Siol nan Gaidheal
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Viasystems - A lesson in Corporate Greed.

"The future's so bright you, the workforce, will have to wear sunglasses". This was the arrogant proclamation of the American owned Multinational, Viasystems, immediately after their acquisition of the Scottish Printed Circuit manufacturer, Exacta Circuits. Exacta Circuits represented a successful, indigenous, "sunshine" industry and typified the kind of diversification which the Borders economy needed in order to survive the continuous run-down to its traditional manufacturing base, textiles.

The company was formed in 1962 and soon began building a reputation as a centre of excellence in the manufacture of Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). By the early nineties Exacta had established a large client base, specialising in what the industry refers to as Fast Turn Round product or FTR. Exacta's ability to secure this niche of the market was one of the reasons why the company had regular pre-tax profits averaging eight to nine million per annum. Later Viasystems would refer to Exacta as the "Jewel in the Crown" of PCB manufacturers in Europe.

In 1991 a management buyout took place, led by Managing Director Derek Bumpstead and Head of Sales, Ernie Jamieson. Bumpstead was, and is, an uncompromising businessman. Originally from the Midlands of England, he recognised, early on, the potential of the Company, and he would exploit that potential for his own personal gain. He typifies the attitude of many English settlers in our country who regard our nation and our people as an opportunity to make a quick buck.

In 1995 Bumpstead was approached by Scottish Enterprise who formulated a business plan which would allow the Borders operation to expand dramatically, and increase their capacity and their workforce. This move had come as a direct result of the 20 million pounds worth of Government money allocated to one of Exacta's primary competitors, ISL of Newcastle.

The Tyneside plant was a purpose built, state-of-the-art factory with brand new machinery, but also with the disadvantage of brand new personnel. Despite having the optimum environment conducive to the manufacture of PCBs, ISL still had scrap levels 60% higher than Exacta, therefore making their Unit Costs uncompetitive in comparison to the Borders site. They also lacked the crucial "customer approvals" which are basically manufacturing standards laid down by the various customers and are benchmarks which ensure that customer specifications are maintained. Basically Tyneside couldn't manufacture a PCB to anywhere near the same standards as the Scottish plants.

What the Scottish plants did lack however was the ability to match Tyneside's capacity. The proposals by Scottish Enterprise to build a purpose built factory at St. Boswells, as opposed to the current sites at Selkirk and Galashiels, were seen by many as the necessary insurance policy which would enable Exacta to continue competing against ISL well in to the next century. Mysteriously or more sinisterly, the proposals never quite got off the ground. Bumpstead put the decision down to: "lack of an adequate water supply, at the Boswells site, means that this proposal is a non-runner." What appears to be quite clear now is that Bumpstead was already in direct talks with the men who set up Viasystems, Jim and Bob Mills.

The Mills Brothers are financial hard-men who operate out of St. Louis. They are unmoved by arguments such as the damage to the local economy or people losing their jobs and their homes. They are loyal to one thing and one thing only... the Dollar. Aptly enough they also own the American football team the Dallas Cowboys. When these two particular cowboys acquired the Scottish Plants back in April 1997 it was part of a global economic strategy to dominate the world market of PCBs. They are now 70% of the way towards having a complete monopoly over that market.

More and more evidence is emerging that Viasystems "Corporate Strategy" intended to close the Scottish operations from day one. Immediately after the buyout Viasystems made sure that the right men were in place to deliver the knock out blow. Central to this closure plan was another Englishman, Operations Director, Simon Keenan.

Keenan had a past history of factory run-downs and had overseen the "successful" closure of several firms through the early nineties, most recently the Compaq shutdown. He epitomises everything loathsome about the English occupation of our economic, cultural and social life. In his first monthly brief he outlined the Global Strategy using an overhead projector to demonstrate the Company's command over its competitors. One of the overheads showed a map of the UK operations but with the Scottish portion of the map missing. "Oh dear" Keenan exclaimed "I seem to have chopped Scotland off... no great loss though!" This disgusting figure of a man was placed in this position because the Americans knew that he would have no conscience when it came to axing 1300 Scottish jobs. In collusion with Bumpstead, Keenan was responsible for the on-site preparations towards closure. He trusted no-one else within the Scottish operation and used a closed-networked computer system to formulate and organise the closure.

