Workers take on Visteon and win settlement

When Visteon called in the administrators KPMG to close down their car part manufacturing plants in Belfast, Basildon and Enfield, they were declared bankrupt with £669 million debt. Visteon UK (VUK) turned on its employees with contempt, giving nearly 600 workers less than an hour’s notice and instructing them to leave the sites immediately. The response was spontaneous and solid. The workforces occupied the sites and set up pickets to prevent the smooth evacuation of Visteon’s remaining plant and to demand a proper severance deal that would include pension rights.

The giant motor company Ford set up the Visteon car part manufacturer in 1997 and sold it off in 2000.  This is the usual pattern of ‘outsourcing’, by which big multinationals create structures and companies that are flexible, cheap and dispensable. Workers in the new units are usually less well-paid and have poorer conditions that those in the mother company. The outsourced manufacturer Visteon sends in a stream of income to Ford from a vast global spread with plants in Brazil, the Czech Republic and elsewhere. Visteon workers at the Rougegoutte plant in eastern France are currently blockading their factory in protest against threatened wage cuts. However, unusually when the operation was sold to VUK, workers were guaranteed Ford terms and conditions. Unite’s General Secretary Derek Simpson insisted that Visteon had a contractual obligation to make a settlement. Nothing insists quite like workers’ fightback, however, and the pickets continued until pension rights and severance money were formally agreed.

The victory is significant. Workers who were sacked without a second thought have won their negotiated rights. Those who had not been previously employed by Ford won a lesser settlement. The struggle won support from a wide range of fellow workers and communities. For nearly two months the Visteon workers were politically active, petitioning, meeting, marching, fighting the injustice of the workplace and pushing their union to defend employment rights.           

Susan Davidson

FRFI 209 June / July 2009


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