Burning cars, blockaded trains, strewn debris, the full fury of Belgium’s unions was unleashed this week as the enormous impact of Ford’s drastic axing of its Genk plant became clear.

Around 4,300 staff will face redundancy in 2014 at Genk, while the Belgian Prime Minister, Elio di Rupo, estimates up to 10,000 could go as the fall-out effects reverberate down the supply chain.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Ford added to the combustible mix by announcing the closure of its Transit chassis cab site at Southampton with the loss of 500 jobs, as well as the surprising news it was to end its tooling and stamping at the Dagenham plant with hundreds more posts to go.

The Brits don’t really go in for burning cars and halting trains, but the powerful UK union, Unite, is muttering darkly about meeting again on 26 October to discuss what to do next and in concert with its European colleagues too.

Back across the English Channel in Belgium, the manner in which Ford announced its decision, has merely served to fuel the fire of massive discontent.

Ford’s main unions – the ACV and ABVV – turned up at Genk this Wednesday (25 October) fully expecting a raft of top brass to be in attendance to deliver the bad news personally – the labour bodies had told me the evening before they were bracing themselves for grim tidings – but they received it from a far lower level.

It wasn’t the senior management at all – it was the local Works Council who gave the tough details – while the top Ford executives bypassed Genk altogether and were whisked straight to Brussels to meet the Flanders Minister President, Kris Peeters and the Belgian Prime Minister himself.

The reaction of the unions was toxic. “Like some kind of American western, they arrived in five cars with [blacked out] windows,” ABVV Metaal provincial president Limburg, Rohnny Champagne, told me. “They drove into the car park and no-one had the opportunity to ask them questions.”

And this from Ford Genk’s ACV union, the largest labour body representing 65% of the 4,300-strong workforce, whose general secretary, Walter Cnop, aimed both barrels at Ford of Europe chairman and CEO, Stephen Odell.

“Odell did not even have the guts himself to tell us – he went straight to Brussels,” said Cnop. “He asked us to come to Brussels and we refused – there is no sense in meeting that man.”

That PR own goal aside, there’s also a right royal battle brewing as to who said what and signed what, with Cnop maintaining there were “signed agreements [with] Ford of Europe [which included] cost reduction in favour of three new models built from October, 2013 – that was the agreement.”

Odell hit back yesterday however, telling me: “When I met the unions five weeks ago, we updated them at their request on the state of the gateways, of where the Mondeo was in terms of readiness.”

“There was no written agreement – there were no guarantees because they asked me. I was quoted after the meeting I was unable to give any guarantees… given the volatility of the situation.”

Spats and burning cars apart, it seems nothing is going to change Ford’s mind, the well-documented chronic over-capacity in Europe is leading many to the inescapable conclusion that wielding the axe now will save even more pain later on – although that is of scant comfort to those facing the bleak reality of looking for a new job.

The US of course underwent a very similar and painful restructuring a few years back, with vast amounts of staff exiting and numerous factories closing as a result of its own catastrophic downturn.

This was amply demonstrated to me by US supplier association, OESA (Original Equipment Suppliers Association), which ran through the grim reality of what its OEM and component colleagues had to go through and who are now thriving so much they can barely recruit enough qualified engineers to cope with demand.

“In North America, we had to face the reality of dealing with excess capacity in 2008/2009,” OESA president and CEO, Neil De Koker, told me from Troy, Michigan.

“We had a dramatic reduction in output and it forced us to go through dramatic cost reductions. The industry as a while is quite competitive and profitable because we have taken the very painful steps in 2009.

“The reality is some plants have to get shut down – we shut down at least 13-14 assembly plants. We lost around 300,000 jobs in the big OEMs and suppliers. Today we are producing in the supplier industry about the same volume as we did in 2007, but we are doing it with around 100,000 fewer people.”

That’s not cutting much ice at the Belgian unions with the ABVV’s Champagne saying there were “no rules any more” and that he would try to squeeze every penny out of Ford.

Well, Ford will do the right thing and play by the rules in terms of compensation and says it will act more generously than most. As Odell said yesterday: “Despite what people may think, I am a human being and I know this affects families.

As the CEO noted, families in Genk, Southampton and Dagenham, will take Ford’s news very hard. But as De Koker equally observed: “If people have a choice they are never going to accept sacrifice.”

Is there an alternative? Unions are bound to take a radically different view from management.

The UK’s SMMT chief executive, Paul Everitt, told me yesterday: “Obviously we are disappointed [but] it is the inevitable consequence of the changes of the marketplace in Europe.”

Now will those other plants in Europe equally have to react to that changing marketplace?