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Celebs fail to save Burberry
FEELINGS RAN high as Burberry workers marched out of the Treorchy plant for the last time last week. Burberry had succeeded in closing the factory, sacking 300 workers and moving production of its expensive polo shirts to China.
Dave Reid and Socialist Party Wales members
Anger was mixed with tears as most of the workforce finished their last shift and assembled for the march. Generations of families had been employed at the factory. Some workers had worked there for over 40 years before being thrown on the scrapheap by Burberry.
People lined the streets of Treorchy, applauding the workers as they marched behind a brass band and the Treorchy Male Voice Choir. This was reminiscent of the march back to work of Rhondda miners at the end of the 1984-85 strike. But the miners at least had the chance to fight for their jobs.
At Burberry's there were tears of frustration as well as sorrow. Burberry workers had wanted to fight. 70 gathered at a meeting organised by the Socialist Party in Treorchy when the closure was announced, followed by factory gate meetings of hundreds.
But GMB full-time officials instructed their members not to take part and took over the campaign to prevent militant action. The union leaders had thrown cold water on attempts to mobilise marches and action before Christmas when the company was at its most vulnerable.
As one marcher commented: "We should have been marching in September not today".
Some workers stayed away from the GMB-organised event and one or two ripped GMB stickers off the backs of workmates' coats.
The union leaders had relied solely on a high-profile campaign, recruiting celebrities to embarrass the company to reprieve the plant. Tom Jones, Ioan Gruffudd, Emma Thompson and Alex Ferguson were lined up. Pickets were set up at Burberry stores in London, USA and France.
This campaign would have been a useful addition to a militant campaign of action by the workforce linking up with solidarity action in Burberry plants in Yorkshire and the wider South Wales labour movement. But on its own it could only embarrass not hurt the company.
Burberry's had to be hit hard to prevent the closure of the plant and that meant allowing the workforce to organise its own militant campaign, combining overtime bans and strike action, possibly preparing for a factory occupation to save the plant.
In the end Burberry conceded slightly higher redundancy terms, a measly trust fund for the local community and the plant itself, which in any case is worthless to the company.
In The Socialist 4 April 2007:
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party reviews
PCS takes industrial action
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Workplace news and analysis