By May 1998 Stage 1 of a five stage closure plan was put into action. Viasystems announced that as part of its global restructuring the Group would be split into three distinctive divisions. These were the Development Division, the Commercial Division, which included ISL of Newcastle, and the High Technology Division which was to include the Scottish operations.

In conjunction with this rationalisation 210 redundancies were announced at the Scottish plants. In spite of this, most of the workforce were relieved. Many of the workers believed that this would secure their future, as it meant that they would no longer be in direct competition with the English plant. What the workforce did not realise however, was that the company had already made a decision to close. The European Vice-president, Aldino Bellazini, would oversee and approve the various draft plans for closure, of the Scottish sites, put forward by Bumpstead and Keenan.

Unknown to everyone at this point was the fact, that Bellazini was the former Managing Director of Zinco Cellere. Within the Viasystems structure Zinco were owned, on paper at least, by Viasystems Scotland, and Zinco in turn also owned TDS Circuits of Blackburn, England. Both TDS and Zinco Cellere have sustained massive losses and it now appears that these losses have been attributed to Viasystems, Scotland, in order to justify its closure. Neither TDS nor Zinco are preparing for redundancies or closure at this time. Aldino Bellazini had a vested interest in protecting his end of the business, and for more than just financial reasons. ALL of Bellazini's former Executive colleagues at Zinco are all either serving prison sentences or have been to prison. ALL have been associated and implicated with Italian organised crime.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Mills Brothers were running into financial difficulties of their own. During their glut of PCB acquisitions they had run up substantial debts. Their financial backing came from the investment firm known as Hicks, Muse, Tate and Furst (HMTF). HMTF are experts in the field of corporate buyouts. They too have a shadowy background and have been known to be behind the backing of major real-estate deals in the US associated with the American Mafia. It is widely believed that much of HMTF's funding is derived from the profits of organised crime in the States.

The declared separation of the business at the European end of the operations allowed Viasystems European HQ, in London, to allocate most of the Commercial orders to Newcastle instead of Selkirk. The commercial sector of the business was formerly the Scottish plant's "bread and butter", but with the assurance given by the European Executives that this would allow Selkirk to become a centre of excellence in the manufacture of High Tech boards, not too many difficult questions were asked of the move.

Some more astute members of the workforce did ponder the long-term implications of this however, because when the company, as Exacta Circuits, had attempted a similar diversification, some six years ago, it proved not to be as lucrative a venture as first predicted.

By August 1998 local press speculation abounded as to Viasystems' long-term objectives in Scotland. This came to a head when the first of a series of articles was published in the "Scotland on Sunday". On the 26th of August 1998, Viasystems briefed its Scottish workforce explaining that there were likely to be further restructuring of the Scottish operations but insisting that no final decision had been made. Simon Keenan, Selkirk's Operations Director, was given the task of informing the workforce. During at least one of those briefings he made the admission that the Global restructuring which had taken place back in May had been a sham. This exemplifies the arrogance of a man who knew back in May that the statement he delivered to the workforce was utter fabrication. He showed not one ounce of embarrassment at informing the workforce that this time, all the jobs in Scotland were at risk.

It has since emerged that on the 20th August 1998, six days before the workforce were briefed, Simon Keenan attended a meeting at the Tyneside facility where he put forward the final details for the closure of the Scottish Operations. The proposals were known as the "Selkirk Product Transfer Plan". This plan outlined, in fine detail, how Viasystems intended to run-down the Scottish plants. At the time of the briefings to the workforce no-one at the Scottish site, with the exception of Keenan and Bumpstead, knew of the plans' existence. Keenan reiterated the company line that no final decision had been made despite the fact that he had already started to implement the closure. Keenan promised the workforce that a statement would be made in two weeks time outlining the Firm's long-term proposals.

