On Monday of this week, dozens of trade unionists, socialists, workers and local residents met in Bridgend to discuss the closure of the local Ford factory. The meeting, organised by the National Shop Stewards’ Network (NSSN) discussed the ongoing situation facing the 1,700 workers at the Bridgend plant, and what steps the labour movement should take to support their struggle. The audience was unanimous in demanding a national ballot for industrial action and an all-Wales demonstration in support of the Bridgend workers.
The discussion was introduced by Rob Williams, the ex-conveynor at Swansea Visteon and national chair of the NSSN. Rob spoke about how this closure is seen in the eyes of the workers: an absolute outrage. Many of them were already relocated from closed plants, some from as far away as Southampton, with the promise that they could continue to work for Ford in Bridgend.
Ready for action
The mood of bitter discontent amongst the Bridgend workers was highlighted by a series of mass meetings on the shop floor, as well as an indicative ballot undertaken by Unite the Union. This showed that more than 80% of the workforce supports the call for industrial action.
The workers are clearly ready to fight to save their jobs and livelihoods. But even this underestimates the real mood. In reality, a mass campaign by the Unite leadership for a national strike could find an echo in Ford plants up and down the country. This includes the factory in Dagenham, which produces the same JLR engines as Bridgend and is being speculated to go down in the next round of factory closures.
A national mobilisation would also find mass support from the wider labour movement. It would send a clear signal to the Ford CEOs that this closure will not be tolerated by workers.
Workers do not take strike action lightly. It is always a last resort. But when it is undertaken, it can fill workers with a sense of power and energy. Already, the prospect of action has injected a lot of hope into the labour movement in South Wales and further afield.
The militant mood at the meeting reflected the general mood amongst workers and youth locally. This was confirmed by street stalls held in Bridgend by Socialist Appeal supporters from South Wales. There is a strong desire amongst the working-class community to see a fundamental change.
One Socialist Appeal supporter and member of the Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) highlighted this in the Bridgend NSSN event. He brought to the meeting a unanimous message of solidarity from the BFAWU conference in Southport, which was held earlier this month. This support was warmly received by the audience.
This solidarity could be replicated in other unions, were their leaders to take the same militant stand as the BFAWU. If the Bridgend workers were supported with determination by the entire labour movement, the question of saving the plant would be a formality.
Apart from several local Labour councillors, the only politician who attended the meeting was Bethan Sayed, AM for Plaid Cymru. Sayed spoke about the need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Bridgend Ford workers. She also invited the attendants of the meeting - and especially the Ford workers themselves - to contact her, in order that she can represent their views in the Welsh National Assembly. Sayed often attends trade union and labour demonstrations, and her support represents a welcome point of reference for the Bridgend workers in the Welsh Assembly. Sadly, the same cannot be said for other politicians. There was no presence from any Labour MPs or AMs at the meeting. For all their talk of “opposing austerity”, for example, right-wing careerists in the Labour Party are not lifting a finger to help the Bridgend workers.
These ladies and gentlemen, completely divorced from the realities of life for working-class communities, have accepted the Bridgend closure as a fait accompli. Furthermore, they have cynically used it as a political tool to continue their deafening calls for a People’s Vote. What would these people say, however, to the 5,000 Ford workers in Germany whose jobs are also under threat! Clearly the problem goes much deeper than Brexit.
Simply blaming Brexit diverts attention from the criminal action of the bosses and their so-called ‘free market’ system. And banging the drum for a second referendum divides workers precisely at a time when they need class unity the most. Anything that divides workers is a recipe for defeat, and can therefore only be described as rotten and reactionary.
This is why we need mandatory reselection: to kick out these careerists, and to replace them with genuine class fighters who will stand up for the interests of workers - workers like those facing the sack at Bridgend.
Labour: take a lead
We have seen little better from Welsh Labour in the Senedd chambers. Adam Price AM, the leader of Plaid Cymru, asked Mark Drakeford, the Momentum-supported First Minister for Wales, whether he’d commit to temporary nationalisation to save the plant. But instead of fulfilling his promise of “socialism in the 21st century” and calling for nationalisation under workers’ control, Drakeford dodged the question.
Drakeford has said that he will work with Ford “in the common interest”. But there can be no common interest between the bosses and the workers. Ford’s only interest is profit. The Bridgend workers’ interest is to protect their jobs and livelihoods. It is impossible to appease both at the same time.
As a result of this, Plaid has been able to accuse Drakeford of not siding with the Ford workers. This has allowed Price and co. to channel this class issue towards vague slogans about Welsh nationalism.
The Welsh Labour Party needs to take a lead. This can only be done by putting forward a clear class position, based on a bold socialist programme: for nationalisation and workers’ control! No compensation to the fat cats! Workers should occupy any factories threatened with closure!
Last Monday’s meeting was bigger than the one organised in Port Talbot a few years ago when the local steelworks were under threat of closure. Back then, the steel plant was saved thanks to resistance organised by the labour movement.
The recent Bridgend meeting took place right after a similar meeting was organised on the same day by Plaid Cymru. More events in support of the Ford workers are planned in Cardiff and Caerphilly. These are the early signs of an upturn in the class struggle in Wales.
As working and living conditions continue to deteriorate, the working class is beginning to say: enough is enough! Workers are starting to move into action. In the years ahead, the best traditions of the Welsh labour movement will be rediscovered. One only needs to look at the sea of red flags being waved at mass Corbyn rallies in places like Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff, and Swansea to see a hint of things to come.
- Solidarity with the Ford workers! Campaign for a national strike ballot!
- Labour and the trade unions: organise an all-Wales demonstration and national campaign in support of the Bridgend Ford workers!
- Save industry! Save jobs! For nationalisation under workers’ control! No compensation to the bosses!
- For mandatory reselection of Labour representatives! We need class fighters, not careerists!
- Solidarity with the Bridgend workers! Fight for socialism!