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Bradford mill faces closure

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Issue 1760

Bradford mill faces closure

‘We stand together’ against job losses

SHOCKWAVES went through the city of Bradford last week with the news that the city’s largest remaining textile mill could close. W & J Whitehead employs 640 black and white workers in Laisterdyke, Bradford. The city has already been hit by mounting job losses. Janis Denby has worked at the factory for 13 years.

She told Socialist Worker, “We found out the company was going into receivership last Wednesday. But management have known for at least a month. We are having to battle just to get the wages we are owed and holiday credits. If it goes bust we’ll be in limbo for 12 weeks before we can apply for any money. It’s disgusting. I’ve sweated blood for that company. We all have. Now we could be thrown on the scrapheap. We’ve been treated like crap. I worked for Courtaulds for 12 years before this and lost my job there. It’s all very well the government talking about economic success, but there are hundreds of families in Bradford who don’t know if they’ll be losing a breadwinner.”

Tariq Hussain, age 25, is a TGWU union steward on the night shift at the Whitehead factory. He says, “What hope can people have in this city if 640 jobs go just like that? My dad has already been laid off from there-now me. That leaves our household of nine people with no wage. I’ve been paying my union subs every week for five years. So have lots of others. The union should be doing something about this. “It can’t just sit back and watch it happen.”

As in the rest of the textile industry in the north of England, there has been a divisive employment policy at Whitehead. The night shift is almost 100 percent Asian men. The two day shifts employ mainly women, white and Asian.

Janis and Tariq are adamant that unity among the workforce, and among workers in Bradford, is vital to any fight to save jobs. “We stand or fall together. It’s as simple as that,” says Janis. “We can’t afford to be divided over this. There is a divide. But it’s between the workforce and the people who are threatening us with the sack.”

Tariq lives in the heart of the area that rose up last month against attempts by the Nazis to march. He says, “We have had the British National Party in Bradford trying to stir up racist tension. What can that racism offer white and Asian workers who face the sack from the same employer? If the jobs do go, it will lead to more despair and greater chances for racial division. But I believe we can unite. Most people in Bradford don’t want this racism.”

Whitehead is as “English” a firm as they come. It is a longstanding, “traditional” company founded in 1858. Yet it is threatening to sack white workers alongside Asians.

Cuts expose real divide

“THERE’S ALWAYS been a gap between rich and poor here,” says Alan Pearson, who works at textile company Bulmer & Lumbs. He has been in the industry for 46 years.

“I think there’s asset-stripping going on. Whitehead took over Woolcombers and Illingworth two years ago, and got the business from their order books. Now there’s people trying to make money out of breaking it up and selling off bits.” Whitehead bought state of the art machinery only three years ago. It has nearly 9 million of fixed assets-machines and buildings.

It and the banks it owes are vulnerable to any moves to seize those assets. “It’s about time the government did something, or was made to do something,” says Karen Miller. “It’s not just textiles. It’s the new industries that were supposed to make up for the mills closing. Pace Electronics has just shut, with over 400 jobs going. I work for one of its suppliers, Chase. So we are losing 20 jobs as a result. One closure leads to more jobs going. Everyone here knows this from the last recessions. And the same is happening again.”

Workers in the print industry, engineering, electronics, retail, call centres, textiles and others all expressed similar feelings in Bradford last weekend. Many felt that New Labour could not give a damn about this suffering. And there was a growing awareness that racism and the Nazi BNP are an obstacle to working people, black and white, living together and, above all, fighting to defend their common interests.

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