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Coca Cola: The Price of Loyalty

Gearoid O Loingsigh 

29th April 2005

Coca Cola has announced that it is to close its bottling plant on the Naas Road in Dublin and to close down other facilities around the country with the aim of shifting production to a new mega plant to be built in Antrim.

The move is not entirely unexpected as Coke has already signalled its intention to reduce its workforce and build a new state of the art technology plant.  The question was where the plant would be.  A plant to be built in South County Dublin would have meant far fewer job losses on the Naas Road.

The Naas Road plant has not been singled out for attention.  The restructuring of the company is part of a worldwide reduction in staff and plants.  Earlier this year Nevill Isdell, the Coke CEO, announced the plans for Ireland and also the closing of eight plants in Germany.  Why Isdell the CEO of Coke, who claims to have no control over bottling plants anywhere in the world, and certaily no connection with plants invovled in the murder of Columbian trade unionists, would make the announcement and not local management is obvious, Coke do in fact decide everything in relation to the bottling plants including those in  Colombia.

The Naas Rd plant is significant though.  The shop stewards at the plant, egged on by SIPTU bureaucrat Anne Speed, ran a very public campaign against the boycott of Coca Cola.  Their position oscillated between giving Coke a clean bill of health and claiming that their differences with the Columbian union Sinaltrainal were merely tactical.  When pressed on the issue, SIPTU were unwilling to say that they believed that Coke may be guilty, despite being in possession of private correspondence from the IUF which recognised that in the case of the murder of Segundo Gil there does seem to be substance to the allegations.

SIPTU intervened in students referenda on coke and also turned up a public meetings claiming that the boycott was wrong.  They opted increasingly to concentrate on the threat to jobs that the boycott would mean.  Their reaction to the closure announcement is therefore very interesting.

First they have stated that it is as result of a failure in Government policy not to hang on to manufacturing jobs in the south.  This ignores the fact that workers in Ireland both North and South would be hit by the decision one way or the other.  So much for class solidarity (It should be borne in mind that Anne Speed often demanded her version of this from the boycott campaign).  They seem to have no interest in blaming a company which in order to maximise profits is about to close down a number of its facilities in Ireland.

Their response and proposals for action are also interesting:

  “The Union has made representations both to the management of Coca Cola and the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment with a view to maximising the employment content in Coca Cola’s development plans.”
The plan of action is mere representation.  The fact that SIPTU was willing to blame the boycott for job losses was SIPTU signalling in advance that it had no intention of fighting any such losses.  Here we have the living proof.  Now that real job losses are on the cards we have a muted reaction from SIPTU.  If they put have the effort into fighting these losses that they put into running an anti boycott campaign they might just go somewhere.

The worst part of it all is that SIPTU through Anne Speed have stated that

 “So, even though the company’s investment of €80 million is welcome, there is huge disappointment at the prospect of losing so many jobs”. 
What sort of union says that an investment plan that reduces the work force is welcome and that they are merely disappointed at losing so many jobs?  This contrasts to the insults that directed at the “petty bourgeois” and “middle class” students and teachers and the “sectarians” on the left

Their reaction contrasts starkly with that of Sinaltrainal whose leadership have not only fought job losses but they even went on hungerstrike.  There is no fear of Liberty Hall skipping breakfast for their affiliates in the Naas Rd  bottling plant.

The victims in this situation are the workers in the Naas Rd bottling plant who were led up the garden path by the union bureaucracy who encouraged them to engage in a campaign to protect the company’s image and more importantly its market share.  Their thanks for this loyal service is the scrap heap and the union which so encouraged them to do so has nothing to say except that its is disappointed and that it:

 “raises serious concerns about the strength of the Government’s commitment to the manufacturing sector of our economy.”
The workers have been repaid for the loyalty with the only coinage a company like Coke knows, “self interest”.  It was in the workers interest to show their solidarity with the Colombian counterparts and fight the company.  They were prevented from this by the union bureaucracy and instead an alliance with the company was formed. 

The only shield that workers have against multinational capital is solidarity at a local and international level.  The Irish trade union bureaucracy are a barrier to such solidarity.  Defence of workers both in Ireland and in Columbia  involves taking the union back from this corrupt bureaucracy.


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