'WE ARE just reeling. We didn't expect that. It was a real kick in the teeth. Nobody could work afterwards. Everyone was dumbstruck.' That is how Norman Baddely reacted to the huge blow that has hit the Staffordshire city of Stoke-on-Trent.
Norman works at the Eagle pottery factory in the town, as do his wife and son. On Wednesday of last week the firm's bosses, Waterford Wedgwood, announced it was closing the Eagle and Alexandra factories, throwing 1,058 people out of work.
The Stoke area is still known as 'the Potteries' because of the long history of pottery firms dominating local employment. Over the last decade waves of redundancies and closures have devastated the area, leaving the name virtually meaningless.
Paul Kelly, whose wife works for Waterford Wedgwood, told Socialist Worker, 'Some workers heard the news on the radio before they were told at the factory. 'They don't know what they're going to do now. It's all going to be warehouses round here.'
This is the third swathe of redundancies Waterford Wedgwood has forced through in recent years. It sacked 1,400 workers in 2001 and others in 1998. Developers were already making bids to take over the factories at the end of last week. Bosses want to move production to China.
Waterford Wedgwood will continue to employ 2,400 people at the Barlaston factory in Stoke but many workers feel under threat. 'People feel cheated,' said Adrian Ashman, who works at the Barlaston factory. 'We were told the work would stay in the UK. This is a big loss. Everything's been run down. All of the potteries will be gone soon. Waterford Wedgwood said the Barlaston factory is safe for now, but I think it will be gone in ten years.'
'There's nothing left round Stoke-on-Trent,' said a woman who also works at Barlaston. 'The pits have gone. Royal Doulton's closed last Christmas. Whole families work at the Eagle and Alexandra factories so it's not just one person who's going to lose their job or house.'
'The big redundancies in the Potteries started around ten years ago,' says Stewart Crehan from Stoke. 'Since then it's been constant. There's always something in the news about closures. The closure of Eagle and Alexandra is unprecedented. People feel that Stoke is going to turn into a ghost town. All the new jobs seem to be in call centres. This is going to affect people who've spent ten, 20, 30 years working for Waterford Wedgwood. How are men in their 50s going to be retrained?'
The company claims it has to throw people on the dole because the business is 'unsustainable'. But it made £5.2 million profits last year. The man with the most shares in the company is Sir Tony O'Reilly. He is also chairman of the Independent News and Media group and has a personal fortune of £1.3 billion.
Disgracefully the government has said nothing about the job losses. Hundreds of people signed a petition against the closures in Stoke town centre on Saturday. As areas like Stoke are devastated, trade unions need to start leading a fight.
That would also help to marginalise the Nazi BNP, which won a council seat in Stoke in May.