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US multinational Kimberly-Clark to sack 220 Australian workers and send production off-shore

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Danny O.             25 April 2019

Huggies nappies will no longer be made in Australia. It follows the decision of giant US multinational consumer goods manufacturer Kimberly-Clark to shut down its nappy making factory in the south-west Sydney suburb of Ingleburn.

The closure, which is expected to be completed by the end of July, will mean the loss of 220 local manufacturing jobs. The sackings are a devasting blow for the workers and local community, and adds to the enormous number of Australian manufacturing jobs that have been wiped out over the last decade or so.

The company announced it plans to shift the nappy production to Asia. It also plans to decommission the factory, sell the land, and relocate the machinery to other Kimberly-Clark facilities around the world, ruling out any possible future re-purposing of the factory. 
US-owned Kimberly-Clark is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of paper-based consumer goods. Its most recognisable products include Huggies nappies, Kleenex tissues, VIVA paper towel, and Kotex feminine hygiene products. It employs about 41,000 people world-wide and has factories in 35 countries. Its products are sold in over 175 countries and recorded sales of US$18.5 billion in 2018. 

The shutting of the Sydney factory is part of an aggressive “global restructuring program” designed to drastically cut costs in an attempt to push up the company’s profit margin. The restructuring has seen mass sackings and factory closures in the US, UK, Brazil and the Dominican Republic in recent months, and when completed is expected to see the closure of 10 factories and the loss of 5,500 jobs – about 13% of its global workforce.

Kimberly-Clark also operates a factory in Millicent, South Australia, where it produces Kleenex tissues and VIVA paper towels. So far, the company has stated there are no plans to close that factory, but no doubt the workers there will be feeling anxious wondering if their jobs won’t also be on the chopping block before too long.

Why the closure and is there an alternative?

Michael Aird, NSW secretary of the CFMMEU manufacturing division, the union representing the workers, said the announcement by Kimberly-Clark came as “a shock” without any consultation from the company. He added, “we know the site's been profitable, the company's told us the site's profitable." The factory also received a $28 million upgrade to its production line in 2013. So why did the plant get the axe?

Because, for giant multinationals like Kimberly-Clark, the only thing that matters is ever greater profits. And that’s not because of greed. It’s competition and the logic of capitalism. The internal laws of capitalism demand that the system must expand, and the profit made from the labour-power of workers is what it needs to do that. They might be able to make a small profit from a factory in Australia, but if they can make a bigger one by moving production to a country with cheaper labour costs and lower health and safety standards for workers, then that’s what they will do. Competition between corporations intensifies this drive to capture a bigger share of the profits on offer.
So, is there an alternative? Or do Australian workers just have to cop it sweet and suffer at the hands of the multinationals that dominate the major sectors of our economy?

The CFMMEU called on the Federal government to intervene to persuade the company to keep the factory open and save the workers jobs. That’s about as effective as throwing snowballs at Uluru. And not because we have a Liberal government. But because it turns the role of the state under capitalism on its head.

Australia is owned and run by giant multinationals, many of them American like Kimberly-Clark. The government and the laws in this country exist to serve their interests, not the interests of workers and ordinary Australians. That’s why nothing gets done as the country gets robbed of its energy resources by tax dodging foreign multinationals, like ExxonMobil and Chevron, while electricity prices sky rocket. That’s why nothing was done when the multinational car manufacturers, like Ford, General Motors and Toyota, all pulled the pin on making cars here. And that’s why nothing will be done to stop Kimberly-Clark closing this factory.

And an ALP government won’t make much difference either, regardless of how many promises they make to “change the rules” before the election. Because they will be forced to come to terms with administering the same profit-driven, anti-worker capitalist system on behalf of the real power holders in Australia – the ruling class of foreign multinationals and local big businesses. History shows us that’s the case.

The only alternative: an independent and socialist Australia

It might be a hard pill for many to swallow, but in the face of the facts, there is really only one serious alternative – an independent Australia free of the imperialist domination of the foreign multinationals with power in the hands of the working class.

To get there first requires building an independent working class agenda and movement that seeks fundamental change by empowering workers and ordinary Australians to fight for their own interests, independent of parliament and the parliamentary parties. It means putting faith in our own strength as workers to take militant and inspiring action to bring society to a stand-still. Victories for working people have always come on waves of militant and sometimes “illegal” struggle in workplaces, in communities and in the streets. That’s what’s needed if we want to win the serious immediate gains that can turn around the decline in union membership and rebuild them as fighting unions that workers can believe in.

A strong independent working class movement would strengthen the people’s organisations and struggles against the attacks of the multinationals. It would flow into the struggle to free Australia from imperialist domination and seek to put our key industries in the hands of the working class to meet the needs of the Australian people, not the bank accounts of shareholders. 

Australian parents need nappies for their kids. We have a factory here that makes them but we are about to lose it. In an independent and socialist Australia, it wouldn’t have to be that way. That’s what the CPA (M-L) organises towards. Join the struggle with us!        


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