Visteon Workers Protest At British Plants

Laid-off workers at three plants Visteon shut down this week protested in hopes of winning better payoffs and pension guarantees -- and even a bailout from Ford.

LONDON (AP) -- Laid-off workers at car-parts maker Visteon's three closed British factories mounted protests Wednesday in hopes of winning better payoffs and pension guarantees -- and even a possible bailout from U.S. motor giant Ford.

Workers at two England plants joined their jobless colleagues at the third site in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where a sit-down protest began immediately after Visteon chiefs closed them down without warning Tuesday.

In the north London suburb of Enfield, 70 to 80 fired workers climbed on the roof of the closed factory there and pledged to maintain the protest until Visteon managers agree to negotiate on a potential reopening of the facility. The company offered no comment.

Visteon Corp. was spun off from Ford in 2000 but has struggled to make a profit since, particularly in the United Kingdom, where the Visteon U.K. Ltd. division has accumulated losses of 669 million pounds ($960 million) over the past 8 1/2 years. On Tuesday, the British unit formally sought bankruptcy protection and outside accountants ordered the three plants to be shut immediately.

The Michigan-based parent company announced later Tuesday that it, too, might soon file for protection from creditors because it cannot keep up with payments on its own debts. Visteon Corp. employs 33,500 people worldwide, including more than 600 at its three British sites.

Scores of workers camped overnight inside the Belfast plant, and their example inspired colleagues at the other two plants in Basildon and Enfield, England, to mount similar demonstrations Wednesday.

Union leaders said Visteon was struggling because Ford was refusing to honor contracts to buy parts at previously agreed volumes. Those deals were struck as the crisis besetting the recession-hit automotive industry was still taking shape.

Gerry Adams, leader of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party in Northern Ireland, spoke to the Belfast protesters Wednesday -- and urged them to stay there day and night until their demands were met.

Adams said he was lobbying U.S. investment officials, including the comptrollers of pension funds for New York City and New York State, to put pressure on Ford to extend a lifeline to Visteon's British work force. The Belfast plant is on the edge of Adams' constituency.

"Ford controlled the purse strings and everything that was happening here. They have a duty of responsibility towards yourselves," Adams told the cheering workers, who are camping out in the plant's canteen.

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