Ford union in strike threat over Dagenham

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The Independent Online

A union said yesterday that it will ballot members over strike action if Ford, the American motor giant, announces the end of car production at its plant in Dagenham.

The threat came after persistent and apparently well-informed reports that Ford plans to cease volume car assembly at Dagenham once the last Fiesta rolls off the production line in November 2001.

The move, which is likely to be part of a Europe-wide restructuring to be announced next month, will end 70 years of car production at the site and lead to at least 3,000 job losses.

Tony Woodley, chief negotiator for the Transport and General Workers' Union, said the plans were not mentioned last week when union delegates met Nick Scheele, the chairman of Ford of Europe.

But Mr Woodley said thatthere was "no smoke without fire", and such reports had to be treated seriously.

He said any attempt to remove volume car assembly from Dagenham was a breach of previous agreements struck between the unions and Jac Nasser, the chairman of Ford worldwide, that a replacement would be found for the Fiesta.

"We expect that agreement to be honoured. If the company want to renege on that agreement we will recommend strike action," Mr Woodley said.

Britain accounted for 28 per cent of Ford sales Europe-wide, the biggest share of any European country. "We are not going to be treated as the paupers because we are cheap and quick and easy to fire," he added.

Mr Woodley also called on the Government to put pressure on BMW, the German car-maker, to give John Towers , the former Rover chief, more time to put together a buyout for the volume car producer.

Mr Towers is understood to have failed to convince BMW to halt plans to sell the business to Alchemy Partners, a venture capital group, which plans to cease volume production and concentrate on building sports cars under the MG brand.

Sources close to Alchemy yesterday dismissed reports that the group was talking to Volkswagen about the possibility of assembling the Golf at Longbridge, Birmingham.

BMW is now expected to go ahead and announce the sale of Rover to Alchemy this Friday.

Ford has refused to comment publicly on reports that Dagenham is under threat. But there have been persistent suggestions that senior Ford management in Detroit are unhappy at the fact that productivity at the British plant is lower than at Ford's other European plants. Their concerns have been aggravated by poor industrial relations and racial tension at the east London plant.

Ford has announced that Cologne in Germany rather than Dagenham will be the launch plant for the next generation Fiesta, but has not commented specifically on its future plans for Dagenham. Reports at the weekend suggested that the factory would switch to engine manufacture and the supply of body panels to other plants.

Such a move would in effect spell the end of volume car production by Ford in the UK, and deal a further blow to Britain's hopes of retaining a serious motor-manufacturing base in the face of a strong pound.