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Posts Tagged ‘Credit Crunch’

Fire Your Boss

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After an occupation and strike lasting over six weeks workers at the FCI
Microconnections in Mantes-la-Jolie have saved their jobs.

The strike began on February 24th with workers demanding assurances on their
future. Management refusal to give information on production at an equivalent
factory in Singapore and an announcement that there was ‘overstaffing’ led
workers to believe that the company was planning to shut the factory down
and shift production. Over half of the factory’s 400 workers occupied the
factory to prevent any removal of equipment.

Workers held the factory and picketed for seven weeks, in spite of a legal order
to quit the premises issued on the 26th of March. 100 workers responded by going to the company
headquarters in Versailles and blockading the chief executive in the building for
four hours to demand negotiations.

Management continued to deny that any redundancies were planned until the
CGT uncovered a document detailing a redundancy plan for November on the
3rd of April. This increased support amongst the workers, especially the
non-strikers.

A week later after negotiations between the CGT and CFDT unions and management, mediated by the region’s sous-prefet and the work and employment bureau, an agreement was announced. The workers had succeeded in winning a guarantee that the factory would stay open until 2014 with no job losses before 2011. Workers also won payment for 27 of their 34 strike days.

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Former employees of a packaging firm in Dundee have seized the factory and have started a workers’ co-operative to run the failed firm themselves.

Incredibly, both business chiefs and socialist die-hards are hailing the move as revolutionary and say similar the worker buy-outs could be the way to stave off mass unemployment during the recession.

The Soviet-style bid to take over the company began last week when staff members at Prisme Packaging were told the business was to cease trading with immediate effect, and that there was no money in the coffers to pay their redundancy. The 12 disgruntled employees decided to occupy the factory until they were paid.

The group contacted the Big Issue Scotland after their first night at the plant. Speaking from inside the doors, 25-year-old employee Matthew Duffield said: “We’re very frustrated and we want what we are entitled to by law.”

During their week-long sit-in, the workers became convinced they could keep the business running. After consulting Dundee North Law centre, they are now taking legal action to secure their redundancy money and ensure Prisme is dissolved legally.

“They treated us like second class citizens and wanted to wash their hands of us,” said employee David Taylor. “We were not prepared to accept this. We’re not militant people – just little people who refused to be little anymore. We stood up for what we believe in and we are all proud of that.”

The Dundee employees have now forged plans to take over the cardboard box-making business as a collective, and begin trading again under a different name. Some members of staff have worked at the factory for 14 years, and contacted clients to ensure enough business would still be there.

“We know what we’re doing and we think we can run it better ourselves,” said Duffield. “We have customers quite willing to come back to us. It’s early days, but we’re confident we can make it work.”

Duffield said the co-operative was already negotiating to rent the industrial unit warehouse from the existing landlord, and have been give first refusal on the cutting tables and box-making machines by the firm who had leased Prisme equipment.The Dundonian workers have received supplies from friends and family, and funding from local trade unionists.

Business bodies have hailed their “entrepreneurial” ingenuity, oddly in tune with the socialist parties who have also united in praise of the defiant enactment of Marxist principle.

“It’s a tale of people getting to the end of their tether and saying we’re not taking anymore,” said firebrand socialist and Celebrity Big Brother contestant Tommy Sheridan. “They’ve showed tremendous courage to take the stand they’ve made. They’ve turned their defiance into something positive, and it shows their initiative to take it further and start a cooperative. They may not have realised it, but they’ve planted a flag for socialism and worker’s control.”

A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses said: “It is a viable way forward for people. It shows there are opportunities for the entrepreneurial spirit even as businesses collapse this year. Anything that helps save jobs and keeps places open can only be a good thing.”

Dundee MP and SNP deputy leader in the Commons Stewart Hosie is also excited. “I am delighted that they have taken it upon themselves to start a phoenix company which will benefit from their experience and their years of working together. They are doing all the right things to make this business work as a co-operative.”

The Dundee start-up comes in the same week as one woman in Dorset re-opened the Woolworths branch she worked in before the company’s collapse.

Claire Robertson, 34, who had been with the firm for 18 years since starting as a Saturday girl, re-launched the popular Dorchester branch as Wellworths. She has promised to keep the famous Pick ‘n’ Mix selection, and hopes the shop will become known as Wellies.

