A huge crowd of 20,000 people marched through Kilmarnock last Sunday against drinks multinational Diageo’s proposed closure of its Johnnie Walker whisky plants in the town and in Glasgow.
The decision would toss 900 workers onto the dole queue. It was made in spite of the fact that Diageo announced profits of £1.64 billion last December.
East Ayrshire council organised the march. It was led by the Kilmarnock football club, which has launched a petition against the closure plans that has been signed by 25,000 people.
There were banners and delegations from many unions on the march, including the EIS, GMB, Ucatt, RMT and the PCS. Workers from the local Glacier Metal factory also attended.
Adam Steele, a Diageo worker for 33 years, said, “Diageo makes all these profits and this is how they treat us. This is the last major employer in this town and it will affect everyone.
“We should fight for every job both here and in Glasgow.”
Graeme, another worker, said that 64 despatch warehouse staff at the Hurlford plant will be transferred over to another company, the Malcolm Group, from Diageo.
Workers on the weekend shift came out to join the protesters and cheer as the march came past the Johnnie Walker factory on Hill Street.
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), took part in the march and spoke at the final rally.
He described the devastating unemployment the closures would cause as “socially unacceptable”. Salmond added, “We don’t just want a heritage. We want working factories in communities.”
Other speakers at the rally included representatives from Unite and the GMB as well as former defence secretary and Labour MP Des Browne.
However, none of them gave concrete proposals on how workers and their supporters can successfully resist the cuts. Salmond is, after all, the head of the Scottish government.
The speakers’ main solutions were to appeal to “alternative business plans” or the better nature of Diageo bosses.
Len McCluskey, Unite’s assistant general secretary, criticised Paul Walsh, the chief executive of Diageo who receives a salary of £5 million, a year. McCluskey commented that the company was driven “by one thing only – greed”.
John Quigley, the Unite regional secretary, said, “If the focus is on the bottom line, on profitability, we have no chance to save these jobs.”
Because of the company’s money making drive it is unlikely that an appeal to the bosses’ compassion will work.
Some protesters suggested an international boycott of Diageo’s products should be used as part of the campaign.
The company sponsored a Homecoming event in Edinburgh last Saturday where free whisky was handed out.
One worker said, “It’s sickening how they try to maintain their image while they treat their workforce – the people who produce the whisky – with total contempt.”
The march was a superb show of solidarity and revealed the potential for a mass fightback.
It is clear from its size that any resistance from the Johnnie Walker workers themselves would receive massive support locally and nationally.
With the factory occupations at Visteon, Waterford, Prisme and now Vestas, we have seen that workers can take on their bosses.
Marchers gave activists from the Fight for the Right to Work campaign a warm response.
The campaign has called a meeting for Thursday of this week to discuss how to continue the fightback.