Leaders of truck fleet employees at Dagenham, Essex, the most powerful group of workers in the company, have decided to hold a strike ballot, which the Transport & General Workers' Union has vowed to undermine.
A walkout by the drivers who ferry parts between Ford's plants would bring the company's British operation to a halt within hours and cause other factories in Western Europe to shut within days.
The truck fleet workers are angry over an agreement between the union and management to introduce an independent element into the selection procedure for their pounds 30,000-a-year jobs. The system is due to be introduced next Monday.
While the proportion of ethnic minority workers in the main factories at Dagenham is between 40 and 50 per cent, the proportion in the truck fleet is around 2 per cent.
The Independent understands that with the knowledge and agreement of the union, management has asked the transport company TNT to deliver the essential parts if there is industrial action. Speaking at the TUC's Congress in Brighton, Bob Purkiss, national officer for equality in the TGWU, said the union would co-operate with the company's long-cherished aim of contracting out its transport operation.
The 300 drivers involved have left the 900,000-strong TGWU and joined the 15,000-member United Road Transport Union. Mr Purkiss said that the TGWU was not prepared to tolerate highly-damaging disruption. "We have bent over backwards to allow people to come to terms with the change, but it seems they are not prepared to do so."
Union conveners from most of the main Ford plants in Britain were last night attempting to persuade drivers' representatives to think again.
The new selection procedure, agreed as an out-of-court settlement at an industrial tribunal earlier this year, dictates that an independent assessor be allowed to accompany truck fleet supervisors in examining applicants for the much-sought-after jobs. Drivers earn around twice as much as most of their blue-collar colleagues.
David Higginbottom, of the smaller union, said the transport union generally had a low percentage of employees from ethnic minorities. His new members at Ford believed the introduction of a second assessor would intimidate applicants and in any case there was no space in lorry cabs for three people.Reuse content