Labour faces pre-election Ford strike

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The Independent Online
The Labour Party was faced with the prospect of a high profile pre-election strike by 30,000 Ford workers after the company yesterday refused to drop plans to axe 1,300 jobs at Halewood in Merseyside.

Last-ditch attempts will be made by union leaders over the next seven days to persuade the company to produce the replacement for the present Escort at the plant. But privately, workers' representatives did not expect a change of mind and union officials predict a strike ballot will go ahead, with the result in about six weeks' time.

Given the statutory seven days' notice for industrial action and the legal stipulation that the first strike must be within a month of the ballot result, stoppages could be staged uncomfortably near the general election for Labour, whose chances of winning power would not be helped by the sight of workers taking to the streets.

At a meeting in west London yesterday union leaders failed to persuade management to change its mind, but Jack Nasser the company's vice-president, is expected to meet employees' representatives next week.

Tony Woodley, chief union negotiator, accused Ford of "cynicism of the highest order" for taking advantage of the relatively liberal laws in Britain to get rid of one-third of the workforce at Halewood. "It is clear that it is cheaper to sack British workers than German, Belgian or Spanish workers," he said.

The present Ford Escort is produced at Halewood, Saarlouis in Germany and Valencia in Spain, but only the last two plants have been chosen to make its replacement. Mr Woodley believes the decision means that Halewood will be closed in the long term.

He argued that British Escorts were pounds 500 to pounds 1,000 cheaper to produce than the German versions. The future of jobs at Southampton, Bridgend, Swansea and Dagenham were now in doubt because their function was duplicated on the Continent, he said.

The unions pointed out that Britain was the only European country where the company had a major presence and where more Ford cars were imported than exported. In 1995, the output of Ford cars in Britain amounted to 85 per cent of the sales in this country. The proportion for Germany was 132 per cent, Belgium 1,070 per cent, Spain 213 per cent and Portugal 115 per cent.