Internet critics trash Visteon article
11 May 2009
John McAnulty’s recent article on
the Visteon occupation has provoked some controversy in the British left
John replies below:
There is a certain light-headedness about comments on my recent Visteon article that I find astonishing. There is really little that is more fundamental in working class politics than questions of victory and defeat that arise every day in the course of class struggle.
One would expect that socialist activists would have some formal schema, some common agreement about something as basic as winning and losing, rather than rely on off-the-cuff impressionism or dogmatic assertion.
Two definitions of victory have been offered. The new SWP line - that struggle is itself a victory - is just plain daft. The other, that any improvement is victory - does not stand scrutiny. In the case of the Visteon workers they lost jobs, pensions and redundancy rights and were given a few moments to leave the factory. At the end they received redundancy and holiday pay and a severance payment. The individual payments varied with length of service. This is clearly an improvement on nothing, but to claim that workers who have lost jobs and pensions have won a victory is hard to take.
The claims of victory are a standard response of union leaderships anxious to obscure how little they have achieved for their members and are increasingly taken at face value by leftists wedded to a strategy of unity with the bureaucrats.
One left critic of my article illustrated this perfectly, falsely claiming that my view was that only the full restoration of jobs would have counted as victory and arguing that, because police and courts had forced workers out of the English factories, a deal had to be struck before bargaining chips slipped from the workers hands. But this is a wild distortion. There are plenty of workers available to testify that they were not forced from the factories by police, but coaxed out by the union bureaucracy. So the steely negotiators determining the best moment to strike a deal are also those removing cards from the workers hands!
It is of course the case that a battle can end without meeting its objectives but can generate a strategic advantage. In order to establish this it is necessary to look at the nature of the employers attack.
In the Visteon struggle Ford used shell companies, creative accounting and specialist administrations who more and more use the shock tactic of instant dismissal to force workers out.
All of these remain intact. Even when the 'bankrupt' Visteon came up with severance pay no questions were asked. Both the unions and the local political parties remain committed to sweetheart deals with the transnationals
The other direction in which gains might have been made is in the development of broader forms of organization able to force back these kinds of attacks in the future. Unfortunately the Visteon struggle remained in-house, with offers of support from local NUJ and INTO activists not taken up and official demonstrations almost comic in their insincerity and ineffectiveness.
The sorts of attacks represented by Visteon will become more and more common. The pressure on workers to defend themselves will become more intense. That's why it is so essential that questions of victory and defeat are dealt with fully and honestly.