BY SARAH PEART
BALLARAT — "Despite making a profit of almost a million dollars in the first six months of this year, Nestle has made the decision to close its Maryborough plant. This will directly result in the loss of 140 jobs and more than 500 jobs will be affected. This is not on and we will not take this lying down", Bronwyn Halfpenny, secretary of the food division of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) told a rally in Maryborough on November 26.
Four hundred employees and supporters braved steady rain to protest Nestle's decision. Adorned with placards emblazoned "Maryborough wants jobs not corporate greed", the rally was cheered by passers-by as it marched through the main street.
"[The Nestle decision] is the result of bad government policy", Halfpenny said. "This is the confectionery industry feeling the effects of deregulation. This factory has been built by the workforce, with our rates and our labour and we demand that Nestle donate the Maryborough plant back to the community.
"We don't need words — we need action and practical help. We should seek the help of [Victorian premier] Bracks and demand that he meet with us. This is going to put the state government to the test. Are they going to lick the boots of the corporations or fight to retain the jobs of workers?"
The rally voted unanimously on a resolution calling on Nestle to donate the plant, and a substantial proportion of the machinery and equipment in it, back to community. It also called on the state government to "give the highest priority to attracting a substantial food manufacturing employer to take over the plant".
One Nestle worker told Green Left Weekly: "The local Labor MP told the rally that patience is needed and solutions to problems like this aren't easy to find. That's a load of bullshit. What kind of answer is that to workers who are struggling daily to support their families? What message does that send to a community about Labor's priorities?"
AMWU state secretary and Socialist Alliance member Craig Johnston told GLW: "We have demanded that Bracks convene a meeting with the senior management of Nestle and representatives of the community and the workers. If he refuses to do this we have pledged to protest outside parliament to demand a resolution in favour of the workers and the community of Maryborough."
From Green Left Weekly, November 7, 2001.
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