‘MANAGEMENT’S message was ‘Happy New Year and you’re sacked’, ‘Season’s greetings, you’re stuffed’.’ Harry McCarthy is a bitter man. He’s one of 500 people thrown on the dole by Fullarton Computer Industries in Gourock, 20 miles from Glasgow. Without warning, the company locked the workforce out and told them not to come back after the Christmas holidays.
People whose sweat has made millions for a string of owners were cast aside like waste material. Fullarton is run by Sam Russell, a Scottish Entrepreneur of the Year for 2002. He is the sort of businessman New Labour tells us to look up to. Gourock is in ‘Silicon Glen’, the string of electronics plants that were promoted as the symbol of a high-tech future as the shipyards rusted. That all seems a long way away now.
There were mass job cuts in the area in 1998 and more in 2000. Now the axe has swung again. Fullarton workers gathered on Thursday of last week-anxious men and women who have seen their futures whipped away from them. With signs that the British economy is slowing rapidly, there are many more over the next few months who will get the same gut-wrenching news as the Fullarton workers.
‘They have done this closure in the most sleekit [devious] way,’ says Thomas Callender, who has worked at the Fullarton plant for eight years. ‘We did everything they asked for and then they close us in a moment.’ Delia Grant, a computer assembler, adds, ‘One minute we’re being told to pull together and we’re all on the same side. The next we’re turned away without a discussion or anything.
‘They didn’t even have the courage to tell us to our faces. It was a letter through the door. Perhaps they were afraid what we’d do if we were in the plant when the news came out.’
It was a cold morning as workers gathered for the meeting, a sea of black and grey and dark blue jackets, and the mood was as sombre as the colour of the crowd. ‘It’s like a funeral,’ says Tom Wilson, ‘our own funeral.’
Linzi McKenzie says the experience makes her feel powerless: ‘One multinational makes a decision and conspires with a contractor who whispers in the ear of another contractor-and we lose our jobs. How the hell can any of us have any influence on that? We got £5.48 an hour at Fullarton, less than £250 a week before tax. It was always hard work. It was a hard management and not much money. But it was a life and some cash. I just got through Christmas by scrimping and saving. Now I’m really frightened for the future.’
Davey says, ‘Electronics companies are getting rid of their core workforce and handing out jobs to contractors. The contractors use casual labour on a minimum wage-people who get called in for a few hours and then sent home as soon as the pace slackens. You read about the docks in the past, with people scrabbling for a job for a day. I sometimes wonder how far we’ve come.’
It was a union meeting last week, but the ISTC union officials did not even have a discussion on the possibility of fighting to save the plant. ‘We should march on IBM, show them we’re angry, do something to make them think twice about doing the same again,’ some people had muttered as the meeting began.
But there seemed no opportunity for them to raise the idea of resistance in the meeting. Instead the union official blandly explained management thinking. There was a flurry of questions: ‘Why should we believe them?’ ‘How can there be so much money around in the industry and yet we’re sent down the road?’ ‘Is this some sort of punishment for going on strike last year?’ (Gourock workers struck for their first rise for four years and eventually settled for a 2 percent rise.)
The union official nods sympathetically but says all of these questions are irrelevant because the plant is closing and that’s that. The redundancy money won’t keep anyone going for long-it is one week’s pay for each year worked.
There’s laughter when someone announces that redundancy money is free of tax up to £30,000. A worker calculates that you’d have to have worked 120 years to get that much. Chrissie is 19 years old. Her mother was sacked from another local firm, National Semiconductor, four years ago and has not worked since. Chrissie is looking at £300 redundancy. ‘That’s enough to cover me for a fortnight. If I don’t get another job I’m in real trouble,’ she says.
The meeting bristles as speakers from the platform tell them to grasp their situation as an ‘opportunity’, urge them to be ‘aspirational’ and tell them to be ‘demanding’. Nobody’s convinced. ‘I’ve been on four training courses in my life,’ says 32 year old Ben. ‘I’ve been a welder, an electronics technician, a forklift truck driver and an assembler. These people offering us training may mean well but it’s just a bit of sugar on a very nasty pill.’
Some workers are angry with the union. ‘The officials have got their eyes on the Scottish Parliament elections in May,’ says an ISTC member afterwards. ‘They’re worried that if they call a demonstration, let alone a strike, then it will embarrass Labour.
‘I think it would be great to embarrass the government in Edinburgh and London. ‘We can fight back. In 1998 we had a campaign and walkouts to win union recognition. We won. Now the union officials don’t organise any resistance.’ The Fullarton closure has shown again how little companies care for their workers.
It has also shown why we need fighting unions-unions that are prepared to resist job losses and closures, not simply carry management’s message to the workforce. There is a long tradition of resistance across the west of Scotland which needs to be reclaimed-such as the victorious occupation of the UCS shipyards in 1972 to stop them closing.
People employed in Britain work the longest hours in Europe, while millions are unemployed and millions more fear they will join them. The huge Trident nuclear base at Faslane is near Gourock. It is a symbol of the way resources can be wasted on weapons while people are left to rot.
None of these issues will be taken up by the major parties in the May elections, but they are important in workplaces and will be a major part of the Scottish Socialist Party’s campaign.
‘Management haven’t behaved as if we’re human beings.’
‘I’ve been more flexible than a rubber man. It hasn’t got me very far.’
SAM RUSSELL’S Simclar International bought Fullarton last August. As well as Gourock it has other plants in Prestwick, Irvine and Dundee. These will continue to operate, but many of the workers there are on even worse terms and conditions than the Gourock staff were. Fullarton’s crucial customer was Sanmina, which in turn was a contractor to IBM. Fullarton bosses say that Sanmina has cut its orders and therefore a plant had to close.
In the same week as the Fullarton plant closed, Sanmina took over IBM’s manufacturing operations in the area. IBM made a worldwide profit of nearly $8.5 billion last year. Sanmina grabbed $167 million.
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