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Local and community-focused: could this be the future of protest against a discredited economic and political system?

Last week saw a confused and contradictory series of protests against the G20 summit in London. Meanwhile, at the Visteon car parts plant in Basildon, workers left no doubt about their demands when they attempted a factory occupation to protest against summary layoffs.
170 staff were laid off when Visteon UK went into administration on Monday 30 March. Dozens of former employees turned up outside the Basildon factory the next day to make a peaceful protest. When they returned the following day 30 marched inside the plant and refused to leave. They put up large white letters in the factory’s office windows, spelling ‘Sold out by Ford’.

The Visteon plant in Basildon was run by Ford until 2000 when Visteon was set up, supposedly on the basis that the operation would attract work from other firms. Apart from some work for Jaguar and Land Rover when they were owned by Ford, no other customers materialised. Work from Ford that was supposed to have gone to Visteon’s UK plants has been outsourced to the Czech Republic.

When Visteon was created, workers were promised they would retain mirror image conditions of employment with ordinary Ford employees. The way the redundancies were handled makes it clear that this promise meant absolutely nothing. Electricity at the plant was turned off and workers were summoned to the canteen and handed letters informing them of their redundancy.

The letters didn’t even have the name of the individual workers on them, they just said: ‘Dear employee, you are being made redundant …’  They were then given just five minutes to collect their belongings and leave the building…

Some of the workers had put in 10, 20 and in some cases 30 years service at the plant. Yet their working lives were terminated by a faceless corporation in the most brutal, unthinking and undignified way imaginable. To add insult to injury, the workers can only expect the minimum statutory redundancy pay.

Workers at the Basildon plant were prevented by the police from occupying their plant. However, workers at the other Visteon sites in Enfield and Belfast are currently occupying their plants and intend to carry on until they get what they see as a fair deal.

The same week as the Visteon protest has seen a diverse and often confused and contradictory series of protests against the G20 summit in London and the neo-liberal consensus. It is questionable whether the G20 protests have really made any clear points that ordinary people can connect with. However, the sickening conduct of Visteon in the way they casually dismissed their employees brings home in no uncertain terms the harsh, brutal reality of neo-liberalism. While this kind of treatment was by no means unheard of before the current recession it will now, unfortunately, be experienced by far greater numbers.

However, this means we are also likely to see new waves of protest and organisation by working class communities throughout the country as the realities of our discredited economic and political system are laid bare.

Further information, including quotes from workers involved in the protest is available from the Evening Echo.

12 Responses to “Local and community-focused: could this be the future of protest against a discredited economic and political system?”

  1. Derek Walker Says:

    Whilst I understand why you were tempted to say that many of the protests focused around the G-20 summit were ‘confused and contradictory’ it would appear that events at the battle of Threadneedle Street may yet prove to be as important for working people as was the Visteon occupation. The tragic events at the G-20 protests have shown to ordinary working people suffering the effects of the depression that the police will and always have been sanctioned to use unnecessary force against those that question the rationality of our exisiting economic system.

    It also took the film of a morally outraged American banker to expose what much of the press overlooked until the cat was out of the bag.

    Many of the thousands of young people who attended various marches at Threadneedle Street do not belong to an organised labour movement or a political party that articulates their aspirations. They are the children of a neo-liberal society but they still found the strength to hold thier hands up in the air and chant ‘this is not right’ as they faced baton charge after baton charge.

    These young people are the natural allies of the workers at Visteon and should be recognised as such and should not be dismissed as simply confused and contradictory.

    Derek Walker

  2. William Laws Says:

    The problem with the G20 protests was that they had no coherent agenda-to the extent that the mainstream press were able to dismiss them as a rabble with no idea what they wanted! Its not the bravery of individual protesters thats at issue so much as the fact that the anarchist protest groups at their heart have no working class base and therefore no sense of tactics or strategy arising from the concrete circumstances of particular groups in particular areas of struggle-ie Visteon. I think the extent to which the cops were prepared to steam in is interesting though-as also the crackdown on the power station protesters. One of the things thats been obvious with the re-tooling of the state’s armoury of emergency powers is that capitalism as it extends/speeds up and over-reaches -is well aware of its own vulnerability. As production/distribution and consumption are more and more based on the “just-in-time” principle, any effective protest can trigger a crisis-all the more so when capital is already revealed as teetering on the brink through its own actions. So the re-tooling-emergency powers, redefinition of terrorism etc are geared to closing down any and all protest before it can take effect. Whats particularly dispiriting about the G20 protests is the extent to which they learn nothing from previous protests-the complaints about kettling are all well and good except that kettling is now used to deal with any demo and the G20 lot put no thought into how to avoid it, or into whether mass protests that achieve nothing beyond helping the cops build up their database are really the way forward.

    One other point re policing- in relation to the Stephen Lawrence anniversary Ian Blair commented that he didnt think the cops who investigated were racist,they just treated the Lawrences like any other working class family. So for Blair, it didnt matter whether Stephen Lawrence was black or white-he was working class so his death didnt matter until the family made it matter.