Immediately a campaign to mount pressure on the Company began. A delegation was organised and sent to the US to press the Mills Brothers directly. Worker's representatives organised a demonstration to the US consulate in Edinburgh. The Scottish National Party appeared to be the only political party concerned with the plight of the Workers in the Borders. The Labour Party's senior Press Officer, Lorraine Davidson, was repeatedly asked to get Labour politicians involved in condemning the threatened job losses, and in the end was forced to concede that it would be too politically damaging for the Labour Party to become involved. She made an off the record remark, claiming that the workers had to understand their (the Labour Party's) potential difficulties, the fact that they had no representation in the Borders. It was a difficulty which did not prevent the SNP from being involved.

The fact was, that it was English Labour MP's who were responsible for effectively stopping the proposed investment of some £9 million to the Scottish sites back in January 1998. Locate in Scotland, the government agency charged with attracting inward investment to Scotland, had suggested allocating the money in order to balance out the increased competitive threat posed by ISL's award, a year earlier, of some £20 million. The original award of public money to the English firm, had taken place because ISL could simply not compete on a level playing field with the Scottish plants. Indeed, the then management of ISL had threatened the Government, by implying that if they did not receive the grant award then they would be forced to close down their operations and relocate. This factor in itself, bears testament to the strong trading position of the Scottish Plants. Even without the public money the Scottish firm was still performing and breaking its monthly targets.

Pressure was brought to bear on the Government to withdraw the proposals, outlined by Locate in Scotland, and in the face of irate English Labour MP's, the Government pulled back. Whether this money would have prevented the eventual closure or simply delayed it, is a question which is open to debate. What is quite clear however, is that the plants would not be looking at closure at this time had they received the public money. The assurances which are written into such grants make it obligatory for those grants to be repaid should the factory close within a set time period.

During the two week period following the original announcement, by the company on the 26th August, an asset stripping procedure moved into full swing, with technical and process engineers being sent to Tyneside. Once again the fact that the Scottish sites were servicing the English one, in terms of its highly specialised knowledge, was another indicator that Tyneside was simply not up to the job. Some of these personnel were subjected to anti-Scottish verbal abuse. Indeed one senior manager who attended an executive meeting in Tyneside, immediately following the original announcement, was told to "have sex and travel, back to Scotland", or words to that effect!

Tyne Tees Television, which serves the Newcastle area, was reporting that the proposals to close the Scottish plants was going to mean an extra jobs boost for the North of England, it was all good news as far as Tyne Tees was concerned.

As the pressure mounted, the company announced on Friday, 4th September that its final plans would not be revealed, as originally promised, until the end of October. The workforce believed that the pressure was working. Also on the 4th, the workers representatives came in to possession of the Closure document. This was the proof that they had been waiting for. There was now little doubt that Viasystems intended to close the Scottish operations by Christmas.

The manner in which the Joint Workers Committee came into possession of this document typified the unique nature of this dispute. Senior management figures, outwith the core management loop responsible for the closure, were supplying extremely sensitive documents to the Workers Committee. Normally these same management figures would have crossed the street, to avoid the Shop Stewards, now they were falling over themselves to give them, more and more incriminating documentation.

The Scottish plants were profitable and for the financial year 96/97 had declared profits of £8.4 million. By the beginning of August 1998 they had already broken even. This contrasted starkly with Jim Mills' statement, to the delegation, that the Selkirk operation had lost £11 million for the previous 6 months. The figures simply do not add up, and it is becoming clear, with every fresh document that is supplied, that the senior management of Viasystems have "cooked the books" in order to justify the shutdown.

Much of the other documentation supplied has implications, so serious, that if supplied to Viasystem's customer base it will have serious repercussions to their future trading plans.

The Viasystems legacy in Scotland will be one which explicitly demonstrates the gross weakness of continued Union with England. The UK enjoys a system of government which allows greedy foreign businessmen to come to our country and economically cherry-pick the best of our indigenous manufacturing base. All this is made possible by employing English people in positions of power, within these Scottish companies, which they simply should not hold. The Scottish Borders has witnessed a scale of economic violence which it has not witnessed since the persistent invasions into our country by earlier English Armies.

The treacherous behaviour of the Labour Party, has cast wide open, its number one priority... England. The Regional, Full-time Official for the Transport and General Workers Union was very keen to make sure that no blame, partial or otherwise, for this closure, was placed at the door of Labour. He told his staff at the Union Offices in Galashiels that they were to stop concerning themselves with the interests of the workers, at Viasystems, and consider their long-term prospects with the TGWU.

