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The Fralib Factory Occupation - A Primer on Corporate Greed by Michael Leon Guerrero
I just had the honor to spend the afternoon with workers of the Fralib tea factory in the south of France. It is an amazing story of corporate greed and the beautiful resistance of the workers and an indictment of capitalism. No one wins in this economic model but CEOs and shareholders. You be the judge...
The Fralib plant produces for Lipton internationally and under the label Elephant in France. Both are subsidiaries of Unilever Corporation. In 2010 Unilever netted 4.6 billion euros – over $6 billion worldwide. The Fralib plant was profitable. Despite this the company announced in September 2010 that it would close the plant and move it to Poland. The workers have been occupying the factory since March, demanding that the equipment be left in Geménos and turned over to the workers to be a worker fun factory. They want to keep the Elephant brand and produce for local distribution – the company can keep international distribution through Lipton. In the meantime the workers are calling for a boycott of Lipton products.
In this “island” 2 workers manage 5 machines for an entire shift. If one worker takes a break the other is solely responsible. Machines package 140 tea bags per minute for the high quality teas, 450 bags for the standard quality. The workers actually designed the machines to increase their production. The company has used this technology in other factories. Moving the machines in effect would be stealing the “intellectual property” of the workers...
Workers also designed the system so that all aspects of the materials and production are recyclable...
The workers refined a system to enhance the scent of aromatic teas using herbs, flowers and steam. The process which produced 300 kilos every 45 minutes was too slow for the company. So they resorted to the use of hazardous chemicals instead. Consumers lose in this scenario because quality is compromised. The workers want to return to the traditional method, and also use locally produced herbs and flowers.
The craft and art of making tea is being lost to a system of mass production.
Poster on the plant floor: “One may struggle and lose, but one who does not struggle will never win.”