Timex factory antagonists face up to failure: Strikers say bitter dispute will serve as warning to employers on wage cuts, while management blames lack of realism by unions

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The Independent Online
BOTH SIDES agreed yesterday that there were no winners in the bitter dispute at the Timex watch factory in Dundee. Management at the plant announced that it would close at Christmas.

Timex's American vice-president, Mohamed Saleh, said the company had lost pounds 10m at Dundee since 1982, pounds 2m in the last year. It had wanted 'a world-class manufacturing centre' at Dundee where 'the entire workforce would join hands; no hierarchy, no bosses, one unit where everybody shared the profits'.

He blamed the unions for being unrealistic and failing to inform their members correctly what was on offer.

Mr Saleh denied union suggestions that the company's only goal was to close the factory. He said he was sad, sorry and disappointed. 'We didn't win. Anyone who talks about victory is a fool.'

Laura Macfarlane, 23 years at Timex, said: 'We couldn't have gone back for their offer. We'd have been the laughing stock of Britain.'

Outside the factory gates on the picket line, the mood was one of inevitability rather than surprise.

A fortnight ago the sacked workforce rejected an offer from Timex that would have meant some being re-employed. The price would have been a 27 per cent cut in wages.

Christine Wright, a picket, agreed with Mr Saleh that there were no winners. 'Maybe we lost, but we weren't prepared to win for the price it would have cost us.'

Inside the factory the replacement workers had been told that their jobs would end in December. Timex staff members, many belonging to the MSF union, were also informed of the closure.

Gavin Laird, general secretary of the AEEU, the main union for the strikers, said it would take 'a miracle' to keep the plant open, but he was prepared to meet Fred Olsen, the owner of the company, at any time.

Mr Laird revealed that he had recently made confidential proposals to the company in an attempt to solve the dispute. He had called for the appointment of a mutually agreed independent consultancy to draw up a business plan to secure the future of the plant. Mr Laird pledged that the union would have abided by the findings.

He said national union officials would have co-operated in drawing up a plan much earlier if they had realised the plight of the company and had been contacted by management. 'I deeply regret that we were not involved earlier,' he said.

Employees' leaders argued yesterday that the Timex dispute might serve as a warning to other companies that workers would not put up with 'poverty wages'.

Blaming Timex management for the closure, Norman Willis, TUC general secretary, said: 'Employers who expect their staff to accept savage cuts in their wages and conditions are living in fantasy land.'

He said British industry would not match overseas competitors by treating the workforce as cheap and disposable labour.

Meanwhile Peter Hall, who this week relinquished his job as Timex UK president, said he felt sad, both for the dismissed staff and the workers bussed in through the picket lines who had worked hard in an attempt to make the company a success.