Pacific Brands workers rally in Melbourne

Militant strategy needed to defend jobs

Hundreds of workers rallied in the Melbourne CBD on Thursday March 5 in response to Pacific Brands announcing they would sack 1850 Australian workers. Pacific Brands is the company behind many popular clothing labels including Bonds, Kayser, Hard Yakka, Holeproof and Berlei.

Pacific Brands is also closing plants in New Zealand and China which will result in a total of more than 2800 workers being made redundant. Their plan is to outsource most of their production to low waged contractors in the region. They have made it clear that their aim is to cut wages as profits have dwindled. In the face of a world economic downturn big companies like Pacific Brands want workers to bear the brunt of the crisis while they maintain their profits.

The job losses were announced after Australia’s “big four” banks called in their debts. After years of borrowing relentlessly to buy up their competitors, Pacific Brands now has to repay the banks a total of $810 million. The company also claim that there is an urgent need to cut costs after they recorded a first half year loss of $149 million.

Despite the situation of the company, senior managers have been well rewarded. CEO Sue Morphet had her pay packet tripled last year and took home more than $1.86 million. The company has also received more than $17 million in government handouts in the past two years with no strings attached!

The Textile Clothing and Footwear Union (TCFUA) have so far not talked about taking industrial action to defend the jobs. The union leaders support protectionist policies for the industry which include tariffs and bail out packages for companies who threaten to move production off-shore.

This type of protectionism, whether in the form of subsidies or import controls to reduce competition, is no real solution to the loss of jobs. In fact such arguments can lead to a nationalist mood developing amongst the workers as was seen at the Melbourne rally where some workers were waving Australian flags and chanting “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”.

Unfortunately Australian workers and Australian bosses have nothing in common. The Pacific Brands bosses have treated their workforce in Australia, New Zealand and China with utter contempt. Australian workers have much more in common with other workers in the region than they do with bosses like Sue Morphet!

Protectionist policies lead to nationalist demands and job losses being blamed on workers in other parts of Asia rather than on the employers. In this case it has been Australian bosses and Australian banks that have tried to ruin the lives of thousands of workers. The solution lies with workers building links across borders and organising joint industrial action to protect their jobs, wages and conditions.

There would be mass sympathy for the Pacific Brands workers if they occupied their factories and refused to accept even one job loss. Rather than give the company more tax payer funded hand outs the firm should be taken off the bosses and nationalised under democratic workers’ control.

As the economic downturn starts to bite job losses will increase. We are going to see more and more cases like Pacific Brands. The urgent task at hand for the labour movement is to develop a militant strategy to ensure that jobs are protected and that workers are not made to pay for a crisis that they did not create.

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