Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Analysis of the Enfield factory occupation

Posted by Left Luggage on April 15, 2009

There’s an interesting analysis over at the commune of the continuing dispute at Visteon factories in Belfast, Basildon, and Enfield. As Unite union officials prepare to meet the US management of Visteon later today, after the bosses flew in from New York, supporters of the Enfield occupation ask whether it was a strategic mistake to end the occupation ahead of these talks.

They argue “another few days might have made all the difference to the outcome that may determine the workers’ long-term financial future” and suggest the Unite leadership, in persuading workers to end the occupation, effectively handed back their biggest bargaining chip. The authors also turn their fire on sections of the left that have already begun to claim victory for the dispute, while it remains uncertain how it will be resolved. They say:

The union and the left have already begun to claim this struggle as a victory on the grounds that it forced the company to the negotiating table and that it has inspired other workers. These are partial truths, though any real assessment would have to be made after any deal is sealed. But the fact that the workers have been maneuouvred by the union into a vulnerable position where they could easily be screwed is something not to be glossed over, as the left will want to.

They continue:

Even if a passable deal is struck next week, one could see the ending of the occupation as unnecessarily risky and bad strategy for the workers and an unsatisfactory capitulation to pressure from both Visteon and union bosses.

The authors also have a word to say about the G20 protests, that coincided with the beginning of the occupation, pointedly noting that: “It was a real contrast to see how much energy and resources went into the organising of the G20 protests compared to how much support the Visteon occupation was given.”

Obviously it’s very easy to be wise after the event (as the authors themselves acknowledge), and to critique the decisions of others who are in the position of having to make difficult strategic decisions and live with the consequences. This analysis might have come a little too soon, given that the dispute is yet to be resolved and workers in Belfast continue to occupy their factory, but in any case it is important to examine such actions to assess their strengths and weaknesses, and to learn those lessons so we can be more effective in future.

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