Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Visteon. Struggle. Solidarity.

Socialist Party. Socialist Workers' Party. Socialist Labour Party. Socialist Alliance. "Why can't you all just work together and have one 'proper' party?". I've heard it from my daughter, thinking about politics for the first time, and I've heard it on the picket line at Visteon. It's a very familiar question to anybody on the Left ... and still a very fair one.

If ever there was an instance when different groups could and should suspend their differences and rivalries it is their support for workers in struggle. But still inevitably there are points of departure between the various groups that actually speak volumes about their differences. And these are important, far more so than sterile debates about whose forebears had the 'correct' position over Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia in 1936. Or something.

This has certainly been what I have seen in the Visteon dispute at Enfield.

Take the SWP: At the start of the dispute they turned up in very large numbers - now, from what I've seen on the picket line, they seem to have evaporated. Why? I suspect because they thought there were no quick wins for them to make. On the other hand now that the conveners at Visteon in both Enfield and Basildon have joined the Socialist Party and are standing as N2EU candidates in the Euro elections they are condemning the platform as chauvinistic and nationalist. Just as they did with the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute, they have put themselves outside one of the most significant developments in the labour movement. N2EU is not ideologically 'pure' and is quite possibly not the best tag for a new Left movement - but it is happening right now and it is real. Strange that the SWP were a lot less fussy about far more 'incorrect' Islamo-nuts in the Stop War The Movement. But then again of course that was their own 'thing' that they could pretty much control.

Or take the anarchists. Actually I have a lot more time for them. They don't parachute in and out of the picket line, in fact they work pretty tirelessly in their support. Occasionally they can seem like they inhabit a different planet from ordinary workers with cars, mortgages and the other conventional trappings of modern life. But more seriously, they are so suspicious of anything 'official' or that smacks of the organised Left that whenever there is talk of spreading the dispute - of approaching other union branches or stewards, or lobbying this or that union official, they have very little to say. Tellingly their main focus has been on being support from the general public rather than within the labour movement.

Supporting a struggle is not about simply cheer-leading. If you genuinely think that you or your organisation has something to offer to help build success then you have not only a right but also a duty to share it. Not in a sectarian way and not by lecturing or maneuvering. And if you believe that there is also a bigger picture, that disputes should be linked up and movements built it is perfectly legitimate again to try and get people to join your organisation. And most importantly if you don't convince them you go ahead with the practical support work anyway and don't sulk in the corner. I'd like to think that this approach is why a number of the Visteon workers, including two of the conveners have agreed to join the Socialist Party.

All of which is a preamble to talking about Rob Williams. He is the Unite convener at Linmar in Swansea, formerly a part of Visteon before it was re-badged in previously shenanigans to outsource the manufacture of auto components. It is Rob who has played a major role in taking the cause of the Visteon dispute to various parts of the Ford empire and around the movement generally. I have no doubt that he is the major reason that Visteon workers have turned to the Socialist Party.

Yesterday Rob was dismissed from his job at the Linmar plant. In support the other workers there walked off the line and joined him in an occupation of the union office on the site whilst the police were called to try and evict them. To give Rob your support - send messages to

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