None of the management from Prisme Packaging were returning calls for comment.

Adam Forrest, Big Issue Scotland

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According to the Italian union Cgil, today – 4th April – 2.7 million people marched in the streets of Rome to demonstrate against the current financial crisis.

According to the police headquarters, only 200,000 people were there. In reality, five different processions took hours to get to the main meeting point, the Circo Massimo. Dozens of trains, two boats and 7,000 buses took people from all over Italy to Rome in order to demonstrate against the inequality of income (a recent survey showed that in Italy one out of three people state to have a year-income of less than 10,000 Euros while 0.9 per cent of the population state they rely on an income of over 100,000 Euros) and to ask for fair social measures.

Many politicians joined the demostration. Among others, Dario Franceschini, the secretary of PD (the Democratic Party of the left). Many were also families and students. There were also many immigrants, often illegal, coming from all over the country. One of them talked to the crowd on the stage denouncing how immigrants are the first to lose their jobs and how the increasing racial discrimantion in Italy is serious and dangerous.

Many stories were reported by workers on the stage. Among the others, one of a 28-year-old teacher reporting how from next September, 42,000 people working in schools will be made redundant.

On the stage, musicians and artists also performed. The son of a factory-worker told the story of his dad who died on the job due to the poor application of safety rules (Italy is characterized by a very high rate of deaths on the jobs, called in Italian “white deaths”, a recent survey showed that in Italy 2,500 accidents happen everyday on the job and three where people die).

When the secretary of Cgil mentioned the name of the Prime Minister Berlusconi, the crowd started to whistle and shout so loud that he had to stop for few seconds.

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So, what comes next? This week’s protests over the G20 meeting in London’s Docklands have ended and the focus of discussion is on police tactics and civil liberties rather than any of the questions raised by protesters. Their recession has not become our revolution, it looks certain that we will pay for their crisis, and the streets were most definitely not reclaimed.

The violence, most of it clearly provoked by police, distracted from the message of the protests (although the message itself was somewhat obscure). The protests themselves distracted from the real, difficult tasks facing the left. The general public were well-prepared for the violent scenes and police brutality by a media that was stocked full of bombastic rhetoric from “anarchists”, as well as predictions of chaos and a “summer of rage” from police sources.

It’s difficult to gauge accurately the impression that the average person gets of these protests, although one imagines it is not one of positive identification. The Guardian’s Duncan Campbell, by no means hostile to the protestors, describes the crowd as follows:

“playful, peaceful, harmless group of protesters, including rappers, sax-players, jugglers, spliff-rollers, students, CND campaigners, passers-by, and men dressed as police officers and wearing blue lipstick.”

This week was just the latest in a long succession of these anti-capitalist carnivals: J18, Seattle, Prague, Genoa, Evian, and plenty more in between. The question, as after all these events, is what happens now. Taking the J18 protest in the City of London in 1999 as a starting point, we can count this latest spectacle as something of a tenth anniversary. They are clearly not getting any larger, gaining any more social force (even in the midst of the greatest capitalist crises in decades), or becoming any more effective.

How to make them so? Both left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell, and Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb, say we need bigger protests in future, Richard adding that these should coincide with “a general strike or something” and John suggesting they should be combined with direct action.

But surely both these arguments are to mistake a tactic for a strategy. Without new methods and strategies it is difficult to see these protests becoming any more significant, hopes for a general strike any less remote, nor direct action any more isolated from wider social forces.

It is arguable that there is also a general confusion between defensive and offensive orientation in these protests. Working class communities throughout the country are under attack on a whole range of fronts, the government is preparing a crackdown on welfare, and pushing through fresh privatisations. Yet the left’s rhetoric and tactics would suggest we are in the ascendency. This suggests an urgent reappraisal of our posturing.

Meanwhile, the far more significant news this week was the occupations and protests by employees at Visteon car parts factories in Belfast, Basildon and Enfield after the firm made 565 workers redundant. The company was part of Ford until 2000 and workers are fighting for a decent redundancy package from the company. Our full support goes to these workers. People should email solidarity messages to steve.hart@unitetheunion.com

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