Workers occupy Calais factory
‘Fighting to keep a job and our lives’
WORKERS IN the French Channel port of Calais are showing how to fight when giant multinational firms try to close plants and throw workers on the dole. PAUL McGARR reports.
WORKERS ARE sat around tables in the foyer of the LU biscuit factory in Calais, talking and laughing. But this is no lunch break, and no one is working on the shopfloor. The 247 workers are on all-out strike and have occupied the factory in a fight to save jobs.
“If we don’t fight we will be crushed. If we fight we have hope,” insists Jeannine, one of the strikers. The LU factory is owned by the Groupe Danone French-based multinational, one of the biggest of the giant companies that dominate the world food industry. Outside union banners hang from the fence. In the factory noticeboards carry press reports on the strike.
People come and go offering solidarity, collecting leaflets and petitions. “I have worked here for 19 years,” says Jeannine. “I refuse to be sacrificed just to make even more money for people who have plenty already.” Nicole has worked in the factory for over 30 years: “We have to fight and stop this place being closed. If we don’t, it will be a disaster for Calais. There is massive unemployment in Calais already. There are no jobs for us if this goes, and what about the young people? It is shameful what this company is doing.”
“The people at the top who do this kind of thing, they are not people, not human,” agrees Sylvie. “They are willing to break people’s lives apart just to make more profits.”
Monique is the CGT union rep in the factory. She explained why the workers are fighting:
“The Danone group wants to cut 1,780 jobs in Europe, 806 of them in France. And it wants to close six factories, two in France-ours here in Calais and another at Evry in the suburbs of Paris.This company is making profits. In the biscuit division profits increased by 7.9 percent last year. Across Groupe Danone as a whole profits were up 10.2 percent. Shareholders dividends went up 13.2 percent. But they still want to cut jobs and close factories! In the last few years they have bought up biscuit factories across the world. They want to cut jobs here and move production to where labour is cheaper, simply to make more profit. We refuse to accept that.”
“Most of us have worked here for many years,” says Michel. “I feel angry at the injustice of it, even hate for the people who are responsible. “They just want more and more. They never have enough. We are fighting to keep a job and to keep our lives.”
Regine quietly insists, “We can win if we stand ‘tous ensemble’ (all together)”-echoing the slogan that has become a defining chant in the revival of workers’ struggle in France in recent years. Everyone around the table smiles, nods, and echoes “Tous ensemble! Tous ensemble!”
DANONE IS the world’s biggest producer of fresh dairy products like yoghurts and milk drinks. It is also the world’s biggest producer of sweet biscuits, and the world’s second largest producer of bottled water, owning the Badoit, Evian and Volvic brands.
It also owns other food and drink companies, including Kronenburg breweries, “British” brands like Jacobs biscuits, HP and Daddies brown sauce, Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, and a quarter of Scottish and Newcastle breweries. Danone has factories in over 32 countries, from China to Colombia, Thailand to Tunisia. It made over 400 million profits worldwide last year.
A MAJOR demonstration against job cuts and in support of the Danone and Marks & Spencer workers was planned in Calais on Saturday. Monique says, “Multinationals operate across the world. We have to mobilise everywhere, resist everywhere, fight internationally. We have to rebuild the tradition of solidarity from below. I hope our demonstration on Saturday 21 April will be enormous, and we welcome British workers to join us.”
Delegations from the London area planned to travel to Calais for that demonstration.
Popular support for strike action
THE LU workers turn up at work on their normal shifts, day and night, to help build the fight. They have daily meetings and send teams out to win solidarity. They have been amazed at the response.
“We petition and leaflet in the markets and outside the hypermarkets, outside the Channel Tunnel entrance,” Monique explains. “We always get a great reception from everyone. They recognise what we are fighting for. Everyone is fed up with the attitude of the giant firms which sack people while they make monstrous profits. People support us because they understand we have to stop this.”
The Calais LU workers travelled to Paris last Thursday to demonstrate at the Danone company’s headquarters. They were joined by Marks & Spencer workers who have been protesting at the British-based company’s plans to shut all its European shops and throw thousands on the dole.
Some 85 percent of people in France back the fight against the sackings. The jobs fight comes as a series of other struggles have erupted in France. Workers are growing fed up with a “left” government that has failed to deliver the change for the better people hoped for. Rail workers have been out on strike, and midwives are fighting too.
The protests and the wider mood have forced the French government and politicians to react.
Many local councils have taken up the LU workers’ call for a boycott of Danone products-banning them from schools, old people’s homes and other such public services.
The powerful Communist Party, part of the country’s governing coalition, is pushing the boycott of Danone products. It has veered to the left after it did badly in recent council elections.
Many leading figures in the dominant party in the government-the Socialists, roughly equivalent to Britain’s Labour Party-are also backing the Danone fight. Prime minister Lionel Jospin, of the Socialist Party, has even been forced to talk of passing new laws aimed at punishing profitable firms which sack workers. But in France, as everywhere, it is the workers’ fight that will determine whether politicians and bosses are forced to act against job cuts.
Why I’m voting socialist
“I VOTED Labour in 1997 because of their promises to create a new Britain. They’ve let me down. I want to vote for a group that represents me as a trade unionist, human being and worker-the Socialist Alliance is the only alternative there is. Labour’s trying to privatise the NHS. Privatisation doesn’t work in the public interest. The Socialist Alliance are a wide, electable group standing up for the right to decent public services.”
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