Even before Thursday's welcome news the latest Socialist Party pamphlet, Lindsey, Visteon, Linamar: Lessons from the disputes of Spring 2009 was a timely publication. And though in a sense dated because it does not carry material from the recent events at Lindsey it remains a must read for all trade unionists and socialists.
The separate sections on Visteon and Linamar provide background to what's going on in the car industry. In short falling sales and overproduction are being seized upon by bosses to force through an industry-wide offensive determined to make workers pay for the crisis. Their favoured methods are slow downs and wage cuts - lays offs are supposed to be a last resort. Unfortunately most unions have accepted these measures without question, an acceptance that could weaken workforces when it comes to collective bargaining and defending existing conditions now and in the future.
Visteon, which was spun off from Ford in 2000, closed down its loss-making UK operation this year. It attempted to circumnavigate previous agreements with the workforce over the size of redundancy payments by simply tearing them up. Workers in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon were given just six minutes notice and were expected to melt away as Visteon/Ford paid over a measly redundancy and made off with their pension pot. In the pamphlet, Frank Jepson (Unite site convenor at Basildon and now SP member) gives a stirring account of the struggle to win back what Visteon/Ford owed them.
Linamar purchased its Swansea operation from Visteon less than a year ago. Rob Williams, Unite convenor and SP member threw himself into solidarity work with the occupations and struggles that broke out at the three remaining Visteon sites, and for his pains was summarily dismissed by Linamar management on grounds of an "irretrievable break down of trust". This of course was merely a pretext for getting rid of a trade unionist who had the temerity to not only stand up for workers' interests, but also had scored some important victories against management. Linamar believed that by removing Rob they would succeed in beheading the union in their factory. They were wrong. Thanks to impromptu wild cat action, strong union organisation and astute tactics Linamar caved in completely and Rob won his job back. The discussion in the pamphlet shows us how.
Finally, the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute earlier this year was, from the standpoint of the left, probably the most controversial strike for many years. There is no use raking over the coals here seeing as this blog commented on the controversy at the time and is extensively discussed in the pamphlet itself. But is is suffice to say that this week's successful defence of the national agreement would not have happened without the winter stoppage. That's something those who were opposed or at best were luke warm toward the strike ought to consider when hailing this victory in the pages of their journals.
But above all, what all three of these successful struggles show is that where socialists are present or have an influence over the work force, the small forces of the far left can have a decisive influence.
The pamphlet is £1.50 or £2 including postage and packing. Buy online from Socialist Books, or order at PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD. Or ring 020 8988 8777.