Rob Williams, the Unite convenor at the Linamar car parts plant in Swansea, who was sacked on 28 April, spoke to Sacha Ismail.
Give us the background.
I've been at the plant for thirteen and a half years. When I started, we worked for Ford, producing components for the company directly. In 2000, Visteon was spun off as a separate components manufacturer. Since then Visteon workers have had a non-stop battle with management, against their attempts to make us pay for their cost-lowering, as you've seen reach its conclusion with the recent occupations. In Swansea, to give you an example, we used to get work from the Ford foundry in Leamington, and then sell the parts on to Ford Dagenham - at a loss to us! Of course, the workforce was expected to pay for this disparity.
After we fought successfully to uphold terms and conditions at Visteon, management decided to get rid of the Swansea plant. Last year it was sold, or I should really say given away, to Linamar, a mainly non-union company in Canada. To give you an idea of who these people are, just before Christmas they told their workers they were getting a ten percent wage cut - by email! The one plant they failed to do it in was the one that was unionised. So they really couldn't stomach our level of organisation in Swansea, and decided to break the union in order to push down terms and conditions.
What happened when you were sacked?
On 28 April, I happened to be in the main office, next to the plant. Brian Wade, whose official title is group president, is the main boss associated with the plant. He asked me to come and have a word, and he and another Canadian manager inform me that I'm sacked. No right to appeal, no suspension with pay pending a hearing - things I would routinely insist on for the members I represent. There was no one from HR present, let alone a union representative. I told them they couldn't do that, and they complained that whenever they proposed something, I said no. What a terrible crime for a trade union rep to be guilty of!
The phrase they used was "an irretrievable breakdown of trust". What bothered them was not just the situation in Swansea, but also the work we've done in solidarity with the Visteon struggle.
When I refused to leave, they called the police, five of whom turned up at the plant, but I ran onto the shop floor and into the union office. There was only forty or fifty on the shop floor - the workforce is depleted since we had 150 voluntary redundancies last year - but the boys risked their jobs to surround the union office. After a while, supporters started to appear at the gates, so the police thought better of it and left.
Eventually the full time officials were allowed on site, and the company agreed to negotiations with Andy Richards, who's the Unite regional secretary. The shop floor returned to work, but with the understand that if the sacking stood they'd be out again.
The talks continued and a week later, Tony Woodley and I met in London with Brian Wade and some others from Linamar. So far, however, they're sticking to their decision.
And now there's a ballot for industrial action?
I've spoken to all the stewards by now, outside work, and the feeling is for action. Ballot papers will be with members on Monday, so hopefully we'll see. It's an open question on the ballot - how and when we strike depends on the result, and on the stewards' discussions. But we've set up a hardship fund, so we're getting every in place for a serious strike.
We've learnt that management are proposing a 'buy down' of terms and conditions - a one off payment to bribe workers to break their contract. In that context, it's clear what this victimisation is all about.
What can labour movement activists do to support you?
We've been overwhelmed by solidarity - not just from unions in Swansea, but nationally and internationally. We're holding a public meeting tonight [13 May] to mobilise support and show the boys in the plant that they're not on their own. We'll be holding a demonstration this Sunday.
Send messages of solidarity, and donate to the fund. But more generally we need widespread action to stop the bosses' offensive against trade unionism. We're asking workers to consider every possible form of solidarity.
All companies want workers to pay for the crisis. Linamar Swansea is small, but if we win, it will give strength to workers everywhere. If we lose, on the other hand, it will mean that a company with two hundred workers in the UK was allowed to ride rough over a union of two million. It will mean the right to be in a union is under threat. So our message is: don't let the two hundred of us fight it alone.
Messages of solidarity to firstname.lastname@example.org. Messages of protest to email@example.com or ring Brian Wade on 01792 656339 or the Linamar Swansea Personnel Manager on 01792 656238.
Protest, Sunday 17 May, meet 12 noon on Elba Crescent, off Fabian Way.
Facebook group here.
Make cheques to the hardship fund out to "T&G 4/1" and send to Linamar Workers Hardship Fund, 31 Wanunwen Terrace, Swansea SA1 1DX. Or make payment to Unity Trust Bank account number 20055051, sort code 08-60-01.
For the Linamar shop stewards' statement, see here.