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THE NEWS that Wedgwood has decided to close two factories is a body blow for the workers of Stoke-on-Trent.
Wedgwood announced on 5 June that the work for both the Alexandra and Eagle Potteries would be transferred to the Far East.
Just like Royal Doulton before them, Wedgwood bosses tried to dress up the move as an attempt to 'safeguard' the rest of production in Stoke. But workers know only too well that this is another step to move ceramic production completely out of the UK and into countries with poor labour rights and cheaper running costs.
The leaders of the Ceramic and Allied Trades Union (CATU) made the obligatory murmurs about how outsourcing is destroying the industry and that the consumers do not want goods made abroad.
But, as with every other closure over the past five years, the union leaders haven't even dared to directly criticise the company in public, let alone stand up against the closures.
Wedgwood workers know that any battle to try to save jobs would be bloody and bitter. But not even to give the workers the option of fighting the closures is a disgrace.
CATU is not all bad. It runs some innovative projects using European money to retrain and upskill unemployed workers. It even has a successful not-for-profit employment service for redundant workers.
But merely mopping up the mess left by the bosses is not good enough. Most ceramics workers now see the union as little more than a third party employment service. The top-down nature of the union structure has ensured that any true grass-roots activism has been quickly stifled. Average members do not even feel part of the organisation supposed to represent their interests.
The union is attempting to diversify, they have recently taken on some TUC specialists to organise the unorganised at the many minimum-wage distribution depots. How these people can convince workers to join the same union which has let down and abandoned workers in the area so many times before is unclear.
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Article dated 21 June 2003
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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