  3. Derek Walker Says:

    William’s point about Ian Blair’s statement has picked up on a very telling comment that the press has failed to question further. However we should beware of jumping too quickly to conclusions that fail to recognise that the struggle against racism is itself a complex element within the wider struggle against class oppression.

    Firstly, the Chief Constables’ comments demonstrate Blair’s contempt for the findings of the Macpherson enquiry which stated ‘The underlying cause of the police failure has been found by Macpherson to be, not purely incompetence, but institutionalised racism.’

    Secondly, whilst there is a temptation to apply class reductionism to Blair’s comments we risk falling into the trap of failing to recognise that racism is itself a complex product of class relations. As such black and white working people deserve analysis that reflects the reality of their experience rather than over simplified explanations, which will fail to resonate with black workers.

    Thirdly, of course the police want us to believe they treat all working people equally as it undermines the unified campaigns fought by working people to highlight racism as a particular manifestation of class oppression in a given set of circumstances.

  4. Paul Says:

    I’m surprised at the limited IWCA analysis of the G20 protests.

    If we are being honest these types of interventions are a total disaster for the left. They allow the media to portray us as utopians, middle class, student dominated and with nothing to say about the conditions and issues that millions of us face.

    Rather than a coherent narrative about the near collapse of capitalism and the consequences, rather than patient work in working class communities, rather than tangible and clear demands based on the experience of those like the Visteon workers, what we actually saw was a confused and contradictory lobby totally divorced from our class and the issues many face.

    The sickening irony of it all was that the inevitable violence resulted in the death of a worker on the way home from his job.

    The fact is that the current economic crisis and the total lack of an adequate response by the politcal class is matched only by the ineptness and irrelevance of the left.

    We urgently need to put forward a clear headed analysis of where we are, how our lives have been financialised, the impact of the collapse of neo-liberalism, how we defend jobs and communities and arising out of this pose demands that find an echo in workplaces/estates/communities.

    As things stand we have a discredited political class and system and an increasingly confident far righ making strides organisationally. We aren’t even in the game.

  5. Napier Says:

    “We aren’t even in the game.”

    Spot on. The IWCA is an insignificant and irrelevant outfit and likely to remain so unless they can pull some magic tricks out of their hat. Perhaps if the IWCA actually asked working class people what they do and don’t want from politics then they will have the ingredients of a magic spell. The trouble is, will the existing IWCA members be able to stomach the results of such a survey?

  6. William Laws Says:

    I think Paul is completely right. Lets not forget-G20 protests werent spontaneous events-they were planned by supposedly organised groups who failed to offer any coherent analysis at all. The sight of some halfwit academics enjoying the controversy while gibbering about hanging bankers and walking around dressed as vampires carrying coffins was an insult to anyone whose job is on the line or who’s home is at risk. Sums the left and the anarchos up-for them its theatre,for the rest of us its all too real. I remember at the time of the fall of the wall in East Germany, some demonstrators carried bannners where the slogans had been cut out and there was just a hole-the G2O protests were the same. A void where a copherent analysis should be.

    Thanks to Napier for his insight. If only he’d got round to bothering to tell us what magic spells his own conversations with the working class had revealed (some of us are working class Napier, we dont need to “talk to them” like species from another planet). I think most peoples definitions of working class would probably be a bit wider than “people in the pub who share my own prejudices” though…

  7. Napier Says:

    I previously mentioned Islam but my comments were met with rebuke.

    http://www.iwca.info/?p=10114#comments

    The fact is, the BNP has created a huge support base around the issue of Islam which has managed to attract many people who are otherwise not nationalists and probably wouldn’t vote for the BNP if it didn’t spit the same venom at Islam. I am convinced that the only way a small party can ever make inroads is if it adopts a very populist policy. At the moment there is an ill feeling towards Islam and the demands of Muslims such as new mosques or halal meat for school dinners, whilst traditionally British things like school nativity plays are axed because they offend Muslim children and St George’s Day is ignored. The BNP has latched onto this feeling and is profitting from it because they have no other anti-Islamic opposition apart from the National Front.

    Therefore, I reckon that if the IWCA were to spit the same venom at Islam as the BNP does then it will be a win-win situation for them. I suggest you give it a go as one of your magic spells. Make it clear that it is not racist because Muslims can change their religion and condemn any opponents as wanting to live in a nation governed by Sharia law.

  8. nash Says:

    To respond to Napier, actually pretty much the main thing the IWCA has been doing in its pilot schemes since they were set up is asking working class people what the important issues are for them. Funnily enough, hatred for Islam didn’t feature very highly.

    Yes many people are disgruntled about unfairness, special treatment of ethnic groups, targeting of resources on a multicultural basis etc., which is why the IWCA has clearly stated its opposition to such practices. To simply be against Islam, though, and Muslims, whatever they do, is undeniably racist however the BNP try to pretend otherwise.

