Sunday, February 01, 2009

The spill over from the bankruptcy of the Wedgewood china group has affected the Waterford Crystal factory in Waterford County Kilbarry Ireland. The famous factory was due to be closed as part of the restructuring involved in the breakup of the company. this is becoming an increasingly common scenario as workers are being made to pay for the mistakes of management when the devil comes to collect his due in hard economic times. The workers of Waterford Crystal, however, have responded by occupying their factory. It is a tactic that should be used more often to fight against plant closures. Potential buyers for the firm are apparently only interested in "the brand". This is just as bizarre as it sounds. Waterford crystal manufactured outside of Waterford would not exactly be "Waterford Crystal" except in the never never world of advertising. Here's the story from Google's AFP news service.
Ireland's Waterford Crystal workers occupy factory
DUBLIN (AFP) — Workers occupying the factory of Ireland's troubled Waterford Crystal pledged on Saturday to continue their sit-in until the future of the company is resolved.

Workers started their occupation of the Kilbarry factory and visitor centre in Waterford city on Friday after an official who has been running the company for almost a month informed staff that production would cease immediately.

Walter Cullen, organiser in south-east Ireland for the Unite trade union, told AFP they wanted the closure reversed while talks about the future of the company continued.

"We will continue to sit in until the situation is resolved. We have huge support," Cullen said.

Waterford Wedgwood, the maker of high-quality china and glass, went into administration and receivership and its shares were suspended on January 5 after efforts to find a "white knight" investor failed.

The official said the decision to cease manufacturing did not "necessarily preclude a resumption of operations in Waterford in the future."

Cullen said the receiver had been in discussions with two potential buyers, US-based investors KPS Capital and Clarion Capital.

The glass business, originally founded in the late 18th century, has been one of Waterford's major employers.

Cullen said 480 of 650 workers had received termination notices.

"Most of these workers would have long service and be aged in the 45 to 50 bracket. Even for the younger people, the chances of them getting alternative jobs are not great.

"We have had huge crises in the past. There have been nine restructuring plans put in place since 1987 and we have managed to resolve all those and move the company forward all the time."

Cullen said they had staged the sit-in because they believed the business was much more attractive as a going concern.

The glassworks visitor centre has become an import factor in local tourism, attracting about 300,000 visitors a year.

Waterford mayor Jack Walsh said the decision to close had come as a "huge shock."

"While there has been a clear awareness for some time now of how serious the situation faced by the company is, the soundings coming out of the discussions with the two interested parties from the US gave people reason to believe that a sale could be completed without the doors being closed at Kilbarry," Walsh said.

Manufacturing in Ireland has been hit hard by the global downturn.

The once-booming Irish economy will have shrunk up to 10 percent by 2010, Prime Minister Brian Cowen said on Wednesday.
Here's how the events were reported on the LibCom site from Britain.
Workers occupy crystal factory for second night:
Waterford Crystal workers have spent a second night occupying the main visitor centre at the company's factory in Waterford in the Republic of Ireland.

They are protesting at the decision by the receiver to stop manufacturing and make 480 staff redundant. The company, which employs 670 people, went into receivership at the beginning of January.

Union officials and Irish government representatives met the receiver on Saturday evening. Unions are expected to brief workers on developments at the factory on Sunday afternoon. The trade union Unite has said there are two potential purchasers of the business.

Earlier in the week, a statement by the receiver, David Carson of Deloitte Ireland, said: "The decision to cease manufacturing does not necessarily preclude a resumption of operations in Waterford in the future.

"The receiver is continuing negotiations with interested parties with a view to a sale of the company's assets and those discussions are focused on agreeing the terms upon which a transaction could be completed."

The employees have said they will not leave the plant until they meet Mr Carson.
The workers involved have, for the moment, decided to continue their occupation. As the following article from the Irish Times says they have been generously supported by the surrounding community.
Waterford workers to continue plant sit-in:
BARRY ROCHE in Waterford
WATERFORD CRYSTAL workers yesterday voted unanimously to continue with their occupation of part of the plant as they called on the Government to provide financial and other assistance to a firm of US investors bidding to buy the troubled company and retain manufacturing at the Waterford site.

