Occupy Novartis? Protesters Target Job Cuts

Occupy Novartis? Protesters Target Job Cuts

October 28th, 2011 // 12:45 pm @

First, it was Occupy Wall Street. Then came, Occupy Pfizer. Now, we have Occupy Novartis. Thanks to an ongoing stream of job cuts by the Swiss drugmaker – including 2,000 announced earlier this week (see here) – a trade union and the youth faction of the Socialist Party are planning a demonstration outside the comfy villa inhabited by Novartis chairman Dan Vasella, according to Reuters.

“Novartis is a veritable money machine…More and more profit, dividends to shareholders and bonuses for management and redundancies for staff? It is absolutely outrageous!,” the Unia union says on its web site. “…There are alternatives to this project brutal social dismantling” (see here).

And Juso, which is the youth wing of the Socialist Pary and has been involved in organizing protests against Swiss bankers as part of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, is singling out Vasella. “Thanks to our undemocratic economic system, those who earn the least are left to pick up the bill. These rip-off artists have made themselves too comfortable in our country,” Juso said in a statement, according to Reuters. “Juso Switzerland no longer wants to just sit back and watch this and wants Daniel Vasella to feel the dissatisfaction of the people.”

Protesting outside the Vasella villa is likely to cause a fair amount of tension. Two years ago, some animal-rights activists visited his hometown and painted “murderer” on a church, desecrated the graves of his sister and parents, and set fire to his Austrian vacation home (read more here). Vasella has regularly made headlines, though, over his compensation (see this).

This is the second time that a large drugmaker is getting swept up in the growing wave of protests over economic disparities and job losses, among other issues. Earlier this month, a group called Connecticut Working Families, which is a coalition of community groups, labor unions and activists, protested outside Pfizer facilities in Groton, where the drugmaker conducts R&D (see here).

Novartis, however, is not the only large company to cause anger in Switzerland. In recent months, Huntsman, the chemical maker announced plans to cut jobs in the Basel region where Novartis is based. But Novartis is also dismantling R&D and production from its traditional base. Over the last 18 months, various plants have been ‘exited,” and significant R&D work is being shifted to the US and India.

“It was clear that there would be emotional reactions,” Armin Zust, who heads Novartis Switzerland, told the Basler Zeitung newspaper in an interview that was made available to employees. In response to a question about a plant closing in the small Swiss town of Nyon, he explained this is due to “insufficient utilization of capacity. It is part of our global strategy to reduce spare productivity capacity worldwide.”

Roche, by the way, is also upsetting Swiss residents as it cuts large numbers of employees and outsources various work. Last year, the drugmaker announced plans to eliminate 4,800 positions , although the protests have not yet spread to its own campus. The cuts come as the pharmaceutical industry grapples with thinning pipelines, patent expirations and pricing pressure. And Novartis and Roche also face a strong Swiss franc.

Source: Pharmalot

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