Action against Nestle factory closure, Marseille, 2004

Submitted by Steven. on November 22, 2006

Information about an action and assembly taken against closure of a Nestle factory in France, October 2004.

In the following example of a confrontation against factory closure, the workers did not threaten to blow up their factory. However the struggles against company closure are the most significant struggles in France at the moment, in terms of the amount of conflicts and the strength and hardness in how they are fought. Despite this they have not been able to develop a really strong support or interest from others, apart from perhaps the mobilisation of local (politically active) population. As well as the actions around Nestle in Marseille, there are also the examples of the occupations of the spinning factory Vrau in Lille, and at the food factory Lustucru in Arles, and the blockade at Snappon in Chartres and ST Microelectronics in Rennes. Up to now there has been neither clear successes nor a new form of struggle that allow for new hopes.

The Nestle factory in Marseille produces chocolate and instant coffee. Three years ago 800 people worked there, now only 430 are left. The productivity has risen by about 200 percent and according to the union the factory makes a profit of between 8 and 9 percent. In spring it was announced that production would stop in June 2005 i.e. that it would be outsourced to Romania and Russia. The workers could count on at best 10,000 to 30,000 Euros redundancy pay. The action day in mid October started with the usual human chain around the factory. About 2,000 people took part and the CGT functionaries were sure to check that no one blocked the streets and everyone was really holding hands - give some people a walkie-talkie and an armband! After that was a barbecue party, a general assembly, lots of wine and instant coffee and surprisingly good bands. In one tent they were showing a video made by a fork lift truck driver from Nestle showing lots of visits by Nestle workers to other companies, trouble outside the bosses' meetings and at the mayor and an impressive show of the Maori fight against Nestle from a Polynesian colleague. The joint demo with the Lustucru workers in Paris was also included. Copies of the DVDs will be given out to all the colleagues.

We were able to talk to the fork lift truck driver later and we asked him why the bosses had told them about the closure so far in advance, and thereby risked ruining the production for a whole year. He said that in similar situations the workers had spontaneously welded the gates together to stop the bosses taking the materials away. This time the company heads want to show that they are seeking a social solution with their early notice of the closure. He also said that the workers control the production in reality. They are only letting the products out after seeing concrete evidence, i.e. a receipt, because they suspect the management wants to empty the storerooms, thereby making out that production performance is low in order to economically justify the closure. Management points to the example of the factory in Mexico, where instant coffee is produced, as being 15 percent more profitable as in Marseille. The workers say that the higher productivity of the Mexican plant is due to a different chemical process which is used in the instant coffee production and which make worse coffee. As well as that the personnel department has reduced the number of temps from 100-200 to about a dozen. There are only a few immigrants working in the factory and most of them are from Italy and Spain, hardly any from North Africa.

The general assembly was not particularly spectacular. About 400 people took part, of which there were probably a fair percentage of militants from the various politico groups. As well as the main union rep there were speeches from people from the PCF (Communist Party of France) and from some Trotskyist groups. The contributions mirrored the various political tendencies, from the patriotic Stalinism of the PCF to the demands to occupy the factory from Force Ouvrier. Representatives of students and the unemployed also spoke. There was little concrete about the struggle itself, about how it might go forward, apart from declarations of solidarity with workers in similar situations (Lipton, Lustucru, Perrier). One bloke from STMicroelectronics made a good contribution when he said that one has to defend the company mainly as a base of collective power, rather than just focusing on the deterioration of working conditions. And one can’t argue from the perspective of a supposed economic viability because that often blows up in your face. He told of a meeting of STMicroelectonics and Thomson workers who want to build up a network of workers from affected companies ( Unfortunately there were no concrete reports on struggles in other Nestle factories, on the strike in Germany or the action against factory closure in Poznan. We found out later that people from the Solidarnosc80 in Poznan had already written a letter to the Nestle unions, but it was not distributed due to language and other problems. At the end of the meeting a very respected colleague and CGT rep said that along with the concrete struggle for the factory he wanted to not loose sight of his own struggle for the revolution and that both struggles belonged to each other anyway. Then there were lots more statements about anti-capitalism and the new society. Nothing special perhaps, but on the site of a factory in struggle it sounds different somehow.