Ford strike vote points to greater militancy

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The Independent Online
THE FORD motor company faces the threat of severe disruption after 10,000 white-collar staff voted to stop work for the first time since the company came to Britain in 1911.

Leaders of 29,000 manual workers are expected to call their own strike ballot unless senior managers today guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies.

As Ford was threatened by industrial action, there were tentative signs elsewhere of a resurgence of militancy. The leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers is due today to draw up a campaign of disruption based on a 3-2 vote for one-day strikes. The NUM is seeking to retain all the 31 pits under threat of closure and rail unions are due next week to announce the result of their own vote on redundancies. Rail and coal unions are hoping to co- ordinate action.

Leaders of workers in the public sector are also threatening strikes in the face of a 1.5 per cent pay limit and mounting job losses. Staff at the Home Office statistics division in London are to mount a one-day stoppage today in protest at market-testing, which they believe will lead to redundancies. The stoppage was timed to coincide with a meeting of the department's steering group on the policy and Home Office questions in the House of Commons.

Unions are showing an increasing determination to defend jobs with industrial action in both the public and private sectors. But any action is thought unlikely to have much effect, although the unions feel obliged to organise action.

Out of 1,000 manual jobs due to go at Ford under a scheme announced last December, the company is still searching for 500 redundancies. The management announced it was to shed more than 2,000 white-collar jobs in September and is still looking for a further 250 volunteers.

Ford has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies if the targets are not reached by the end of March. Employees have been warned that enhanced severance packages will be withdrawn. The white-collar Manufacturing Science Finance union voted by a majority of 64 per cent in favour of a strike and 83 per cent for action short of a stoppage in a 50 per cent turnout of its 6,500 members.

Members of the staff section of the Transport and General Workers' Union voted by 53 per cent in favour of a strike and 82 per cent for action short of a walkout.

Jim Thomas, national officer of the MSF, said: 'We will not accept compulsory job losses because we have been improving efficiency and effectiveness and are helping to make the company a success, so Ford should give us job security.'

Bob Purkiss, national officer of the TGWU, called on Ford to extend the 31 March deadline and warned a strike would badly hit the company. Local officials of the two unions will meet on Monday to consider their next move. National union leaders are to hold talks with Ford on 23 March.

A spokesman for the company said management hoped the target could be reached voluntarily. The meeting later this month with the white-collar unions would give them a chance to review the redundancy programme, he said.

Meanwhile, London bus services were disrupted yesterday as workers mounted a one-day stoppage in protest at the imposition of a 14 per cent cut in wages and 13 per cent increase in hours. Union leaders said that only a quarter of services ran yesterday, but management said the proportion was nearer one-third. Another strike is due next Wednesday.

(Photograph omitted)