Visteon: the fight goes on

visteon-workers-united-bannerBelow is an interview with Piers Hood, Deputy Convenor at the Enfield Visteon plant, where workers continue to fight against their arbitrary dismissal.

How did your occupation begin?

It began with all the workers, approximately a 100 strong meeting at the gates. We worked our way round the sides gates and forced our way through an exit, got ourselves onto the roof and the paint shop which is on the second floor. This way we could barricade the four exits, and we had a walk way so that we could get food and drink and people could come and go because we could control the gate. It was sort of a spontaneous thing, it wasn’t really planned. We didn’t have much supplies and it just went from there.

How did you organise once you were in?

We had a core of convenors and ex-convenors and people that could be relied on who would discuss regularly what we needed to do next and then we would have mass meetings of the occupation to decide and vote on things. Using the media was important. Having people on the outside to keep things going and bringing in messages of support was key to morale. If you can get laptops and things like that then it means you can keep lines of communication. Knowing your rights such as Squatters Rights is good and we delayed eviction for a few days. Everyone got stuck in, cleaning, cooking and doing shift duty and everyone was up for it, especially the women in our factory.

We were up on the roof and it was very cold at night. Of course it’s hard work and some people like to sleep a lot and others don’t sleep at all, but we all worked together. There was a lot of camaraderie and jokes and to be honest it was a great experience that I doubt I’ll have again in my lifetime.

Why did you feel that you had to occupy the plant in the first place?

Basically we had no other option but to do that. We were told there was no money in the kitty to come to us and people were so angry and felt that it was the only thing we could do and it felt right to do it. There was no other option and we were forced to do it. Once we heard Belfast had occupied we decided to join them. Unfortunately Basildon were blocked by the police and never got in.

What reasons did Visteon give for the closure of the factory?

The day before on the Tuesday we was all called upstairs at 2 o’clock and people in suits walked in who were the receivers, KPMG. We were made redundant in about six minutes flat and we was told to come back the next day to pick up our personal affects. There was no notice, no consultation with the union and we were told that we would have to claim any redundancy pay from the government so the taxpayer was footing for it.

It had been engineered by Visteon who had got us into this position because they had deliberately been losing money and running the business so badly to make it go that way.

Visteon claim that they are in receivership because of the economic crisis and you found yourself in this place because there was nothing they could do. What would you say to that?

They fiddled the figures so we have found since that money has been moved from one place to another because they still kept two separate entities; Visteon Engineering Services (VES) and VCTC (managing and marketing). VES is an engineering company and even though we weren’t having anything engineered they were still draining off millions of pounds so that money would stay in the global corporation. There were other ways, creative accounting and such. They sold two presses and claimed they only made £5000 and we have since spoken to an engineer who saw the paper work with £40,000 on it, so where has all the money gone? It’s all been fiddled. I’m sure KPMG would like to see the paperwork. On every level it has been corrupt and engineered and fiddled.

There’s a rumour that Steve Gawne, director of Visteon UK has another business in the waiting.

Steve Gawne, whilst he was the UK director of Visteon UK has set up another company. I have seen the paperwork, and this new company is based at Basildon and we have heard the core business is the LP59 Freelander, which is what we make here. We believe he is either going to open this factory up again at Enfield or possibly Basildon, or definitely get the machinery out and move it somewhere else. It seems to us that he is guilty of fraud and there are all sorts of things he has been up to. He has reneged on European Works Council Agreements and it needs looking at by the lawyers. The paper trail goes way back. We have found links that Ford were complicit in this and knew what they were doing. It has opened a whole can of worms and it needs legal work really, and hopefully the union will do that for us.

What are your demands?

The bottom line for us is to honour our Ford contracts and give us a proper redundancy deal in line with Southampton, for example who have recently had to make people redundant. We want our pensions protected because our pensions have now gone into PPF, which means they will be frozen until you are 65. We’ll have to see what they offer. Some people might take to it, some won’t. At the end of the day we will have to have a vote on it and see. At the end of the day they should pay us what they owe us.

What about the demand that you get your jobs back?

That has been mentioned. The plan might be to re-open the plant anyway and they would probably expect us to reapply for our jobs on 60% of the money we was on before. Some people are after flow-back to Ford Dagenham. Ford would have to have VRs (voluntary redundancies) from their plant and then we would ‘back fill’ those jobs which is dependent on whether Ford will pay out VR package for Ford Workers.

You were forced to come out of the factory on Thursday 9 April. Why did you end up leaving the factory and ending the occupation?

