Saturday, 27 June 2009

Lessons of Lindsey, Visteon and Linamar

The news of the clear victory at Lindsey Oil Refinery may have been lost among yesterday's coverage of Michael Jackson, but it will not have escaped the notice of labour movement activists. The dispute demonstrates how tightly organised workers backed by solidarity action can brush aside the anti-trade union laws and win a battle against a seemingly intransigent management.

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.

11 comments:

ModernityBlog said...

Phil,

does the pamphlet make any mention of the need to contacts the foreign contract workers at the start of the dispute, and obtain the precise details of their contracts too?

Phil BC said...

I should have said the pamphlet is made up of articles that originally appeared in The Socialist as the disputes were underway. It does not go into the precise details of the contracts but does report attempts to link up with the foreign workers in question.

Anonymous said...

Went to NSSN conference yesterday. Was very good. A real step forward for the network.

Phil BC said...

You tease. Aren't you going to give us a bit more than that?

Phil BC said...

Videos of the NSSN conference here.

Phil Brighton said...

NSSN was good.

Highlights:

Very good attendance. Well over 300 registered at the desk but the hall was packed probably nearer 400 there.

Quality of the top table speakers was great. Joe Higgins, Keith Gibson and particularly Rob Williams were the stand out ones but all from SOAS cleaners to Brian Caton of the POA were well worth hearing. London CWU talking about stopping Labour funding, POA taking a motion for a general strike to TUC, Liverpool organising rank and file protest outside TUC.

The whole thing really showed the renewed confidence that the struggles this year have created, and very much showed how the industrial strength of the SP has grown.

The final highlight is while the SP were very prominent it genuinely had a feeling of left unity. Lots of groups were present, there was some disagreements but all seemed to think the network was growing in a healthy manner.

Bad Points:

Too little time for speakers from the floor. We got a fair few but it is always difficult.

Workshops were a bit rushed, again with too little time for contributions.

The SWP didn't seem to have brought many people at all. Even though the SWP have a co-organiser and chaired the opening session it seemed to me there membership was largely absent. Surely if unity is needed as they say this would be a place it can really happen. It does however mean the turnout was in a way more impressive, and if they had turned up in greater numbers we would need a bigger hall!

Phil BC said...

Sounds excellent. It's through organisations of this sort that meaningful left unity will grow.

Bit puzzling about the SWP's presence as I'm told it got a real push in the branches. I guess it was one for those whose practice is more oriented toward trade unionism and workplace struggle.

Phil Brighton said...

Well I could be wrong, but I did not see many SWP comrades i know from local and trade union work so I certainly got that impression.

ted said...

Who was the woman chair of the Joe Higgins bit?

Anonymous said...

Jane Bassett from the SWP

c0mmunard said...

Why does the SP still not put its full pamphlet texts online?

I think this really limits their influence, and I don't think putting stuff online makes people much less likely to buy it. It just means that people who won't buy it - like me - might browse it and be pleasantly surprised. All of the content from The Socialist goes online, right, and presumably that doesn't stop people buying it?