Two towns slug it out on the jobs see-saw: Dijon and Cambuslang once shared an employer. Now one's gain is the other's loss. James Cusick reports
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Sunday 07 February 1993
The reluctance to talk was also reflected inside the factory. Earlier last week Hoover's management were all smiles as they proudly announced 450 new jobs - a rare and welcome announcement in Cambuslang, where the unemployment rate is 14 per cent.
But by the end of the week, the factory was closed to the media. A Hoover spokeswoman said there had been anger at how the good news 'had been turned into a political issue. We are unable to comment on anything. Nothing. OK?'
Des Moines, Iowa, where Maytag - Hoover's parent company - has its headquarters, is thousands of miles from Europe. But the decision by its executives to shift the 450 jobs from Dijon in Burgundy to Cambuslang, Lanarkshire, posed questions that go to the heart of the European Community. Should Europe be a level playing field? Should the unions of different member states compete with each other? Are British workers - with less employment protection, lower wages and unions eager to make deals - the Third World workers of Europe?
Coal and the furnaces of 18th- century ironworks and, later, steelworks forged Cambuslang. Trams and the railway brought the village within the influence of nearby Glasgow at the turn of the century, but it remained a place where working usually meant getting your hands dirty. Hoover arrived during the Second World War, making parts for Lancaster and Halifax bombers. It is now the town's main employer.
Behind the old-fashioned counter of the Station Cafe, overlooking the large Hoover sign in Cambuslang, Fred Pontiero reminisced last week on how 'the Sixties' developers ripped the heart out of this place'. Mr Pontiero's family has run the cafe for 60 years. He calls Cambuslang - population 40,000 - 'the biggest village in Scotland'. His first glimpse of Dijon was on the television screen. 'It looks like a beautiful, affluent, medieval town. When they showed Cambuslang it looked like a bomb site.'
Half the main street was demolished in the early 1960s to make way for high-rise council flats and a flat-roofed shopping precinct.
Of the 975 workforce at Hoover, an estimated 80 per cent live locally. The basic wage of pounds 190 per week, plus overtime, is looked upon as 'good money'. Local house prices are low - a two- bedroom flat costs about pounds 29,000 - and falling.
Hoover favours Cambuslang now, but the news follows 14 years of job attrition. At the start of the 1980s, 6,000 people were employed at Cambuslang.
In the bars of Cambuslang most people applaud the union deal, which will have kept the factory there going. But some former Hoover employees are not uncritical of the union's deal. One said: 'They're playing one against the other. France has won before. For us this time I think it was a case of survival. But they've been hammered. I think everybody will end up suffering.'
AS HOOVER'S Scottish gates closed to scrutiny, the Dijon factory management and workers prepared for an open day this weekend. 'We will show the town what is being lost' said one French worker. A banner spans the road leading to the Hoover complex, its red letters spelling L'Amerique assassine la region.
Beside the security hut at the main gate of the factory three workers huddled around a bonfire. For Marie-France, Jean-Marie and Yvette, the end of Hoover at Dijon ends their combined total of 65 years making vacuum cleaners. They are angry that two weeks after they heard of the closure, Hoover has told them nothing officially. The plant is trying to get back to normal working after a protest strike, but they have been sent out by their bosses to maintain the public protest.
All three are in their forties and have no qualifications. 'It will be difficult' says Marie- France. As they try to keep warm a truck passes bearing a Hoover company slogan: Hoover: Qualite d'abord - quality first.
Senior management at the French plant cite a recent independent study which put its efficiency level higher than that of Cambuslang and showed that consumer recalls for its products were less frequent.
'Quality should come before productivity,' said Jean-Marie. 'Numbers are all the money men understand.'
The workers have few good words for their own union either. 'They are weak' is the usual comment. However, Christian Muller of the CFDT, the Confederation of French Workers, the majority union inside Hoover, says Maytag 'had decided long ago to close Dijon'.
In America, unions face a new phenomenon called 'whip sawing' where large firms with plants throughout the United States play one site against the other for lower wage deals. Now European unions fear the tactic is being used on this side of the Atlantic. Mr Muller, however, maintains his union was never given the opportunity to play. 'We were not told of any negotiations. No one asked us.' But, ifthey had offered Dijon the Cambuslang package, would the CFDT have accepted it? 'Maybe the reason they didn't ask us was because they knew we would say no. It is a stupid and bad deal,' Muller says. 'Every worker, not just the Scots and French, has lost something in this deal. Next time maybe Scotland will lose to Taiwan.' He fails to mention that two years ago Taiwan lost to Dijon - when Hoover switched production of its hand- held cleaner from the Far East to France, mainly because of distribution costs.
The deal Muller says he would have rejected involves a degree of lost union representation and status, a reduction in night shift allowance, an increase from one to two years for temporary working contracts, and the loss of a number of working bonuses.
A pounds 5m budget of development allowances from the Scottish Office and local government bodies (not matched by their French counterparts), as well as nearly pounds 17m from Cambuslang's pension fund surplus, added sweeteners to the overall deal which persuaded Maytag.
Last week, as the row raged about the job losses, Dijon's 250,000 population learned it was to steal back 550 jobs from Glasgow as Nestle switched around European production of its chocolate bars.
The local newspaper, Le Bien Public, acknowledged that Glasgow might now be feeling the hurt Dijon did last week. 'We are not the only sufferers from the strategies of the big multinationals,' read an editorial.
But in the last 12 months 1,500 jobs have been lost in three large industrial closures. Philips, Seita (a nationalised tobacco company), Ford and Hoover are jobs some say are crucial to the town's economic future. Dijon's unemployment rate is 9.7 per cent.
But if Dijon is doing badly, Cambuslang is a wilderness. It has no tree-lined mini-Champs Elysee like Les Allees du Parc in Dijon; no street in the Lanarkshire village is lined with chateau after chateau; civic pride in Cambuslang does not stretch to two Arcs de Triomphe.
Dijon boasts good housing, opulent shops and a history that attracts tourists to its picturesque centre. But what the people of Cambuslang would envy most are the many factories on the industrial estates.
Dijon's anger is understandable. But a timely consolation prize was won on Friday night when Scotland's under-21 rugby team played France in Dijon. France won the game by 67 points to Scotland's nine. After the game a small band of French supporters celebrated under one of the triumphal monuments in the centre of Dijon. The slaughter brought delight and clearly something else: 'It was not only rugby,' said one French fan.
Neal Ascherson, page 25
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