Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Cadbury Keynsham workers 'sacked twice'

By Miles Warde
Presenter, Radio 4's Cadbury is our Longbridge

The Somerdale factory in Keynsham
The Keynsham factory was built with workers in mind

Kraft's apology for pledging to keep Cadbury's Keynsham plant open has come at the end of a long and drawn out saga, but it won't save the jobs of the local workers.

In October 2007 Cadbury announced the phased closure of the historic Somerdale chocolate factory, midway between Bristol and Bath.

Production of Curly Wurlies and Mini Eggs would soon be moving to Poland instead. Then Kraft announced that the factory could be saved.

Exactly one week after acquiring Cadbury, the American food giant changed its mind.

"I feel like I've now been sacked twice," Vince Frankcom, a Somerdale employee said when he heard the news.

Vince's wife, father, three brothers, two sisters and two sisters-in-law have all worked at the factory at some point.

The 50-year-old thought he was "set for life" when he got a job at the factory.

"I was on cloud nine," he said.

"I just wanted to see if there was a chocolate river in there."

'A betrayal'

In its heyday more than 5000 people used to work at Somerdale, which was originally a joint venture between Cadbury and another Quaker family, the Frys, makers of Fry's Turkish Delight.

Now there are only 400 or so people left - and not for long.

Long before Kraft entered the fray, descendant Francis Fry described the decision by Cadbury to shut Somerdale as a betrayal.

"The whole thing was built for the workers. It represented a different departure in social planning and industrial architecture.

A selection of cadbury chocolate bars
Cadbury has made chocolate in Britain since 1879

"Of course it was a betrayal, but Cadbury are now a large multi-national company and they are much more interested in balancing sheets."

One ex-employee, Eric Miles, said that things changed in 1969 when Cadbury merged with Schweppes.

"You had millions of shareholders who wanted money.

"And there's a world of difference between millions of shareholders and a family, because shareholders want as much as they can get for their investment."

Rose garden

Eric had worked in Somerdale since the 50s. There had always been a rose garden on the site. Then it disappeared.

To Eric that loss was significant.

"Little things like rose gardens are irrelevant to these people.

"Decisions were now made away from the site, and so the workforce doesn't have a direct say in what's going on does it?"

When Cadbury announced the closure of Somerdale, locals were bewildered.

As far as they were concerned, the workforce was loyal, they never went on strike and profits from brands such as Crunchie and Curly Wurly were high.

Workers with flags and banners protest at the closure
Workers protested at the closure of Cadbury's Somerdale factory

If campaigners blamed anyone, apart from the management, it was shareholder pressure, particularly from abroad.

Noted American corporate activist and shareholder Nelson Peltz raised his stake in Cadbury to 4.5% with backing from a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund in 2007.

In a letter to a local campaigner, Mr Peltz explained that he wanted more money for his shares but that did not involve him actually telling people he wanted factories to close and communities destroyed.

The issue for Union leader Steve Preddy, of Unite, was that while overseas shareholders were remote from the workforce, they still exerted influence over management.

"Historically, if you had a problem at work, you cold knock on the boss's door and have a conversation with him.

"But what we're talking about now is job security here in the UK being influenced by people thousands of miles away."

Demolition day

It's still not clear whether Kraft's initial careful wording about Somerdale was a ploy to help smooth the takeover, or whether, as Kraft claimed, the move to Poland was simply too advanced to stop.

One largely unreported detail has been the condition of the factory itself, an historic and beautiful site.

Keynsham town councillor Tony Crouch said it was likely to be knocked down: "I think the site is not fit for purpose for today's manufacturing so the site will probably have to be pulled down."

For the remaining workers at Somerdale, coping with the years of uncertainty has been miserable.

Jane Frankcom said: "Sometimes you just go through the motions.

"Even though I know I'm going to leave, I don't think I'm going to leave, and that's how I get through every day."

Miles Warde presents Cadbury is our Longbridge on Radio Four at 1100am on Wednesdays from 17 March or afterwards via the BBC iPlayer .

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