When the owners of Prisme Packaging in Dundee decided to shut up shop, they were hoping that their employees would go quietly. They certainly weren’t expecting them to refuse to leave and to occupy their former place of work!
But that’s exactly what 12 workers did in response to management’s shock announcement on 4 March that the firm was closing down with immediate effect and without redundancy pay.
The fact that this was a non-unionised workplace may have something to do with the workers’ decision to take things into their own hands, refusing to leave the building and preparing to begin an occupation which was continuing as we went to press.
At the time of writing, the occupation is being actively supported by the local Trades Council and the socialist left in the city. It has been visited by supporters including some from the recently ended St.Andrews and Dundee University occupations.
Activists outside the Scottish Labour Party conference, collecting money in solidarity with the occupation, were harassed by police who threatened to confiscate their collection. Encouraged by the level of local support, with volunteers contributing funds and goods as well as sleeping over at the factory, the workers are hoping that an Employment Tribunal will find in their favour.
However, regardless of this possibility the workers have spoken of re-opening the factory as a workers’ co-operative. There are clear parallels with the factory occupations in Argentina in the 2001 where dozens of workplaces were taken-over by their employees in response to the national economic meltdown.
It’s inspirational that in Dundee, workers responding to employers who have legally abandoned them have taken over the initiative without awaiting the go-ahead from union officials. The Dundee occupation may be just the beginning of a more imaginative, direct-action-orientated approach that workers suffering the effects of the economic crisis will adopt. They deserve our fullest support.