Monday, October 20, 2014

Cadbury job losses Kraftily disguised in jargonese

Last weekend I was back in Birmingham, my home town, for the first time in about five years. [Apologies to anyone reading this who is miffed I didn't look them up. It's a long story, involving norovirus, deceptively cheap trains to Lichfield and last-minute changes of plan...] Due to a fuck-about with trains I had an excessively long journey back to London and decided to buy a Birmingham Post to keep me occupied.

And good job I did, or I'd never have found out about Kraft (or, as it's apparently now known, Mondelez International) and its latest turn as a comedy corporate villain. Short version: quelle surprise, Kraft are screwing Cadbury workers now that the country has its back turned, and apparently no-one really gives a monkey's.

Long version: The Post's front page story was about a leaked document called "High Performing Bournville - is this for me?". I haven't been able to find this anywhere online, and it's written in such excruciating American management speak that it's basically quite difficult to discern any actual facts from the bits of it quoted in the Post. Their columnist Jon Griffin had it about right when he described it as "part David Brent, part Kim Jong-Un’s public addresses". But the essence of it seems to be that Kraft are imposing a restructuring - sorry, "transformation journey" - which will result in hundreds of jobs being lost - or, if you prefer, "fewer colleagues here at the end of our journey".

As part of this, the document warns in somewhat sinister fashion that workers will be expected to "demonstrate a new set of behaviours"; there's no indication (at least in the Post's write-up) of what these "behaviours" might be, although it does vaguely allude to "varied shift patterns" for those who keep their jobs. Apparently this will be "dialogued" as part of consultation. If only the attempt to turn 'dialogue' into a verb was the most offensive thing about this document.

"Colleagues" who "don't want to be part of High Performing Bournville" are invited to take voluntary redundancy. There's even a stupid bullshit questionnaire that's been circulated to workers ahead of one-to-one discussions, with questions like "Are you a team player with an attitude for playing your part?", "Do you want to work in a factory where you are expected to meet all compliance requirements?", and "Do you embrace change?" Ooh, now let me think. I wonder which answers will help me demonstrate the right set of behaviours. It's a tough one...

Basically, Kraft seem to be fulfilling all the dire predictions made about them at the time of the takeover. Job losses? Tick. Crass American management style? Tick. Total disregard for the history and culture of the Cadbury company? Tick. The fact that it's happening at Bournville (or as Mondelez puts it, the "true home of Cadbury") feels especially ironic: I remember learning about Bournville at school as an example of enlightened industrialism driven by Quaker ideals. Something important is being lost here, and yeah, it makes me sad.

I thought this story might have been picked up by a few of the nationals, given how much fuss they made at the time of the takeover itself. But so far only the BBC and the Express (presumably on the basis that the villain of the story happens to be foreign) seem to have shown any interest. Apparently, no-one much cares what happens at Cadbury any more.

It's significant that this comes after a two-year moratorium on job losses conceded as part of the takeover. Kraft were obviously gambling on the nation losing interest once the spotlight moved on. And the evidence so far suggests they were right.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Thoughts on yesterday's TTIP day of action

So, after a period of being crap, I finally got off my arse and went on an action yesterday - which seemed like a good excuse to also finally get off my arse and start blogging again.

The TTIP action in Parliament Square was interesting for me in a couple of ways, especially given my minor obsession with the as-yet-non-existent fight against deregulation at a UK level. (For anyone not familiar with TTIP, this is a good introduction - essentially the latest attempt at a trade deal which allows corporations to ride roughshod over the democratic process.) Because of course, what a lot of people don't realise is that the corporate takeover of regulation is here already, in the form of the ludicrous, undemocratic, brazenly ideological 'one-in, two-out' rule which I blog about with such tedious regularity. We don't need a new trade deal to stomp all over our standards and protections, because the UK government has helpfully already done that.

But for me the TTIP action brought home just how difficult it is to get people fired up about these big, abstract, systemic things, which actually have the most egregious impact on things they care about. People will get out on the streets to demand climate action or workers' rights, but try getting them out to fight the war and not just the individual battles, and it's not so easy. To be fair, the disappointing turnout yesterday might have something to do with demo fatigue, being sandwiched between the big climate march and next week's anti-austerity march. And, of course, austerity is also a big, abstract, systemic thing, but one which seems much easier to communicate and mobilise around than deregulation - why is this I wonder? Is it just that it's so much more a part of public discourse, or is there something more fundamental to it than that?

On the plus side, even if the turnout yesterday was a bit underwhelming (and even if the protest was completely overshadowed by the Kobane protesters on the other side of the square), the TTIP campaign shows that it is possible to mobilise people to fight these things, if they're communicated properly. Two frames which seem to be working for TTIP, and which I think are equally relevant to the UK context:

  • Corporate takeover of democracy. Deregulation might be a boring and abstract villain, but unaccountable corporate power is not. The parallels with the UK regime - where regulations are being assessed solely for their 'burden' on business, and these assessments are then passed on to a committee stuffed with corporate lobbyists to be rubber-stamped - are obvious.
  • Eroding our hard-fought protections - food standards, workers' rights, environmental laws. Regulation is almost as rubbish a hero as deregulation is a villain: it has to be made real and connected to things that people actually give a shit about. These were the three that kept coming up at TTIP, and I think they work just as well at UK level.

Even if it's not as big as it needs to be, the anti-TTIP movement has grown from nothing into a serious force in an impressively short space of time. We urgently need to learn from and build on this to start challenging the deregulatory consensus in the UK.