British Bosses R Best?

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 02/07/2007 - 20:48

309 jobs are to go as Burberry plans to close its plant in Treorchy and relocate to China, where labour costs are cheaper because there are fewer of those pesky legal protections and union rights.

The workers' union, the GMB, is rightly campaigning against these job cuts, holding numerous demonstrations and getting the closure postponed for three months. No Sweat has been actively supporting the campaign, and various local activists plan to hold a protest at Burberry's tourist-attraction factory shop in Hackney shortly.

But something really bothers me about this. The GMB's main campaigning slogan is 'Keep Burberry British'.

Perhaps the GMB thinks that it can appeal to the 'Britishness' of the Burberry brand. After all, the company itself tells us that "Burberry is a luxury brand with a distinctive British sensibility". But echoing the company like this is a terrible and dangerous road for a trade union to take.

If the GMB makes an issue of the national identity of a product, then what on earth would it do if a sari manufacturer announced it was going to close down a factory in London and replace it with one in India?

The slogan doesn't even mention the job cuts. It leaves an obvious loophole for the employer, who could decide to keep the Treorchy factory open and cut, say, half the jobs - but still meet the GMB's demand to stay British. Look, the issue here is not that Burberry's bosses are British but that they are sacking workers.

The BNP could chime in on this campaign; and perhaps Plaid Cymru could turn up on a protest with their own placards adorned 'Keep Burberry Welsh'.

Oh, and Burberry's Chief Executive Officer, Angela Ahrendts, is American. She took over from Rose Marie Bravo, who is, erm, American.

The trade union movement is an international movement, a working-class movement. It has a duty to organise its members and supporters on the basis of their class interests and therefore to challenge nationalist feeling not to encourage it.

When we protest in Hackney, I'll be making my own placard - perhaps 'Save Burberry Jobs - global solidarity against global exploitation'. Or something like that.

Oh, and RMT's General Secretary shouldn't call the boss of London Underground "That white-haired American". Cos if he were a brown-haired Brit, he would still be our overpaid boss, still the man denying us our pay rise. And he was given his fat-cat post by the very British Ken Livingstone.

Trade Unions