Me and Kevin Nolan, the Convenor, ended up going to the High Court and were issued committal orders and costs etc. It was a bit touch and go. The union did come through with a good legal team and over the negotiations which probably suited the union more than our people was that me and Kevin weren’t allowed in because we would be instantly arrested and go to prison and we had to stay out. But we was given a few days grace until Thursday 12 o’clock so that Kevin Nolan could fly out to New York and have a meeting with the American bosses on the Wednesday and return on the Thursday morning and everyone would come out with a big publicity fanfare.

Quite a few people after felt that they wanted to stay, but in the end everyone came out. It might not have been the most ideal situation because we were getting more publicity when we was in there.

So even though they got you out on 9 April, the fight’s not over is it?

As soon as we came out we went straight into 24 hour pickets and initially there was three gates on the far side of the plant and now, because they are trying to get workers back in, there is another gate on the far side that we have to cover. We have been out picketing Dagenham Motors, which is a car sales chain owned by Ford. So we are just trying to escalate things a bit and we will see what happens tomorrow at the meeting with the Americans. If things don’t go our way at the meeting we have other options and things we could do to escalate the action.

What are sort of support are you asking from workers in Fords and Jaguar who receive your components?

We have already been given support from VNJWC (Visteon National Joint Works Committee) that is where the Ford convenors meet. Myself and two other ex-convenors from Visteon met with them and they have given us 100 per cent support. What we need now is getting Ford workers to reject Visteon work, which has been bandied around but whether it has actually started happening yet I don’t know. I heard in America that Ford workers might reject Visteon work. It’s fine saying things but they have got to actually back it up and apply the pressure on Ford motor company.

What would you say about the role of the Unite officials?

Patchy at best. We are chasing up today for some funds. People are struggling with food and things and it’s hard. When we first came out, there was a lot of press there and the officials were there dishing the Unite flags out and taking the adulation and when it all calms down they disappear and we do get a bit disenchanted with them, me included. With the court case we did finally get looked after but it took a while and they did have to give them a boot up the arse to be honest. Sometimes they have been good and other times they have been wishy-washy at best.

Britain has some of the most draconian anti-union laws that make it difficult to take effective action. Do you think union leaders should be playing by the book at the moment?

It seems to get anywhere you have to do something a bit outrageous or break the law. If you do what you just allowed to do, you don’t seem to really get anywhere because the laws make it so difficult. So you have got to up the ante to get anything. You need strong union leaders to force things through and at the moment they seem hand in glove with the Labour government. It is disappointing sometimes. People do feel let down; they have paid their subs all year round and they just go missing when you actually need them.

Latest figures put unemployment at 2 million. The crisis is getting worse. What do you think of the Labour government’s response?

As far as I can see, the government aren’t interested at all. Our MP was down for the first day, and we’ve never seen him since. I understand that he did ask a question in the Houses of Parliament when there was no one there. No ministers have got involved or said anything. I might be wrong since I have been locked up in a plant and haven’t seen much news. Generally they seem totally apathetic and that they want it to happen. It’s almost as if they want certain companies to shut down to clear the way for others. Over the last ten years Enfield has suffered massive job losses here and elsewhere and no one in government seems to be bothered at all.

What would your alternative to redundancies and closures be?

I would love for the place to be kept open. But I don’t see it happening with this government. I can understand why workers at Fords are worried but if we don’t do something we’ll get steam-rollered. It seems that any manufacturing now is being pulled out the Eastern Block or further a field. You have got to maintain some kind of manufacturing, you can’t just have service industries. It’s almost like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted because there is nothing much left. I’m not just talking about the car industry. Most other industries have been virtually annihilated.

Some of the workers have been discussing the idea that if the car market has collapsed under the pressure of the credit crunch, that the workers could direct production to other things. Is that a practical possibility?

For the last few years when we was being told how much money we had been losing we would say to them we can quite easily be making anything else. We make components made of plastic; there are lots of things we could make. But we know they weren’t interested.

What has kept you going over the last few weeks?

From the trade unions we have had fantastic support from the NUT, RMT, CWU, it’s been really fantastic all the way through. On top of that we have had the Socialist Wokers Party and the Socialist Party and other socialists who have probably given more support than our union to be honest. And just local people who have turned up and given us money and food. In the occupation they were passing food through the bars on the gate and throwing food over. It’s been fantastic all the way through. It’s really opened our eyes up for what people can do for other people when they feel that they are in difficulty and how we just all pull together.

What message would you give to workers facing job losses and unemployment?

These bosses, the lot of them, expect you just to take it. You have got to get your people together and you have to take action and as soon as possible. You can’t take what’s been dished out because it’s just gonna get worse and worse. If it comes to it, occupations or a protest is what seems to get results. What ever happens you have got to get together, organise and do something. Don’t just sit there and take it.

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