Bridgend Ford workers will be voting in an industrial action ballot, when voting papers go out at the end of this week. They want answers. They know that the clock is ticking and the future of the plant is on the line. The time to act is now before it is too late. This struggle is one of the most important in South Wales for years and is as crucial to retaining Welsh manufacturing as the fight to save Port Talbot steelworks last year. It is absolutely vital that the whole Welsh trade union movement gives full support and solidarity to the Ford unions and their members, who could be on strike as early as August.
Back in February, Unite alerted its members in the factory that Ford’s sourcing plans going forward would mean that 1160 out of 1800 jobs would be lost – putting the viability of the engine plant in doubt. Correctly, Unite told Ford that if they didn’t change their plans or at least enter serious talks, the union would consult members on balloting for industrial action.
However, in the meantime after being provoked by management, who stopped union notices going on to the shopfloor, members stopped working overtime. This was always meant to send a signal to the company that members were serious and it can’t be ‘business as usual’ while the shadow of doubt hangs over the plant. This has been reinforced by the indicative ballot result.
Just as happened with the coal and steel industries when they contracted, Bridgend has become the Ford plant of last resort. So there will be workers from the plant who transferred from the closed factories in Treforest, Swansea and Southampton, who know very well about Ford’s ruthlessness. The main lesson of these closures is that the time to take action to put pressure on Ford to change their plans is when you are making products that Ford needs.
We therefore welcome the recent letter from Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, updating members on developments and committing the union to an official industrial action ballot.
But support has to be built for it to ensure that the higher voting thresholds in the Tory Trade Union act are overcome. It is a scandal that a Conservative government that couldn’t win a majority is the election is able to impose undemocratic restrictions on workers, especially those who are fighting for their livelihoods. Therefore this week, in the run up to ballot papers going out, there needs to be plant meetings addressed by the union both from inside and outside the plant to give members confidence to vote for action. The biggest possible YES vote and the preparedness to take the necessary action will put the maximum pressure on Ford to talk properly to the union about committing to sourcing that will maintain the plant at its current size.
At the same time, the workforce has to send a clear message to Ford – any attempt to take out machinery will be met with an immediate stoppage. And if the company tries to stop the union organising plant meetings with its own representatives and officers, the union should call it outside if necessary. It is Ford – not the union – that has created this crisis, which has caused stress for workers and their families through its sourcing announcement.
There also has to be a national meeting of Ford convenors and shop stewards to discuss solidarity to ensure that Bridgend isn’t isolated. If this plant closes, it will only make it easier to close the rest.
And pressure must be put on the Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government to intervene. If necessary, they should take the plant into public ownership to keep Bridgend open and save jobs and communities. The general election showed that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies to renationalise the railways, utilities and Royal Mail are popular with workers.
It’s time to step up the fight to save Bridgend plant.
Rob Williams, ex-Swansea plant convenor