The GMB trade union will tonight renew its attack on Tom Hicks, the new owner of Liverpool Football Club and former head of US buyout firm Hicks Muse, as it continues its campaign against all things private equity.
The union plans to stage a protest tonight “at each of the four corners” of Anfield, Liverpool’s stadium, during the team’s crucial European Champions’ League cup tie against Barcelona.
The GMB is targeting Hicks on behalf of disgruntled ex-employees of Via Systems, a Newcastle-based IT firm that was previously owned by Hicks Muse before going bust in 2001. The union, which also staged a protest at Liverpool’s recent fixture at Newcastle United, says that Hicks refused to honour an agreed severance arrangement, and allegedly owes the workers £2.5 million in compensation.
The workers say they have only received £7,000 in statutory pay, rather than the agreed £27,000, despite a fruitless trip to Dallas to confront Hicks and another meeting in London. This evening they will hand out photos of Hicks bearing the slogan: “C’mon Tom, have a heart pay you loyal ex-employees what they are owed” (sic).
GMB organiser Tom Ross tried to enlist the support of Liverpool fans, saying: “GMB members will not let this matter rest until he pays up. He can afford to do it, and justice requires that he does do it. We are confident that Liverpool FC fans, known the world over for their sense of justice, will support our members from the North East.”
However, the GMB may find Liverpool supporters have other things on their mind – their team is defending a slender one goal advantage as they look to knock out the reigning European champions and win the tournament for a sixth time.
Hicks is the latest figure from the private equity world to attract the ire of the GMB. Recently the firm has campaigned against UK buyout firm Permira, over job cuts at the vehicle breakdown service AA and frozen food maker Birds Eye, and listed buyout group 3i, about treatment of workers at car park operator NCP.
The controversy whipped up by the union’s publicity stunts has been a major factor in forcing the industry to establish a working group that will look at ways to improve transparency and disclosure.