Closed for business: industry and protests

While industrial action has been a part of industry over the past century, production has also been affected by protests over ethical and government issues.

Following the temporary closure of UAV Engines after protests from activists against the Israeli military-owned company’s involvement in the Palestinian conflict, James Pozzi looks at other instances of when protests have ground production to a halt.

Anti-China protests close Foxconn, May 2014

The ethical credentials of Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturer of Apple iPhones and iPads, have been scrutinised for over a decade. But it was for an altogether different reason that the company had to temporarily cease production in May this year. Its factory in Vietnam was shut down for three days as a result of anti-China protests from the country’s public.

The cause of the anger? The Vietnamese populous objected to China deploying an oil rig into waters that both countries claimed as sovereign territory. This led to the targeting of Chinese-owned factories in a southern Vietnamese industrial park, with the damage escalating to other foreign manufacturers with a presence in the region.

With the factory’s CEO claiming there was nothing local Vietnamese police or government could do to respond to the protests, the lack of action was seen as an endorsement by the Vietnamese government against the oil rig deployment by China’s state oil & gas firm CNOOC.

Protestors block Atomic Weapons Establishment expansion, May 2014

Expansion plans at Atomic Weapons Establishment’s nuclear arms factory in Berkshire were postponed earlier this year following the blocking of its entrance by anti-nuclear activists.

Plans to build a new £500m assembling facility in Burghfield were temporarily curtailed following the Action AWE group laying down on the road for four hours – blocking construction trucks carrying building materials from gaining access to the site.

At the root of Action AWE and supporters of the Campaign Against Nuclear Disarmament’s argument was construction should cease while the government decides on upgrading its Trident, the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

Over 100 Bangladeshi garment factories grind to a halt, November 2013

The economic divide in Bangladesh was brought to light once more last November when thousands of people caused the temporary closure of over 100 garment factories after demands to the government for a higher minimum wage. The Ashulia industrial belt, situated on the outskirts of capital Dhaka, saw the plants which account for 20% of the country’s garment exports hurled with sticks and rocks.

Earlier that week, Bangladesh’s government proposed a 77% pay rise for factory workers, which brought it up to $66.25 a month, the world’s lowest minimum wage. It is worth remembering the country’s garment export rakes in over £10bn a year and is only second in the world to China.

Peugeot Citroen ‘paralysed’ by own workforce, January 2013

While industrial action is nothing new, French factory employees at Peugeot Citroen gave the concept a new twist in January 2013. Production at France’s biggest carmaker came to a halt when staff occupied its Aulnay facility in protest at pending job cuts. Despite employing over 3,000 workers at the site, situated on the outskirts of Paris, the union said the 300 workers were able to ‘paralyse’ the factory because most of the striking employees worked in production roles.

This was countered by the company management, who claimed around 230 were on strike, although a sizeable number were absent with ‘very little work’ being done. The protests were in vein, as Aulnay closed down in later that year in October 2013. It marked a sad end for a site which first opened in 1973 and produced over eight million vehicles during that period.

PX protest leads to chemical factory moving out of Dalian, August 2011

The Chinese city of Dalian saw a peaceful protest against the production of highly toxic chemical paraxylene in one of its plants. Remembered as the Dalian PX protest, the “stroll” – a term used to avoid China’s strong censorship laws – saw the power of social media used to converge tens of thousands of people at the chemical plant.

With demands for the factory to be shut down immediately and relocated out of the city, the wish of the masses was fulfilled. The Dalian city government cited Xizhong Island as a new location, but doubt persists as to the factory’s status, with claims production has resumed at the original site.