Birds Eye protest moves to Germany –

Birds Eye protest moves to Germany Published:  26 February, 2007

THE continuing union protest over the closure of the Birds Eye fish factory in Hull has moved onto the international stage this week.

The GMB Union has flown protestors from the plant and other threatened industries to Germany to demonstrate outside the Super Return Conference in Frankfurt, the private equity industry’s annual flagship event.

Workers made redundant or threatened with redundancy at private equity-backed companies, including Birds Eye frozen foods, the AA and National Car Parks will picket the conference. Among those attending will be David Bonderman, head of Texas Pacific Group, and Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of Blackstone Group, the world’s largest buyout firm. Both firms are part of the consortium reported to be preparing a major bid for the Sainsbury supermarket group.

The GMB has mounted a strong campaign against the private equity industry, calling its practitioners “asset strippers”. John McDonnell, Labour MP and candidate for the party’s leadership, called last week for increased regulation of these “casino capitalists”.

In Germany signs will be held up saying: “This is a conference of locusts. Private equity equals asset stripping – GMB members attacked by private equity at Birds Eye and the AA.”

The union lobbying efforts against private equity will be stepped up in London as the International Union of Food Workers plans to meet about 60 MPs near the House of Commons to express concerns about recent buyouts.

The GMB is still planning to meet Damon Buffini, the head of Permira which bought Birds Eye frozen foods last year, but hopes of saving the fish finger factory are not high. Around 550 jobs will go when the factory closes in September.

The private equity industry is worried that the GMB union taking the fight to Germany will hurt the UK’s standing as one of the most favourable markets for the industry. The fear in the industry is that the bad press will lead to detrimental legislative changes. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, is believed to be thinking of forcing private equity companies and their institutional investors to become more transparent. For example, he could make pension funds disclose details of investments in private equity companies. Peter Linthwaite, the chairman of the industry body, the British Venture Capital Association said: “Anything headline-grabbing like this is potentially destabilising to the industry,”

According to the association, private-equity backed firms employ 2.8 million workers in the UK, generating new jobs faster than FTSE 100 companies. But the GMB Union argues that the Hull Birds Eye jobs are moving to Germany – the scene of its latest protest. is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.