THOUSANDS of protestors have taken to the streets in a mass demonstration against Ford cuts across Europe.
Up to 20,000 have protested in the Belgian city of Genk against the motor giant’s cost cutting plans.
They include shutting the Southampton transit factory next July with the loss of 500 jobs and shutting its huge plant in Genk which employs 4,300 workers.
Scores of buses transported Ford workers and demonstrators from the company's large factory site on the outskirts of Genk to the march through the city centre.
Workers from the threatened plant, their families, children and supporters marched in a noisy and colourful parade to show their anger at Ford bosses.
Flags and banners from the three unions representing workers were held high under a bright blue sky as they made their way along the two kilometre route to a huge rally.
A 13,000 capacity square at a cultural centre on the site of a former coal mine was packed out with a sea of demonstrators.
A big tv screen was set up outside for people that couldn't fit in.
Local music acts performed songs penned specifically for the Ford workers.
The nine-year old daughter of a Genk factory worker, Britt Thijs, was among those to address the huge crowd from the stage.
"I am not only concerned about the future of Ford employees but also about my future," she said.
"Will I still get the chance to study further? Will I still get a chance at a job? There are many questions in my mind, but what now?"
William de Witte, 64, from the ABVV socialist union said workers had come together to show solidarity.
"The people here feel very angry and betrayed by Ford," he said.
City mayor Wim Dries said Ford bosses had "taken away the pride" of workers and left them feeling angry, disappointed and uncertain of the future.
He said the march, backed by the council, was important to give residents a chance to show their feelings.
It was also to send a signal that the city and region will come together for a future without Ford, he added.
Ford’s Genk plant, like Southampton, was given assurances about its future before the motor giant made the bombshell announcement that both are to close to slash costs amid falling European car sales.
A group of workers from Southampton were hopeful of joining the demonstration.
Andy Cox, Unite’s deputy convener at the Southampton Transit plant in Swaythling, said: “We support our fellow colleagues abroad. We can understand what they are going through.”
He said a mass meeting of Southampton Ford workers was planned for the end of next week to decide what action to take. Strike action has not been ruled out.
About 170 protesters went on the rampage outside a Ford plant in Cologne, Germany on Wednesday during a meeting between management and Ford’s European Works Council, which includes representatives from Unite.
They blocked the entrance to offices, burned tyres and threw fireworks at police officers.
Six people were arrested and three police officers were injured. Coaches of demonstrators arrived from Genk.
Belgian unions have called the proposed Genk plant closure “treason” and a “betrayal of promises made to workers”
of new models and of their efforts to boost productivity to secure their jobs.
Ford now plans to move production of the new model Ford Mondeos, S-Max and Galaxy’s to Valencia Spain.
The council in Genk estimates up to 10,000 jobs, including direct and indirect suppliers in the region’s motor industry, will be affected by the plant closure.
The regional economy has already suffered from the GM closure of Opel’s plant in nearby Antwerp in 2010.
Ford unveiled its plans to close three factories, including Southampton, Dagenham and Genk, with the loss of 6,200 jobs to stem forecast losses of £1.8billion over the next two years.
And the company last week warned it may need to make more cutbacks – possibly dropping factory shifts or closing a plant.