Workers at Waterford Crystal in Ireland have secured 176 jobs in the plant after an eight week long occupation of their workplace. Their example has begun to inspire other workers to occupy in defence of jobs across the UK.
The occupation of the Waterford Crystal factory began as a struggle to save 480 jobs, with news on January 30 that all the workers would lose their jobs in a take-over by American private equity company KPS.
Realising they had no choice but to fight, the workers occupied the factory, pushing past private security guards hired especially to keep them out and staging a mass sit-in. The city of Waterford rallied behind them with 3000 people attending a demonstration in pouring rain to support the workers of the iconic factory, itself a valuable tourist attraction and important for the local economy. The protests continued at length with workers running six-hour rotating shifts for almost eight weeks and negotiations continuing between the Unite union and the company’s receivers.
After a four hour mass meeting by Unite union members late last month, workers decided to end the occupation in exchange for a deal securing 176 jobs and a package of 10 million Euros in workers redundancies. The initial sale would have meant agreements for past and present workers’ redundancies would not be honoured.
The meeting was described as tense and angry. Workers were disappointed that their demands for Irish Government intervention were not met and they were left to fight on their own, essentially feeling they had no choice but to accept a less than satisfactory deal. The only way that all jobs could have been saved was if the government had agreed to nationalise the factory.
But the occupation should still be seen as a victory. From nothing, the workers were able to win real gains and have been inspirational to workers in similar situations, showing that resistance is possible.
Most notably workers at Visteon car components factories in Northern Ireland and England have occupied their workplaces after being told the factories would close and there was no money for redundancy pay. The workers in Belfast, Northern Ireland were the first to occupy, and had held the plant for almost four weeks as we went to press. Workers in North London occupied their plant after seeing the Belfast occupation on the news.
All over Europe, the world and here in Australia with the sackings of Pacific Brands employees, workers can draw strength and instruction from the Waterford workers in their struggle for job security and dignity.
By Matt Rochford