Prisme factory occupation: make the bosses think twice!

Submitted by martin on 27 March, 2009 - 11:49

At the time of going to press, the Prisme Packaging factory occupation in Dundee, which began when its owners announced closure of the company, is about to enter its fourth week. Dale Street spoke to David Taylor, one of the Prisme workers involved in the occupation.

What progress has been made with the idea of setting up a workers’ co-operative?

We have nearly finished this — we have just to meet with the accountant, and the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Clydesdale Bank.

We are hoping to stay here when we set up the new business, but nothing is set in stone. All the machinery is here, but it is under new ownership. Prisme transferred ownership when it realised it was in economic difficulties and did not want to have any assets left when it ceased trading. We have to buy the machinery from its new owners.

The only assets Prisme had when it ceased trading was some stock and some computer equipment. The factory premises are leased from a private landlord, so Prisme has no say in the transfer of the lease to us. In fact, Prisme owes money to the landlord.

We hope to be operational before the end of April. Four or five of the people who worked for Prisme have intimated that they are not interested in carrying on in a new business. We’ll start off on the same rates of pay, but go on to a three or four day week if need be to keep the business going.

Prisme depended on just one contract, with the Edrington Distillers whiskey company, to keep the company going. They never bust their guts to look for other customers. But our marketing will be miles better. We have a large customer base with small orders.

We are not staying here in occupation to get the money back which is owed to us. There is a legal route for that. We are staying here to raise awareness, we want to make employers think twice about sacking other workforces.

After three weeks in occupation, what kind of support are you getting?

All unions in Dundee, such as the FBU, the UCU, and the TUC (Dundee Trades Council), have given us donations. We’ve had lots of financial support from trade unions. People have also been coming in off the street with messages of support.

The Trades Council set up a fund for us for all donations, and has got us into different venues. We’ve also had e-mails and texts giving us support and pledges of donations. There’s about a thousand messages of support on our Facebook page. After only the first few days of the occupation we had received three hundred texted messages of support.

We’ve also been circulating a petition, and when the petition sheets come in it boosts morale. We’re not going to present the petition to the government or anything like that. It’s a way to highlight what’s going on and to boost our morale.

Prisme Packaging was not a unionised workplace. Has what’s happened over the last three weeks changed your views on trade unions?

There’s been a 100% change. It’s not that we did not want to be in a union, it’s just that we were not encouraged to be in a union. When the company first started we had three staff here from the Dundee Timex factory (scene of a major industrial dispute in 1993). The old manager thought that those women were too militant and didn’t want Prisme to be like Timex. But as soon as we get up and running we’re going to get into a union.

What’s your message for other workers who are faced with the prospect of losing their jobs?

We are not militant people. We’re not saying: lock your doors and occupy. What we hope for is for people to fight for what they are entitled to, for people just to stand up for themselves. Also, our occupation is a message to other employers, so that they might think twice before they sack their workforce.

We’re really just trying to raise awareness of both employers and employees, to show that people cannot be treated the way we have been treated, and that if people stand up for what’s theirs, then employers cannot get away with it.

The economy is based on people who work. It’s wrong that it’s the people at the top who reap the benefits, who drive around in Jaguars and Daimlers. I’ve never been political in my life but this has changed my views. Society has to change.

• Messages of support to: Prisme Occupation, Prisme Packaging, Tannadice Street, Dundee, DD3 7PT. Phone /text: 07970 875 455. Facebook group here.

Update: 6 Aprilix weeks ago, after the factory's owners had announced that it was to be shut down.

David Taylor, one of the workers taking part in the occupation, gave "Solidarity" an update on the occupation and their plans to set up a workers' co-operative:

"Our meeting with the bank which was due to take place a fortnight ago was postponed until last week. This was because our business plan was not watertight enough.

We had our first meeting with the Royal Bank of Scotland last Wednesday (1st April). They were very positive and liked our plan. But they wanted to review the figures and check the support we'll be getting from local development agencies and the local Council.

We have a second meeting with the bank today (6th April). Everything is subject to getting money from the bank. We need a big loan, or big overdraft facilities.

The transfer of the lease is not a problem, but it's is on hold until we get the money from the bank. We've also agreed a price for the machinery we'll need to operate the factory. Prisme transferred ownership of the machinery to another company before they ceased trading. The company has agreed a price for selling us one machine and renting out the other machinery.

If all goes well at the meeting with the bank today, we hope to start trading again next week."

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