Various arguments had been made about the reasons for closure. The current global crisis, over-capacity in the market place, the decrease in unit value for PCB's, and the strong pound have all played their part, but as Jim Mills arrogantly told the delegation that visited the US: "Of course you wouldn't be looking at a closure situation if we hadn't taken you over 18 months ago". Even Keenan was forced into an uncharacteristic slip when he admitted that, had Viasystems not taken over, then the Scottish plants may have had to look, at a 15% cut in capacity and workforce, but certainly not closure.

Regulation of inward investment is required immediately. Politicians, with agendas aimed at caressing further votes from England, had better beware. Their threats that companies would be forced to pull out of Scotland when our country becomes independent sound hollow in the face of week on week redundancies across our nation. All of these closures are occurring under English rule. The arguments they make about a possible exodus of companies from Scotland, sound distinctly undemocratic, precisely the tag they have attempted to attach to Scottish Nationalists for years. If the people of Scotland democratically vote for their independence then why should that be of consequence to some bloated, fat-cat, company Director?

Connotations have also been aired, about the possible withdrawal of certain North Sea Oil companies. The fact that these same oil companies are quite prepared to work in such places as Libya and Iraq, not to mention the exploitation of oil reserves in some of the most hostile environments in the World, such as Antarctica, demonstrates how ridiculous those arguments are. Do they really expect us to believe that the one hostile environment they cannot operate in, is a democratically elected independent Scotland?

All over the former Soviet bloc, businesses are pushing their ideology of corporate capitalism. They are doing this in spite of the fact that the business infrastructure, of those countries, is almost non-existent. What they really fear in Scotland is, that for once, our country will no longer tolerate abuse, either economically or otherwise, by foreign interests, specifically English foreign interests, whose only concern is with the exploitation of our land and our people.

We want a nation and a government which will protect the people of Scotland. One where government investment goes primarily to indigenous Scottish firms, who have genuine long term objectives, to operate and contribute to Scotland. Those who do not wish to participate know where the door is. By their actions they have already proved that their priorities lie outwith our nation. They are traitors, traitors all, and have no place in Scotland's present or future.

UPDATE:

Since this article was first published more damning information relating to this whole sorry saga has come to light. Adino Bellazini, the Italian European Vice President has been sacked for allegedly tampering with the European accounts. He may yet join his other former colleagues in Italian prison cells as a result of his actions.

Gus MacDonald, now Lord MacDonald of Tradeston has rejected claims that there is any evidence which would warrant a public inquiry into the closures, despite the fact that there are thousands of documents proving that work, previously done in Scotland, is now being manufactured in England. What many of the workforce initially feared has come to pass, that English Labour seats in England are worth more than the jobs of Scottish workers.

Donald Dewar met with the workers representatives in Selkirk at the beginning of November, when documents were produced strongly indicating that Viasystems was defrauding the Inland Revenue. By manufacturing the product in Scotland then transferring the work to Holland for final packaging and placing the words "Made in Holland" on the product, they were also contravening European trading legislation. Dewar's response to this was "...companies do this kind of thing all the time".

Dewar was also asked if the Government would look favourably on any other companies wishing to acquire the Scottish operations for their own use. Dewar refused to give any clear indication, claiming that the Government would look "sympathetically" at any interested party who wished to locate to the Borders. The bottom line IS, and Dewar knows this, is that there would be no assistance made available whilst we have a Labour Government in power. English Labour MPs have already indicated that they would challenge any moves to entice further electronics investment into southern Scotland, claiming that it would adversely effect the competitive nature of Viasystems Tyneside. It is a scandal of monumental proportions which both the Labour Party and the hierarchy of the Trade Unions involved, are trying to cover up.

The Transport and General Workers Union's full time official, a Mr Gerry Skelton, recently had his mobile phone conversations intercepted. During one conversation he is heard speaking to Jim Elsby, the TGWU's General Secretary in Scotland, about the mechanisms which would allow the TGWU to remove the Shop Steward credentials from a certain leading workers representative in the campaign. Elsby and Skelton believed that he was leading an ultra left-wing agenda, in conjunction with the Socialist Workers Party. The Shop Steward involved, has at all times, worked with the interests of the workers as his primary motivation, unlike the TGWU which has operated solely to protect ITS own narcissistic tendencies.