    Napier presents a rather unflattering picture of the BNP as a single-issue party with its only policy being anti-Islam. However, I’m aware that the BNP has been trying to appeal to the middle class and in a recent council vote in Tilbury, voted to prop up the Tory administration.

    So the question is what do working class constituents tell the BNP when the party asks them about their latest policy of tacking towards the middle class and supporting the Conservatives? I’d be really interested to know.

    One final thing: Napier complains his comments were met with rebuke. The response he links to simply challenges his views. This site offers the opportunity for an open debate. Please don’t whine about other people disagreeing with you.

  9. huejack Says:

    Interesting how with the BNP how easily previously cherished analysis is abandoned. In the ’80′s and 90′s the Jews/Zionists were the fount of all evil. Overnight that position was seemingly dropped. Today it is the Muslim as scapegoat. Ironically the cheif beneficaries of the whipping up of anti-Muslim feeling, the BNP apart, are of course the very same Zionists. Equally while the BNP are currently making hay out of presenting themselves as ‘old school socialists’ the voter breakdown of the London Mayoral elections shows that in reality they are part of the same right-wing bloc as the Tories and UKIP. In other words, when push comes to shove either they will either betray their working class supporters or the working class will abandon them. The lesson is that the BNP are opportunist. And history shows that opportunism only carries you so far.

  10. Napier Says:

    Maybe if you took the time to study Islam, understand Sharia law, and read the Qu’ran then you might think differently about Islam and realise what a fascist dangerous movement it really is. Don’t try to confuse religion with race. Islam is a religion not a race and the BNP is just as opposed to white Muslims as they are to Asian Muslims. This is because Islam (and more importantly, Sharia law) is simply incompatible with democracy, civil liberties, and our culture and way of life.

    Muslims in Britain are breeding like rabbits and simple arithmetic will tell you that at the present rate of growth will become a majority.

    I would like to know where and when these pilot schemes were run asking working class people what the important issues are for them. Have you asked working class people in Dagenham, Sandwell, Stoke, or West Yorkshire what issues concern them? I can assure that Islam is high on the agenda in these places. In fact, the BNP is starting to get serious support in Liverpool – a city with very few Muslims or ethnics that was previously a very weak area for nationalists.

    The BNP is crooked and corrupt but it is the best we have to date. They are not a single issue party at all. One policy the BNP has that the IWCA doesn’t have is rebuilding British manufacturing. The BNP also wants to withdraw Britain from the EU because it holds authority over the government at Westminster and decides an increasing amount of British policy and legislation. I am aware that opposition to the EU is not high amongst the working class because they are in ignorance and have little understanding of what the EU is and how it works. I suspect there are very few people in the IWCA who are reasonably knowledgeable about the EU and its horrors and corruption.

    http://eutruth.org.uk

  11. Chris Says:

    Islamacists come in a large variety from peaceful political reformists to conservatives and finally violent jihadists, the latter can be deal with via policing, intelligence and internal community cooperation.

    In the long-term I don’t see them as a major threat, what they are arguing is essentially a caliphated Utopia, thus impossible and unlikely to garner much support, 100s not 100,000s.

    Whereas it is certainly possible that the BNP could grow to the size of Le Pen’s NF in France, which is a frightening prospect for anyone genuinely opposed to fascism.

    There is no such thing as the single monolithic “Muslim community” that our politicians and media discuss. Britain’s one and a half million or so Muslims belong to a remarkably diverse set of communities; in all, it is estimated, there are over 50 ethnicities speaking almost 100 languages between them. However it is possible to speak in generalities about their lives and experience in this country:
    ● They are mainly young;
    ● They tend to live in the most deprived cities, and a third of them live in the most deprived neighbourhoods in those cities;
    ● They are disadvantaged and discriminated against in housing, education and employment by comparison with other faith groups;
    ● Religion for Muslims is the most important factor in their lives after their family;
    ● They suffer disproportionately more from discrimination, racial abuse and racial attacks than any other faith group, and the more openly devout they are, the more likely they are to experience
    harassment and abuse.

    In short, Islamophobia is heaped onto all the other disadvantages from which they suffer.

  12. Napier Says:

    Chris,

    If you were to look at the birth rates of Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain then simple arithmetic will tell you that one day Britain will have a Muslim majority. Once Muslims have a majority in number then it means they can easily elect a government turning Britain into an Islamic state complete with Sharia law. Do you really want to see Britain become another Saudi Arabia or Iran?

    You are right that there isn’t a single monolithic Muslim community but a diverse set of Muslim communities – some of which are quite hostile towards one another. However, most members of most Muslim communities have something in common. They do not wish to integrate with non-Muslim communities or people with name of Chris.

    If the IWCA wants Muslims to join their ranks then the best advice I can offer its members is to stop drinking alcohol and start attending mosque services on Fridays. You male members must also get themselves circumcised.

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