The occupation at the Prisme packaging factory in Dundee has continued into its sixth day. 12 workers were sacked without notice last Wednesday. They were given their P45s along with letters stating that although the management accepted they were owed thousands of pounds in redundancy payments, holiday pay and other monies due, “Unfortunately, we do not have any money to make these payments to you." The letters “kindly” advised the staff to go down the route of contacting Citizens Advice and to take the “alternative route” of a tribunal to get the money due to them. No doubt, the company hoped the workers would go home quietly. They were wrong.
On Wednesday 4 March at 5pm, their last day of employment, the workers took the courageous decision to occupy the factory, to demand what was due to them and to expose the shabby behaviour of the directors of the company. David Taylor, one of the sacked workers said, “They treated us like second class citizens and wanted to wash their hands of us – we were not prepared to accept this.”
Like rats deserting a sinking ship, the managing director had resigned two days before the workers were sacked – probably in an effort to avoid liability. The solicitor representing the remaining director refused to tell the staff who in fact owned Prisme, claiming the director was not the major shareholder. After the workers investigated further, it turned out that 85% of the shares had, up to a year previously, been transferred to a company called GO Automatics, which was registered at an address shared with a Chartered Accountants, Dand and Carnegie in Dundee. Alan Dand was named as a director of GO Automatics.
Despite trying to contact Alan Dand and being told variously that GO Automatics no longer existed and Alan Dand was no longer the director, the workers refused to give up. Members of Solidarity and the International Socialists went to the offices of Dand/Carneigie on Friday and asked to speak to Alan Dand. He refused to come out to talk but, via his secretary, we passed on the message that unless Alan Dand phoned and met with the workers, we would have no choice but to come back in the afternoon with protestors and the media as well. He called the workers 20 minutes later and arranged to meet representatives of the staff that afternoon.
It now seems that Alan Dand as a Chartered Accountant held the shares for which he was being paid £3,500 a month by Prisme. This, it seems, was because the owners of Prisme feared the company was going to be in difficulties and wanted to protect themselves by transferring the shares out of their control. It is estimated that they will have paid Dand’s company £40,000 for this service, while claiming they have no money to make redundancy payments.
All of this is apparently legal. It shows how company and employment laws are weighted heavily towards the interests of the bosses and at the expense of the workers, who now face up to a 6 month wait and the decision of an industrial tribunal to see if they will get what is justly theirs
The workers’ defiant action in occupying the factory has received national press coverage and huge solidarity from young people, workers, trade unionists and socialists across Scotland, Britain and internationally. They spoke at a meeting of the CWU in Dundee on Saturday, organised to highlight the scandal of the threat of Royal Mail privatisation. Over £300 was collected at the meeting and many other donations have been made, as have solidarity visits to the factory by trade unionists in Dundee, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. A group of the workers are travelling to Glasgow on Monday to speak at a Solidarity public meeting with Tommy Sheridan and others.
Members of the International Socialists and Solidarity have been heavily involved in supporting the workers’ occupation, as well as organising political support. “The support we have had has been brilliant, it has made us feel a million times stronger. We have had people sleeping over with us, bringing food, organising collections. We would still be waiting now to speak to Alan Dand if you had not gone down to his office to demand action.”
The occupation, which still continues, has shown that workers will not be walked over by the bosses and employers. As David Taylor says: “We were not militant people – just little people who refused to be little anymore. We stood up for what we believe in and we are all proud of that.” The workers have demanded that the books of the company be open to inspection to see what the real state of the company was when they were sacked. While pursuing their legal rights for the full payment of what they are due, a number of workers have now agreed to pursue the possibility of setting up a workers’ cooperative to ensure a continuation of employment.