Siol nan Gaidheal has also received information that another leading Shop Steward has been forced to resign from the TGWU because of persistent personal attacks on him by the full-time official. It is understood that the Steward involved, who is also a Nationalist, had become increasingly disillusioned with the manner in which the full-time official was acting. Another leading Shop Steward has also been the subject of sustained and persistent personal attacks and Siol nan Gaidheal believes that Gerry Skelton deliberately informed Mirror Group Newspapers in Glasgow, that this particular Steward was an official contact for the SWP. The Steward involved has no connection whatsoever with the SWP.

Skelton's clear objective is to discredit the activities of the leading workers' representatives, by character assassination, and regain control over a situation which had become outwith his sphere of influence. The TGWU's primary role is to act as a buffer between the genuine anger of the workers and the intransigence of the management. The TGWU hierarchy did not believe that the transition to closure could be achieved quietly and with the interests of the British Labour Party, if they [The TGWU] did not retain supreme control. They certainly believed that none of the workers' representatives could be entrusted with the task.

Siol nan Gaidheal's source has also learnt that various listening devices have been placed in the TGWU offices in Galashiels by operatives unknown, and that Mr Skelton's home telephone line is being electronically monitored. Siol nan Gaidheal contacts within the District Committee of the TGWU in Glasgow have also supplied us information which demonstrates that Skelton had no intention of ever allowing the Viasystems Shop Stewards of influencing the outcome of the closure. According to our contact, Skelton deliberately blocked a move by the District Committee to allow a Viasystems Shop Steward to be present when the delegation was sent to America. It was clear from the subsequent debriefing, that Skelton gave to the workforce, that had there indeed been a representative of the workforce present then most of the arguments which the Mills Brothers put to the delegation about closure, could easily have been dismissed.

Skelton has his own political ambitions. He has indicated to "friends" that he has an interest in standing for election sometime in the future. His political ambitions are closely tethered to that of the Labour Party. The workers at Viasystems believed that they faced just one enemy when they took up the campaign to save their jobs. They believed that the enemy was an American owned investment firm run by Englishmen, with English interests at heart. They did not expect to see the Labour Party, the self-styled defenders of the workers, standing and supporting English interests in Tyneside. For Labour Party members, such as Angus Mackay, Chairman of Selkirk and Galashiels Labour Party, it has proved too much and he has resigned in protest at Labour's "inept handling" of the crisis in the Borders.

Siol nan Gaidheal's vision would mean that there would be no need for Unions. All of our people, management and workers, would work for the common good of the country, where divisionary tactics and exploitation of any Scot would be made a criminal offence. Foreign owned companies would be encouraged to invest in our country when they had given assurances that their long term objectives were to contribute, comprehensively to our society. Downsizing, or more appropriately corporate money-grabbing, would be made illegal. Foreign companies wishing to buy Scottish firms would have to make their case through a judicial review chaired by a member of the Scottish government. If after all of that, a foreign company repeated the same kind of tactics used by Viasystems, then the Government would enact the appropriate legislation freezing all of that company's assets and immediately placing a compulsory purchase order on the site(s) of the factories. Extradition orders would be placed with the appropriate authorities in order that the owners of such firms could be brought to trial in a Scottish court.

The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) is a complete anathema to the Scottish cultural and social mindset and would be flagrantly disregarded. The MAI, once signed, would allow any foreign investor to ignore ALL existing health and safety legislation, ALL existing wage agreements and effectively removes the authority of the government of the day and also allows an investing company to sue for damages if a member nation attempts to force its employment legislation on it. Although the agreement is not yet signed, Britain, France, Germany and the USA are all expected to sign in 1999, with the implicit threat that should they not sign then all existing investment, in that country, will be removed. It amounts to corporate blackmail on a scale which even true-blue capitalists will find hard to stomach. Any moves by a foreign company to subsequently take the Scottish government to court over failure to comply to the terms of the agreement would, in the view of Siol nan Gaidheal, constitute an act of war against our people and would be met with all of the resistance at our disposal. Foreign company executives attempting such a course of action would be tracked down and made aware, in unambiguous terms, that the interests of our people and our nation are paramount and that any attempt by money-hungry, self-serving, corporate fat-cats will never supplant the destiny of our people.

