Trade union leaders in Europe have warned that the present ‘spectacular growth’ of the private equity venture capitalist deals is ‘unsustainable’ and ‘stoking up a speculative bubble’ that will burst.
The odium in which these capitalist raiding groups are now held has led to union leaders scrambling to take up a position in opposition to these groups.
Two such leaders are TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber and the TGWU leader Tony Woodley.
Barber has issued his warning about the venture capitalists. He said: ‘High returns are quickly produced by ruthlessly reducing companies to their core functions, the maximum exploitation of tax relief and off-shoring, and saddling companies with added debt.
‘At worst a speculative bubble will burst, and while employees will pay the heaviest price they will not be the only victims. Pension fund losses could affect millions.’
He has been joined by TGWU General Secretary Tony Woodley who has said: ‘The T&G is very concerned that the private equity movement threatens to destroy a generation of hard-won progress in accountability.’
The Transport and General Workers Union has 25,000 members directly and indirectly involved in Sainsburys, and the supermarket chain is in the sights of the notorious Texas Pacific raiding group of venture capitalists.
Sainsburys’ trade unionists need to closely examine the record of both Barber and Woodley since both are known by sacked Gate Gourmet workers as the trade union friends of Texas Pacific, who helped the raider secure 700 sackings at Gate Gourmet and the introduction of its brutal ‘survival plan’.
When on August 10th and 11th 2005 Texas Pacific sacked 700 workers at Gate Gourmet by megaphone, thousands of baggage handlers walked out at British Airways (BA), Heathrow and had both BA and Gate Gourmet on its knees until Woodley ordered the baggage handlers to return to work.
Woodley and Brendan Gold, the TGWU national secretary then refused to make the dispute official, refused to pay strike pay and after some weeks began to pay hardship money to the sacked workers which they stopped in January 2006.
Woodley declared that there would be no discussions on any austerity programme until all of the sacked workers had been reinstated to their jobs, and made a very militant speech at the TUC Congress in September 2005 giving the impression that there would be a struggle to return the sacked workers to their jobs.
However, even before that Congress, the TUC general secretary Barber and Woodley were negotiating the acceptance of the mass sackings and the company’s survival plan. Two weeks after the TUC Congress a deal was signed by Barber and Gold with gate Gourmet accepting 700 sackings and the company’s survival plan.
Texas Pacific publicly thanked Barber for the support that he had given them in the negotiations!
Barber and Woodley then sought to force a compromise agreement onto the sacked workers that stipulated that nobody would get a pittance of compensation until every sacked worker had signed a compromise agreement giving up their right to go to industrial tribunals and pledging that they would not seek work at any associate company of Gate Gourmet.
After months of struggle, this agreement broke down after the sacked workers fought it tooth and nail.
The sacked workers have fought Gate Gourmet to a standstill, to the point where Texas Pacific secretly sold the company at the end of February and is now eyeing up Sainsburys.
Sainsburys’ workers must learn from the Gate Gourmet struggle not to trust Barber and Woodley, but to insist on a new leadership that will not betray them. As far as the Gate Gourmet sacked workers are concerned they are fighting on. The whole trade union movement has a duty towards them to launch a national campaign to secure their return to their jobs on their old terms and conditions. This is the best way of fighting and beating the private equity raiders.