Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Insightful reflections on the Visteon dispute

Posted by Left Luggage on May 5, 2009

The outcome and internal dynamics of the Visteon dispute is the subject of a detailed and insightful analysis over at The Commune. It is a useful contribution because it is easy at the end of a dispute not to raise questions that cast doubt on the success of the action. On the other hand, there are vital lessons to be learned from every dispute and we need to consider these.

There seems no doubt that the workers have won a significant victory in securing 52 weeks’ redundancy pay from the company. However, this article suggests workers at the Enfield plant do not themselves know the details of the deal. The issues of pensions and what rate of pay the redundancy money will be calculated on (whether shift rate or day rate) are still outstanding. It also questions the role of the union bureaucracy of Unite relating to a lack of information, a lack of support, and the exclusion of the local convenor from negotiations. The critique is incisive and flags up the problem of relying on union hierarchies, whose immediate interests in reality diverge from those of striking workers due to their structural role as negotiators between capital and labour.

The article also offers some analysis of the tactical merits of abandoning the factory occupation, a theme discussed in a previous article. Workers speaking to the writer said when they made the decision they were tired and susceptible to “Unite scaremongering” about prosecutions and eviction. The contrast with the Belfast occupation, which continued right through the dispute, is a useful one.

The most inspiring comments in the article concern the emergence of a new class consciousness among the workers as a result of their collective struggle, something which is commonly experienced during militant strikes where workers are in the driving seat. After speaking to workers at the plant, the writer reports:

They told how they have learned in the past month that laws are made by and for the owners, and against the workers. They explained to me that what was needed was for the workers themselves to organise society on a new basis, and make the laws directly, being quite specific that this did not mean getting other, “better” representatives to do so for us, but doing it ourselves. They told me that they’d discovered their own power as workers, and that they wanted to continue the struggle against the government and corporations. For them, the first step would be to organise for change in their own union, which they described as having been something between practically useless and an actual obstacle to them in their struggle. They told me that they’d known, in a way, that these things were true before, but the struggle had placed these things “in front of our face”.

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