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Cushion workers should tell their boss to get stuffed

The Town Taking on China, BBC2, Tuesdays at 8pm, and on iPlayer

Issue No. 2302

Sharon visits a Chinese factory (Pic: BBC/Dragonfly Film & TV/Tom Pullen)

Sharon visits a Chinese factory (Pic: BBC/Dragonfly Film & TV/Tom Pullen)

Tony Caldeira is a boss on a mission—to take manufacturing jobs back from China to Britain.

That’s the premise of this two-part documentary about a cushion factory in Kirkby on Merseyside.

Taken at face value this is nationalist nonsense. But you don’t have to scratch the surface too far to learn more than it meant to tell you.

For the narrator the point is to “pit Kirkby against China” and reclaim our “lost skills of manufacturing”. You’d think there wasn’t a single factory left in Britain until plucky Tony came along.

He’s so patriotic most of the cushions made in his factory have union jacks emblazoned on them.

Caldeira was also Tory candidate for Liverpool mayor—though the documentary doesn’t tell you that.

We do learn, however, that he pays his factory workers the minimum wage. “You can’t live on it,” they all agree.

One woman has to do an evening job on top of her full-time machine work to make ends meet. It’s hardly surprising that new recruits keep telling the boss to get stuffed.

Eventually it turns out that Caldeira also owns a huge cushion factory in China. So this “British lion” competing with the “Asian tiger” is actually taking on… himself.

At one point machinists Joanne and Sharon fly out to China to see their “competition” face to face. But their response is not rivalry but empathy.

They see that the workers at Caldeira’s Chinese factory are paid just £1 an hour, sleep in dorms within the factory’s grounds and only get to visit home once a year.

At the end the British workers are declared the “winners”. But it is obvious that the only real winner was the boss.

Watch The Town Taking On China on BBC iPlayer.

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Tue 8 May 2012, 16:29 BST
Issue No. 2302
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