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.