Around 100 low paid workers at the Chemilines pharmaceuticals company in Wembley, north west London, are set to strike over wages on Tuesday of this week.
The workers, who are mostly Asian women, all earn less than £6 an hour to pack, label and dispatch medicines and cosmetics.
Earlier this month they unanimously rejected an offer of a 1 percent rise each quarter that tied them to meeting productivity targets set by management. They are demanding 4.6 percent a year with no strings attached.
Chemilines is owned by multimillionaire brothers Ravi and Jagdish Karia. In 2004 they were listed in the Sunday Times Rich List as being worth £42 million.
The company can easily afford to pay its workers a decent wage – its profits are rising fast, bringing in £2.8 million for shareholders in the past two years.
The workers, members of the GMB union, held a mass meeting at the Brent Indian Association last Sunday to discuss their action.
There was anger at the Karia brothers telling workers that they should not strike because the company was “all one big family”.
Union rep Hiten Vaidya dismissed this as “emotional blackmail”. “Their family is not our family,” he said. “Our family is here at this meeting, while their family lives in villas.”
Workers spoke of intimidation at the factory in the run-up to the strike. Some 25 workers have been laid off indefinitely. The GMB is demanding that they are reinstated and their earnings restored.
“Last week a manager was ordering workers into the warehouse, but he hadn’t switched the heating on,” said one worker. “When I complained about the cold he said, ‘If you’re cold now, how are you going to stand outside on strike on Tuesday?’ I just ignored him.”
The mass meeting was addressed by other local trade unionists who offered their solidarity. Nick Grant from the national executive of the National Union of Teachers promised to bring local teachers to the picket line.
A local bus worker also promised solidarity, adding that drivers for Sovereign in north west London were balloting and could be on strike next month.
GMB branches across London have contributed to the Chemilines strike fund, from large branches such as Hendon and Wembley Central through to smaller ones such as Thames lock-keepers, professional drivers and builders.
The workers have also declared two more strike dates – Monday 22 December and Wednesday 7 January – should Tuesday’s action fail to force management’s hand.