Siol nan Gaidheal are everywhere, listening, documenting and preparing for the day that our country's independence is restored and the defence of our people, culturally, socially and economically is guaranteed. Aon Ghaidhealtachd, aon phobull, aon Alba.

Viasystems update 2:

On the 30th June the infamous Borders electronics firm, Viasystems, finally closed its doors for the last time. Their departure from Scotland was surrounded in yet further controversy as the company advertised an open day for all former Selkirk employees at its Newcastle plant. This decision by Viasystems was made due to the dramatic shortfall in skills level at the English plant, and vindicated many of the arguments the Workers had made during their campaign to save the Scottish factory.

When Viasystems announced the closure of the Scottish operation they fully anticipated that there would be an influx of applications from the soon-to-be-redundant workers. The manner of the closure coupled with the arrogance the company showed to the workers has meant that fewer than 120 out of 1200 workers have applied for jobs in Newcastle. Many of those who did make the move have subsequently left after discovering that the non-unionised Tyneside plant had far poorer conditions than the Scottish one.

Other workers who were paid off at Christmas simply used the firm’s offer of work as a temporary stepping stone until they found work elsewhere with a more reputable company.

For the hundreds of workers who have not found work, the stark, cold reality of a life on the dole is beginning to take hold. No doubt many of them, now that the redundancy money has gone, will be wishing they had put up a more radical fight against the company. It is a lesson for all of Scotland’s workers facing an aggressive and immoral employer, that when you fight and take these people on, and your serious about winning, then you must be prepared to fight hard and fight dirty.

The laws of this land, as presently constituted, mean that Scottish workers legally can do nothing to stop the flagrant abuse, of the kind we witnessed during the closure of Viasystems, Scotland. Those laws, often referred to as Anti-union legislation, should be ignored. Those laws are preventing Scottish workers from legitimately defending themselves against a level of economic violence that has not been witnessed in Scotland for decades.

As for the current government… The news that Viasystems was advertising for jobs in Scotland for the English plant was a clear breach of the regulations surrounding their award of £25 million of public money. This government has consistently refused to publish the DTI investigation, which was supplied with evidence from the Shop Stewards Committee that proved the regulations were being breached. Donald Dewar has said that there is no evidence, submitted to the DTI, which indicates that Viasystems broke the regulations. If that really is the case then why not publish the results of the inquiry?

Regardless of that, the advert, which went out to the soon-to-be-redundant workers, clearly showed that the company was up to no good. Fresh calls were made to publish the results of the enquiry, all to no avail.

On the day the “Jobs Open Day” was meant to take place, only two workers made the trip down to Newcastle. They were left to sit in the reception room for more than two hours before Mr Simon Keenan, Tyneside’s new Operations Director, informed them that the open day had been cancelled and to rub salt in to the wound, there was to be no compensation made for travelling down to the English factory, as had been stated in the original advert.

Clearly the coverage of the story, relating to the breaking of the regulations on inward investment, meant that once again Viasystems were forced to cover their backs. Arrogance, crassness, stupidity, bad-management, are all terms that are familiar to the operation of Viasystems. Their chief architects, Derek Bumpstead and Simon Keenan, have between them successfully destroyed and entire economic powerhouse in the Scottish Borders. The lesson is clear to all Scots; allow Englishmen in to run our affairs, whether at political, economic or cultural level, and you are guaranteeing disaster. These people are concerned with protecting their own interests. They have no concept of community, of history or any of the values that we, as Scots hold dear. Collectively they are intellectually bereft and culturally illiterate.

To prevent what happened in the Borders from happening again, we must control our society at every level and in every facet. We can never allow external interests to dominate us in the way they currently do. It is degrading and damaging to us as a people. Only radical Scottish Nationalists, committed to this country and this people can defend Scotland’s interests to the full… and we will.

 


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