A shop steward in the food industry who comes from eastern Europe talked to Socialist Worker about organising migrant workers
“I work in a factory of 500, almost all of them migrant workers like myself. When I started there were only about 30 or 40 people in the union, and no union recognition.
“It was so hard. I’d do 16 hours work, get three hours sleep, and then 16 hours working again. This meant lots of people suffered from stress and depression. And of course people sleeping three hours a night had accidents—some minor, some quite huge.
“I cut my finger once cleaning meat-slicing machinery with no training. Three or four people have lost fingers while I’ve been there.
“There was lots of bullying and harassment. Once I was physically attacked at work. But the manager wouldn’t punish the people who did it. I couldn’t work for a month.
“It’s when I came back that I first met organisers from the union. At first I didn’t know what a union was. But the organisers put pressure on the management and the men who punched me were dismissed.
“I decided to stand for election as the union rep. I told people I wanted to make sure that what happened to me never happened to my colleagues.
“We organised collective grievance procedures. All supervisors and managers had to be retrained about dignity at work. People saw that and joined the union.
“We’ve had negotiations over pay, and won an extra 70p an hour as well as time-and-a-half overtime pay. We also provide English classes, and people join for this too. We’re now at 80 percent strength. There are similar stories across the food industry.
“I felt Ed Miliband’s comments about migrant workers really assaulted me. I’ve never found a factory where people are willing to work for £4. We fight for our rights—for better pay, safety, and standards.
“We all have the same interests. Workers who are British, migrants, eastern European, black, Muslim, we all have to work together. We are powerful together. We can’t do it one by one—but united we can win.”