In the end, it doesn’t matter whether a firm has a Quaker tradition with close links to the local community. The bottom line is entirely about profit margins under conditions of global competition, as Cadbury Schweppes showed yesterday by announcing the switching of its chocolate production to Poland. Cadbury said it planned to shut its factory in Keynsham, near Bristol, by 2010, with the loss of 500 jobs, while 200 further posts would go in Bournville, in the Midlands, at the plant where it has been producing chocolate for almost 130 years. Cadbury Schweppes is also attempting to sell its US drinks business and plans to cut 7,500 jobs worldwide over the next few years, with the closure of about 15% of its manufacturing plants. Labour and manufacturing costs would be much lower in Poland, the firm confirmed. Company profit margins would rise to around 15% up from 10% currently.
To anyone who has even a passing interest in the way the global capitalist market economy works, the news comes as no surprise. Driving down costs through outsourcing or switching production is a key feature of corporate-driven globalisation. Since New Labour came to power in 1997, over one million manufacturing jobs have gone from Britain, many ending up in sweatshop factories in China and India. While this has happened, the trade union leaders have wailed and moaned – but done nothing. Reaction to the Cadbury closure was no different.
Brian Revell, national organiser for Unite, said: "This is the sort of behaviour we expect from the short-term, quick-strip private equity firm, not Britain's most respected chocolate manufacturer." He accused Cadbury of planning to sell its site at Keynsham in order to generate a windfall for the company. Union leaders have spent a decade in a futile attempt to persuade New Labour to protect domestic manufacturing jobs. But the government is absolutely in favour of global competition in jobs and production and in any case is barred from protecting industry by European Union and World Trade Organisation rules. At the time of the 2005 general election, MG Rover collapsed and the government refused to intervene. Union leaders helped the government out by defusing any possible fight-back. Earlier this year, research showed that almost a quarter of former MG Rover workers still had no regular job.
A fight-back by the unions at Cadbury-Schweppes would win massive local and national support. Unite could always live up to its name and bring the workforce and communities together to block the transfer of jobs. They should reject the closures outright and work up plans to occupy the plants and keep production going. This would promote a challenge to the ownership of the factories by shareholders intent on one thing – maximising profits at whatever cost to jobs and communities. In the end, pleading to government to intervene is a complete waste of time. New Labour is hand in glove with the corporations and stands in awe of the market economy. A campaign against the Cadbury-Schweppes closures could expose the complicity of the government and help create the conditions for alternative economic not-for-profit models and a new democratic political system to go with it.
AWTW communications editor