Saturday, 2 March 2013
There is good news around, so let’s savour it!
Back in January, workers at the Hull Greencore factory (Greencore makes cakes) had a 24-hr strike to restore their working terms and conditions at the factory. The 500 workers had had their work contracts rescinded, with new ones offered that left them with less pay and worse conditions.
Their union, Unite, explained that “attacks on their terms and conditions have seen them lose up to £40 per week from their already very low wages at a time when they are struggling to keep pace with rising living costs.” Most of them are on the minimum wage, with the more skilled workers being paid slightly more – £7.90 per hour, I think, one of the strikers told me on the strike day. One trick the company used was to refuse any longer to pay extra for weekend working.
Unite says: “Last year Greencore was forced by a tribunal to reverse the £1.2 million raid on the workers’ wages.” The company’s tricky answer was to issue the new contracts in an attempt to get round the ruling.
So the workers took the matter in hand. On 30 January they went on strike. A few of us who are members of the “Unite community” (local retired members) joined the picket and found that, throughout the day, there were upwards of 300 pickets and supporters at any one time. The night shift picketed at night, but some of them also joined the day shift’s picket. We managed to stop some delivery vans going in, and individuals too. We were told we would be arrested if we blocked the entrance road, but we managed anyway. And the strikers refused to be demoralised by the company’s use of agency staff, in an effort to break the strike.
The effort was unsuccessful. And yesterday the news was good and, for diehard, if slightly weary, secondary pickets like me, unexpected. The workers have gained all their demands – plus. Following the strike, the company had refused to negotiate. So the workers decided to call another strike – which was due to begin today.
Unite explained yesterday: “As a result, management caved in last week and agreed to 100% of our claim as well as agreeing to negotiate on other issues that hadn’t formed part of the dispute.”
So strikes can win, solidarity works. And not just against one company. The government’s entire austerity package can be defeated if we learn the lessons.
One other good result: Unite says: “Our membership has now increased from less than 300 when the campaign started to in excess of 500 now and still growing, proving yet again that when we fight back workers join our union.”