This article originally appeared in Black Flag #206, Autumn 1995. It was written by Norwich Solidarity Federation, who had contacts in the plant and tried to organise action against the closure.
Nestlé Plant to Shut in Norwich
Nestlé's decision last year to shut the Norwich factory came as little surprise after years of rumours.
The company has long been condemned for the harm caused by their baby milk products in the third world. In the 1930s they bankrolled the launch of the Swiss Nazi Party. The nazis' smashing of effective workers' organisation in their factories guaranteed higher profits.
Their current yearly profits are £3 billion, obviously not enough.
The Response of Norwich Nestlé Trade Unions
Of the numerous unions that claim to represent the workforce, the largest are USDAW (shop and distribution workers) and the AEEU (engineers and electricians).
Their initial reaction to the announcement of the plant closure was decidedly directionless. Following a push from the city council and trades council, who organised a march and rally through the city, they embarked on a public relations campaign. This involved councillors, MPs and the MEP eloquently pleading to the company. A firm of consultants were hired at a cost of thousands of pounds, to come up with a formula which would make the Norwich site attractive to Nestlé - something that Nestlé themselves must already have looked at.
This display of hot air wasn't just buying time while the unions geared up for serious resistance, however. As the weeks rolled by, it became clear that it wasn't just a tactic to rely on the politicians and PR men, it was the whole strategy!
A similar strategy two years ago didn't stop the closure of almost every British coal mine. You'd have thought they might have learned.
Snatching defeat from the Jaws of Victory
The most glaring cock-up was the unions' total inaction in the one area capable of stopping the closure. Early on came declarations from York, Halifax and Newcastle workforces that they did not want to take Norwich's work. Here was something to build on. In this closure it is the three other chocolate producing plants that hold the key. With only half the time, money and energy put into the hot air campaign, the other plants' reluctance to take Norwich's work could become resolutions to totally black the transfer, installation and renewed production of the Norwich lines.
In not pursuing this, the unions opted to reject resistance and the fight was all but lost. All that remained was posturing. While Nestlé bosses hold ultimate responsibility for shutting the factory and throwing 900 families into misery, the unions must share the blame for their inaction, their neglect of workplace organisation and futile tactics.
Norwich Solidarity Federation
Following the announcement of the closure Norwich Solidarity Federation (SolFed) wrote to all the unions at the plant with the offer of support in any and every way, particularly internationally, as the French CNT organises at two Nestlé subsidiaries. SolFed informed the unions of the International Workers Association's decision to hold a day of protest, and the launch of a local support group.
To the disappointment of those involved in the support group, the Nestlé unions showed at best indifference, not even bothering to say "no thanks". Following the day of action, the Norwich unions had the gall to tell the local Trades council they were not informed. When the Trades Council was presented with copies of all the correspondence, there was only silence...
A clearer illustration of the bankruptcy of these unions and the need for the alternative methods and principles we promote could not be found. These unions succeeded only in cutting off their noses to spite their faces. The losers are all those who work for Nestlé in Norwich. We will not forget.
From Norwich Solidarity Centre bulletin