Tuesday, 15 September 2009

DIAGEO: time for action

By Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser

The Diageo bosses have booted their workforces at Kilmarnock and Glasgow right in the teeth. These profit-hungry capitalists have spat in the face of mass public opinion – expressed through 20,000 marching in Kilmarnock, and 500,000 email protests to Diageo shareholders – by confirming closure of the 200-year-old plants. And they didn’t even pretend to consult; they announced this on day 71 of a 90-day consultation period.

The Scottish Socialist Party has from day one warned that multi-nationals like Diageo have only one care in the world: profit! They don’t give a toss about chucking 900 workers and their families on the scrapheap, virtually closing down the town of Kilmarnock in the process. And we have equally warned that any belief that such greedy profiteers can be persuaded by arguments into saving the plants was dangerously delusional – that the only language they will listen to is decisive action that wallops their wallets.

With this callous, arrogant announcement that they are forging ahead regardless, the time is rotten ripe for the unions to lead workers in a campaign of industrial action, to hit Diageo’s profit margins.

This could be accompanied by a truly international appeal for a mass consumer boycott, which would potentially have a devastating impact on a company that relies overwhelmingly on overseas markets, and its overseas image.

Already the campaign of protest emails and online petitions has garnered widespread support in the likes of the USA, one of Diageo’s prime markets, and the Teamsters’ Union has offered to support action by UNITE the union.

A tremendous publicity campaign has been conducted over the summer, on the streets, at football matches, and at golf and other sporting events sponsored by the world’s biggest drinks company. But unless the national union leaderships give confidence to workers to hit back with action that damages the production of profits for Paul Walsh and his cronies in the boardroom, there will soon be nothing left to fight back with.

Diageo’s chief executive Paul Walsh has just had another obscene boost to his wealth, at precisely the time he struts the world stage handing out redundancy notices to families who face a future of not knowing where the next meal will come from.

His ‘wage’ actually went down last year compared to 2008 – when he took home £5.1m. That previous income should help cushion him from having to exist on £3.5m in the year up to 30 June 2009 ... the very day before the closure announcements!

That means a ‘salary’ of £67,300 a week! And if that is not vomit-inducing enough, his pension pot more than compensated for the “fall” in salary: it rose by £3.4m to £11.7m during the past year. So if this arrogant prat decides to retire, he stands to draw a pension of £637,000.

Walsh assured the SNP government-led Task Force – in an interview on BBC Scotland – that, “I will be very open-minded when I look at the content” of their alternative business plan. But in real life he didn’t wait even the derisory six days that elapsed between receiving the governments’ proposals and publicly shattering the fate of these workers who have given a lifetime to creating his obnoxious levels of wealth.

Within a couple of hours of declaring his “open mind”, Walsh was in the midst of a conference call to his cohorts in the USA, where he boasted: “A lot of the restructuring we’ve announced over time will help gross margin. They may invoke some letters to our shareholders, as we close plants in Scotland. But it’s the right thing to do for the future, and we have firmly grasped that nettle in order that we do not see gross margin slippage.”.

This arrogant contempt buries all the hopes of the SNP government, Ayrshire and Glasgow councils, and some in the leadership of the unions that – as Alex Salmond put it – “we are looking for something that reconciles Diageo’s financial objectives with Scotland’s social objectives.”

They are irreconcilable! Diageo has just announced another 4 per cent rise in their profits, to £2.6billion. But that is still not enough for these greedy parasites, so they want to cut back from three to two bottling and packaging plants in Scotland, chucking 900 families into despair, to save themselves £42m a year.

And if they get away with this butchery without a real shot being fired, how long will it be before they try to ship whisky across the high seas to be bottled in India or China by slave labour, closer to one of their huge markets?

Whilst the unions need to build members’ confidence for swift industrial action, and appeal for supportive consumer boycotts internationally, the government should drop it’s grovelling pleas for Diageo to accept public money and save maybe half of the 900 jobs; it’s not going to happen! Instead, they should seize the assets that have been built up by two centuries of workers’ skills and labour, supplemented by public subsidies to Diageo in the past, and turn them into public property, sustaining all jobs, embracing the know-how of workers in creating a genuine alternative plan for a publicly-owned drinks and food industry.

The time for action has arrived. Vast public support exists for the Diageo workforce in their plight. That could easily be channelled into a movement to halt the closures, with calls on the governments of Edinburgh and London to step in and bail out these workers, the way they were both so keen to do for the bankers who wrecked the economy in the first place.

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