Our response to the consequences of Con-Dem policies has to be more than just papering over the cracks.
The government is trying to justify its assault on benefits by pitching the employed against the unemployed. But it will ring hollow to many who work in the Graphical, Paper and Media (GPM) sector, where the Con-Dem's economic strategy is helping to throw people on the dole.
2013 is proving to be yet another year that kicks off with a round of job cuts in the sector. Once again the Wyndeham and Polestar groups are in the news. Last week Polestar Varnicoat, employing some 63 employees, initiated a 30-day consultation process, with the very real possibility of it closing down, and Wyndeham announced on 7th January the loss of some 70 jobs from its Peterborough plant.
The Wyndeham Group was bought by the venture capitalists Walstead in 2008. Since then its focus has been on ‘expanding & restoring profitability’ by becoming more ‘efficient’ through ‘restructuring’ its business. All at the expense of terms & conditions and job losses at its plants, including the closure of the Wyndeham Impact plant in Basingstoke in 2011, while workers at Wyndeham Roche had two separate consultations about job losses and changes to terms and condition in the same year.
Polestar, one of the UK’s leading commercial printing groups, according to the TUC’s Worksmart site, with an annual turnover of some £275,700,000 (September 2011 annual report) has also been looking to boost profitability, through moving some of its more profitable printing facilities to other sites, and leaving other sites left with run down presses, with no hope of future investment. This has been a tactic used by bosses throughout the sector.
The key problem behind the cuts is said to be down to overcapacity in the system, with advances in printing technology producing, on the one hand, higher quantities, whilst being met, on the other, with lower demand due to the move away from print to digital publishing. The outsourcing of printing to low wage economies is also a factor.
Having said that, Britain still has one of the world’s largest print industries. It is the drive to sustain and boost profitability that is making the bigger companies such as Wyndeham and Polestar look for ways to consolidate their businesses and gain most market share. This leads them to mount further attacks on jobs and conditions.
We have seen resistance though. Workers at Wyndeham Impact staged rolling strike action and pickets in 2011 against the attacks and then job losses, and notably in 2012 we saw the fantastic campaign by Unite members at MMP Packaging in Bootle, where the union’s leverage strategy played a key role. However, whilst in some cases, such as the MMP campaign, workers’ resilience has managed to make gains in redundancy terms and conditions, we haven’t yet seen victories in terms of job losses and company closures.
Jerry Hicks a candidate in the election for Unite the Union General Secretary said “Unite’s manufacturing and leverage strategies can play an important role in trying to halt the trend. But we also need a clear message that job cuts and attacks on conditions are not an inevitability.”
Jerry Hicks added “Something more is needed, a new strategy is required that seeks not simply to negotiate the terms of restructuring but one which opposes outsourcing and closures, where Unite argues for effective industrial action, including where necessary, solidarity action and site occupations. An effective strategy of resistance must be at the heart of the fight to retain jobs and sites in the print sector and every other sector.”
Jerry's election website can be found here: http://www.jerryhicks4gs.org/