Up to 800 current and former workers gathered yesterday for a two-and-a-half-hour meeting at the Waterford Crystal visitors’ centre where leaders of trade union Unite, which represents over 90 per cent of the workforce, briefed them on high-level discussions with trade union leaders, government civil servants and the receiver, David Carson, on Saturday evening.

Following that meeting involving Ictu general secretary David Begg and Dermot McCarthy, secretary at the Department of the Taoiseach, Mr Carson issued a statement yesterday morning in which he said that he would not reverse his decision made on Friday to make over 480 workers at the plant redundant.

Unite regional secretary for Ireland Jimmy Kelly confirmed that Clarion Capital, which includes former Waterford Crystal chief executive John Foley, had tabled a bid for the company and the union would be engaging with Clarion as soon as possible to discuss the proposal and how it can be supported.

Mr Kelly said the union would be seeking support from the Government including a financial package up to €30 million to ensure that workers’ redundancy and pension entitlements that are not met by Clarion as part of its proposal are still honoured and fulfilled.

While Mr Kelly was unable to say how many jobs would be retained at the Kilbarry plant or what amount Clarion had bid for the company on Saturday night, it is believed that around 300 jobs would be retained in manufacturing, leaving close to 200 manufacturing staff facing redundancy.

“We would expect the Government to be very supportive financially in terms what sort of grants are available . . . you can imagine in any town in Ireland if there was a taskforce set up after a closure and somebody came knocking at the door with so many hundred jobs, they would be given the money to set it up.

“We’re saying now that protecting 300 jobs here or whatever the final figure is must be given the financial support that is necessary and we also expect the Government to come forward with finance in terms of the workers entitlements under agreements that existed here,” he said.

Mr Kelly said that the financial package, which would total not more than €30 million, would also include pension provision as the union had taken legal advice that the Government was liable for pensions for retired workers as a result of not implementing a pension protection initiative introduced in other EU countries.

“We’re estimating €30 million max and that sorts out everything – it’s not earth shattering – we think it’s a small figure in terms of what the Government has done with banks and the €180 million given to farmers so in that context, we expect Government support.”

Mr Kelly pointed out the deal could be worked out in the context of the social partnership talks as the Government will have to recognise the need for assistance for Irish manufacturing in the current round of talks given the changed climate from when the last national pay agreement was concluded.

Asked what leverage the Waterford Crystal workers would have at the pay talks, Mr Kelly said the involvement of Mr Begg and Mr McCarthy in discussions since the company went into receivership on January 7th was encouraging for workers who were initially very disappointed at Mr Carson’s refusal to reverse his redundancy decision. Mr Kelly said the workforce was “very solidly united” on its approach to the crisis.

He added that prospective purchasers should see the continuing occupation of the plant as a statement of the workers’ commitment to ensuring that the plant was retained as a viable manufacturing facility.

Meanwhile, the occupying workers continue to draw huge support from business interests and fellow workers in Waterford, with several businesses sending out food and water supplies. Some families also visited the centre yesterday to deliver sandwiches, pastries and other food.
Finally, here's a posting on the section devoted to Ireland at the Anarchist Black Cat discussion board. It tells more about the solidarity that is being shown to the occupying workers.

Waterford Crystal Factory Occupation Enters Third Day:
Tonight, Trade union officials have been addressing a meeting of around 700 Waterford Crystal employees and former staff on developments regarding the company's future.
Workers started their occupation of the Waterord Crystal factory and visitor centre on Friday after an official who has been running the company for almost a month informed staff that production would cease immediately. They are protesting at the decision by the receiver to stop manufacturing and make 480 staff redundant.
Yesterday, an estimated 2,000 people attended a rally in support of the Waterford Crystal workers. In a show of solidarity, taxi drivers across the city switched off their engines and some businesses stopped work between 1pm and 2pm. Sleeping bags, blankets and food parcels have been donated locally.
The Starry Plough, the flag of James Connolly's and Jim Larkin's Irish Citizen Army, has been raised. Workers are also conducting their own tours of the visitor centre to tourists.

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