Wildcat strike loses day's output at Ford UK plant

05:43 a.m. Oct 06, 1999 Eastern LONDON, Oct 6 (Reuters)

Production resumed at Ford UK's main factory, Dagenham, on Wednesday after a 24-hour wildcat strike which unions linked to a spate of racial incidents.

A Ford spokesman said normal work at the assembly plant in Essex east of London had resumed at 0700 GMT, after some 1,300 workers on Tuesday's day shift and night shifts walked out in the worst unofficial action at the plant for a decade. The strike lost production of 1,200 cars.

Union leaders said said thay had not organised the walkout. They said workers were awaiting the outcome of their morning meeting with the plant's management, and that further unofficial or even official strikes might follow.

``We believe the unofficial action is to do with employees' concerns over equal opportunities. We stress that we have zero tolerance towards harassment or discrimination of any kind,'' said Ford spokesman John Gardiner.

Workers have complained of institutionalised racism and bullying at the plant.

Dagenham, once renowned for worker militancy but now Europe's 10th most productive car plant, employs some 4,500 people, nearly half of them black or ethnic Asians. The strike hit only the assembly plant where Ford Fiestas and related vehicles are made and which has been chosen for European production of the next generation of Fiestas.

Dagenham main union convener, Steve Riley, said Ford's Dagenham management had consistenly dragged its feet over implementing the company's own policies on equal opportunities. ``Processes and procedures on ... equal opportunities are not maintained or facilitated,'' he said.

Ford apologised at an industrial tribunal last month to an ethnic Indian worker who said he had been a victim of racial abuse and bullying for four years. Riley said that since then there had been another alleged incident where a white foreman assaulted an ethnic Asian worker and Ford had failed to act.

Anti-racism campaigners have alleged that far-right groups have been recruiting for support amongst Dagenham workers. Riley, whose Transport & General Workers' Union represents many employees at Dagenham, said he and representatives of other big unions at the plant were meeting Ford managers at 10 a.m. (0900 GMT) to see if progress could be made.

``Ford Dagenham have been seen to consistently fail their black members,'' union leader Bill Morris said last week of the tribunal case. Morris has written to Ford President Jac Nasser in Detroit asking for him to intervene.

Dagenham can produce a quarter of a million cars a year but is currently on a four-day week due to weak export markets. It sells 45 percent of production outside Britain.