past 20+ years – like one more predictable stitch up by union bureaucrats – more interested in helping Nu Labour manage capitalism in crisis than feeling the need to win even modest gains for workers. Even if a passable deal is struck next week, one could see the ending of the occupation as unnecessarily risky and bad strategy for the workers and an unsatisfactory capitulation to pressure from both Visteon and union bosses.

But it is often awkward to stick one’s neck out; given the general identification with the union, many supporters felt sensitive about being openly critical of the union and its underlying agenda, for fear of being seen to be divisive. But at the end of the day it’s no good repressing these criticisms – or glossing them over for the sake of some image of unity – when only the explicit recognition of these realities may prevent defeat.

It was a real contrast to see how much energy and resources went into the organising of the G20 protests compared to how much support the Visteon occupation was given. This is partly an indication of the difference in priority for some given to activist protest on the one hand and class struggle on the other – and partly that many useful G20 resources had already returned to their sources outside London. It is only now that the union – as the occupation ends – provided a caravan, brazier, toilets etc.

Documents uncovered by Visteon workers at Basildon suggest that closures have been planned for several years with the intention of restarting production with cheaper labour – and that the creation of spin off companies like Visteon is part of a long-term strategy to restructure and trim away the less profitable parts of the car industry. So the lessons and outcome here are important for whoever is next in line for the chop.

24hr picketing will continue, and a Visteon Supporters Group has been set up.

2 thoughts on “enfield ford/visteon occupation ends with no conclusion…

  1. Factory Takeover and the Attempts of the Trade Union to Fail Workers’ Struggle
    In the last few days we had been updating you regarding the takeover of the Visteon factory. The struggle of the workers had cycles of ups and downs and the outcome can be a lesson for all workers. The Visteon factory used to belong to the gigantic Ford Company but became independent from Ford in the early 1990s. Approximately 600 workers were being exploited at different factories in the United Kingdom.
    On March 31, 2009 – 565 out of the 610 workers at Visteon car parts factory were abruptly sacked. The workers were told suddenly by management that they had lost their jobs; with no notice, no redundancy package and no pay for the previous week worked. This announcement shocked the workers and with their huge anger, they decided to resist. A context of resistance developed and the workers had the power. “Capital’s power must be responded to with united worker’s class struggle” and all of this whispering found its way out. So after announcing the job cuts at this car parts manufacturing company, approximately 200 Ford Visteon Plant workers had a sit-in at the factory in Belfast. The workers recognized it as their own right to exert their power against capital. The sit-in progressed to a factory takeover demanding the wages that were owed to them and a redundancy package or in other words to completely cancel the layoffs so they could come back to work.
    On April 1, 2009 this action was supported and as news spread, the takeovers extended to Enfield, North London with 80 workers and Basildon, Essex with 100 workers. Throughout the takeovers, support streamed in for the workers in terms of others joining the takeover, and food and water were shared and the setup of a support group. Their slogan was “We can win. We’re off our knees and fighting fit!”
    On April 8, 2009, as per usual course of the Trade Union; UNITE union officials and management negotiated with each other in New York City. Following these closed door negotiations between the union and capitalists, there was an announcement that a deal had been made. The beginning of these negotiations should have rang out as a warning bell for the fate of this struggle. Unfortunately it is much more difficult to oppose the union than it is to oppose the employer because the domestic enemy fights more wisely with more internal information knowing the weaknesses and the strengths of the struggle and so deceivingly attacks the struggle more effectively. The domestic enemy can take better advantage of the trusts gained, of the honor and humanity of the people, and so its illusion is used against its members. The Trade Unions do the same to the anti-capitalist struggle of the working class. This Trade Union has done the same thing.
    The head of the Trade Union negotiated in New York City to ‘solve the problem’ but were lying and pretended as charlatans to prevent the sacking of the workers. They eventually came to a mysterious agreement and so in having the trust of the workers convinced them to end the takeover.
    The job of the Trade Union is to poison the working class movement to take away their power, and have negotiations behind closed doors.
    On April 9, 2009, the Union with their lies convinced and pressured the workers to end the takeover without actually showing them the deal that they had negotiated with management. Originally the union negotiators indicated that they would never leave until a successful deal was struck but now the union forced an end to the takeover without any details about the deal. The takeover ended but the workers continued to picket so that the factory does not get stripped.
    Without the takeover of the factories, the workers lost leverage with the company and again were vulnerable. Both the capitalist company and the Trade Union are complicit in oppressing the wave of struggle and so with the end of the occupation, the balance of power shifted away from the workers.
    Coordinating Committee to Form Workers’ Organization
    April 11, 2009


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