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Marks & Sparks of resistance

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Issue 1743

Marks & Sparks of resistance

“ON YOUR Marks, get ready, get out!” “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Those were the slogans of protesters outside Marks & Spencer’s flagship Paris store last Friday. A revolt against the British company’s massive job cutting plans has rocked France and sent the country’s government into a spin.

Thousands of workers and supporters protested against the decision by Marks & Spencer to close all 38 of its European shops, slashing 4,390 jobs. All 18 stores and 1,800 workers in France face the axe. Here in Britain Marks & Spencer also plans big job cuts. Almost 700 workers in the firm’s mail order business and another 350 workers in its London head office face the dole.

This is all happening because Marks & Spencer will “only” make 430 million profit in the year up to March 2001. British union leaders’ response to the job cuts has been worse than pathetic. The best they could manage between them was a letter to the Guardian by MSF union leader Roger Lyons.

And he only moaned at Marks & Spencer’s “bad business practice” in not consulting workers, and gave no hint of opposition to the closures and job cuts facing them. As news of the jobs massacre came through last week, French workers and their unions showed what could be done.

People gathered outside the main Marks & Spencer store in Paris last Friday and Saturday. Workers and shoppers joined together to vent their anger at the way the company had acted. They held banners attacking Luc Vandevelde, the man responsible for the jobs massacre, and who is set to pocket a 650,000 bonus for pushing through the closures.

Workers’ banners read “Lucky Luc”, “M Luc Vandevelde: do you want to be a millionaire?” and “Jurassic Marks”. There were similar demonstrations outside stores in Lille, Lyons and Nice.

The threatened closures have sparked huge waves of solidarity from customers with the workers who are facing the sack. “Customer support has been incredible,” said Veronique Limousin, a worker at the Paris store.

A condolence book has been set up in the main Paris store and people have flocked to sign messages attacking the greed of Marks & Spencer’s management. Four French unions launched a legal challenge to the closure plan, claiming the decision to close the stores without consulting the workforce is illegal under French law.

The Paris court ordered Marks & Spencer to suspend the closure plans on Monday of this week. But Marks & Spencer bosses say they will undergo the consultation process and still close the stores by Christmas as planned. There are now plans for a nationwide wave of demonstrations against the closures. The fury at Marks & Spencer comes amid a rising tide of resistance to job losses in France.

Last week strikes paralysed much of the rail network over both pay and restructuring plans which could threaten jobs. And the hugely profitable French multinational drinks and yoghurt company Danone faced a growing revolt against its plan to close plants and sack thousands of workers.

Demonstrations erupted outside Danone factories in several cities. In Calais, workers at the Danone-owned Lu biscuit factory occupied the plant in protest at its threatened closure. They have won huge local support, and a national demonstration is planned in their support in Calais next Saturday, 21 April. Forced Over 85 percent of people in France backed the fight by Danone and Marks & Spencer workers against job cuts.

That feeling has meant that politicians, including government ministers, have been forced to denounce both companies. Some have even been forced to support calls for a boycott of Danone products. There is no reason why we can’t have the same kind of resistance to job cuts here in Britain.

Whenever union leaders have called protests over job losses they have won a massive response. The huge demonstrations against the threats to the Rover and Vauxhall car plants over the last year, as well as the mood on dozens of local protests, show what could be done.

But our union leaders either refuse to call protests and action, or when they do refuse to build on them. It’s about time we got a bit of the French spirit and told our union leaders to call real action to defend jobs.

Spirit is here too

SOME 1,500 workers at electronics firm Marconi’s British plants heard this week that they face the dole. The job cuts are part of 3,000 redundancies planned by the company. Workers at major Marconi plants in Coventry and Liverpool could face huge job cuts. That jobs blow comes after Compaq, the US computer company, announced last week that it is to sack 700 workers at its Erskine computer assembly plant in “Silicon Glen” in Scotland.

Workers in all the plants threatened by closure should follow the example of the French Marks & Spencer and Danone workers-protest, blockade and occupy. Marconi workers in Liverpool have already shown they have the fighting spirit needed. In March over 1,000 of them walked out on strike straight from a mass meeting in protest at management sacking six workers.

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