Ford hit by rolling wave of wildcat strikes

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BARRIE CLEMENT

Labour Editor

Sporadic wildcat action continued at Ford yesterday bringing to more than 2,000 the number of workers involved in protest over a "final" pay offer which would give them a minimum of 9.25 per cent over two years.

Ford management acknowledged that the stoppages were unlawful, but decided they were "gestures" rather than a serious attempt to disrupt output. "We don't want to disturb the balance of industrial relations. Legal action would be unnecessarily provocative," the spokesman said.

He indicated however that if the strikes continued - they have already been repudiated by the unions - the company might consider litigation.

Night-shift workers at both the Dagenham assembly plant and the normally moderate Southampton complex continued the action started on Thursday, and the day shift at the body works at the Essex plant also also walked out yesterday. Production lines at both works started late in the wake of the walk-outs.

Management calculated that 960 Fiestas had been lost at Dagenham and 80 to 100 Transit vans at Southampton.

Shop stewards throughout Ford's 13-plant network yesterday began the consultation process over the offer which gives 4.75 per cent from next week and 4.5 per cent, or the inflation rate plus 0.5 per cent, next year, whichever is greater. Union representatives are to meet next Wednesday and are expected to call for further talks with management.

Steve Hart, full-time official of the Transport and General Workers' Union at the Dagenham plant, predicted that his members would reject the proposed settlement.

"Given the productivity improvements delivered by workers, the package simply does not measure up to expectations. This was the year when we wanted a more generous response," he said.

The pay offer was inadequate and suggested improvements on pension entitlements were insufficient. Unions also wanted to pursue their claim for a two- hour reduction in the working week to 37 hours.

Shop stewards at other plants however are more disposed to accept the offer. Convenors from Bridgend and representatives from Halewood have voted to accept.

Some union insiders believe that the 22,000 Ford production workers will accept the offer given that 4.75 per cent compares favourably with the 3 per cent going rate elsewhere and the inflation rate of 3.2 per cent.

There is a split in the union camp. The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, which represents skilled workers, pushes for a reduction in the working week, while the T&G places more emphasis on pay.

The Ford spokesman said the package was a "very good offer" and that most workers had welcomed the pay increase.

At Vauxhall, leaders of 10,000 workers are predicting a big majority in favour of industrial action in a ballot over a 7 per cent two-year offer.

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