On our fourth day, our trip led from tranquil Carricola to Alicante. When we entered the industrial outskirts of Alicante, although there are many large building complexes - or maybe because of that – we were overcome by a feeling of loneliness, a feeling of being lost in the nowhere. The huge Coca Cola factory we were visiting had been closed down a few months ago, not one bottle left, not a soul around, completely abandoned.
In the cafe across the road we met with a group of former employees of the Alicante Coca Cola factory, which had been closed in January, almost without notice (they were given one month to sort out their families' lives). In fact, the news (cinco dias) reported about their destiny before they knew it. Imagine reading over your breakfast coffee with your family how your boss is telling the world that you have lost your job, without you even knowing anything about it. You would most likely feel deceived. And this is exactly how those 1250 workers and their families feel, who lost their jobs over the Coca Cola dismissals. Some of these workers had been proud employees for over 50 years, proud of their working and social conditions and the efforts of by Coca Cola company in Spain to keep environmental contamination down by producing and distributing locally/regionally. For these people, their whole life was turned upside down, what they had held up high was suddenly what stabbed them in the back.
Seven Coca Cola factories had been merged, and four shut, including Madrid, Asturias, Mallorca and Alicante, which led to the dismissals. The merger into one company, 'Iberian partners', as the workers explained, means that the multinational corporation only has to negotiate with one entity, instead of seven. At the same time, of course it puts the workers in a disadvantaged position as their ability for influencing decisions at the corporate level is diminished.
The fact that the employees had not been part of any discussion about the closure of the profit-making factory, let alone being given a chance to discuss options to continue working under different conditions, is as the workers tell us, illegal. They are fully aware and appreciative of the comparatively excellent conditions under which they had been employed, with great social benefits, but this did not mean that they would not be prepared to give up on some of these if the benefit would be for them to keep the job. What they ask for is that there should be a proper conversation amongst employees and employers about what could be done to keep the factory running.
However, there does not seem to be any interest amongst the hierarchy to do so. As the workers tell us, their factory, as much as the others, had been running efficiently, running on full capacity even in the summer after the economic crisis. Indeed all four factories had been making profit. So why close them down? Why pretend that they are not viable, and then spend huge amounts on establishing new production and distribution facilities in Valencia, when Alicante is making profit? Why close down Madrid, the European capital with the highest consumption of Coca Cola, the second largest factory and one of the most modern in Europe?
One of the “solutions” Coca Cola company had offered its employees was a voluntary leave with benefits. The workers see this as an attempt to blackmail, since this is actually nothing else than a dismissal.
The Coca Cola company will not only lose its reputation regarding corporate social responsibility, but also in relation to enviromental responsibility, because of the amount of consumption of fuel which will need to be applied to distribute Coca Cola in Spain, the workers explain. The centralisation of the production and distribution means that the bottles have to travel much further, lorries do 50% of their routes empty. All this, when one of the publicity phrases of Coca Cola in Spain was that their localised or rather regionalised production and distribution was particularly environmentally friendly.
These are well-founded questions, and workers are “asking for justice, not for revenge”. They want to take a step back, cancel the illegal dismissal and return to the table to have a proper discussion about options. Since it is a commercial, not a labour market company, the employees have all their hope on the justice system. They are waiting for the decision by the national court in Madrid on 3rd of June, ready to take all jurisdictional paths necessary if the company is not open to negotiate as it should have done from the beginning.
For more info see here.