Around 250 people turned up on 22 May for a rally protesting the proposed closure of the McVitie’s biscuit factory in the East End of Glasgow.
The focus of the campaign against closure is a cross-party alliance to demand intervention by the Scottish Government to guarantee the factory’s future.
Having the local Tory councillor denounce Pladis (owners of McVitie’s) for treating the workforce with contempt probably helps build confidence (“everyone is on our side”). But, for obvious reasons, it also lacks credibility.
Demanding intervention by the Scottish Government also makes sense. Some 700 jobs (500 in the factory itself, and another couple of hundred dependent on them) are threatened.
But the focus on the government is putting a lot of eggs in one basket. And why should the future of a workplace be dependent on whether a government can offer a company enough taxpayers’ money to bribe it into remaining?
The closure announcement by Pladis was the culmination of a long-term strategy. There has been a long-term lack of investment in the factory. Some of the machinery is 60 or 70 years old.
In 2015 the size of the workforce was cut through voluntary redundancies, pay was cut by introducing ordinary rates for weekend working, and set working hours were replaced by “flexing” up and down. Workers were told that would guarantee the future of the factory.
But in 2016 management returned to the attack with threats to shut the factory, scale down production (and the workforce), or sell off the factory to another buyer if further changes were not made in working practices.
Having classed the workforce as “key workers” throughout the pandemic and lockdown, Pladis announced the factory’s closure even while Glasgow was still in level three. The first redundancies are due to be implemented in early 2022.
80% of the workforce is unionised, three quarters in the GMB and the remaining quarter (management and engineers) in Unite.
The GMB has put a lot of resources into the campaign to keep the factory open. By contrast, Unite has done nothing — only one post on its Scottish Twitter account, and no attempt to mobilise members for the anti-closure rally, at which there was not a single Unite banner.
Activists in Unite are challenging the inertia of “the fightback union” and demanding that the union commits itself fully to the campaign.
But both unions, GMB and Unite, also need to develop a strategy which goes beyond a cross-party alliance and pleas to the Scottish Government and focuses on trade union action, in the factory, in the supply chain, and in other Pladis workplaces, to defeat the closure.