Workers at the huge Coca-Cola bottling plant in north London struck today (Wednesday) – the first in a series of planned walkouts in their fight for a fair pay rise.
The Unite union members’ six-hour stoppage, from 3pm to 9pm, shut down all production at the factory in Nobel Road, Edmonton.
The action taken by this small but powerful group of workers will see the plant produce an estimated one million fewer bottles of the drinks for each week it continues.
Workers are angry that company bosses are only offering a 2 percent “pay rise” – effectively a pay cut as it is lower than inflation.
“We’re not greedy people who are after loads of money and unfair demands,” Brett Dupuy, a Unite rep at the plant, told Socialist Worker.
“Coca-Cola makes an obscene amount of profit. They should be able to give a rise of inflation at least.
“The prices of everything keep going up – we’re just asking that today we should be no worse off than we were this day last year.”
Bosses’ penny-pinching is incredible when Coca-Cola’s profits rose to £618 million in 2009.
The workers’ solid picket line was covered with Unite flags and placards reading “Coke: the real sting” and “Fair play not foul play”.
This is a workforce that has been pushed to breaking point. For most workers at the plant today was the first industrial action they have ever taken.
Yet they voted by a massive eight to one to reject the pay offer and call strikes.
“It’s a shame it’s come to this,” said Brett. “But there’s been no real negotiation from the company at all.
“We’ve had the same offer toyed around with from the very beginning. They just say: this is how it is. It’s been going round and round in circles.
“Our strike mandate is for a cost-of-living rise, but as we’ve gone along it’s moved on to the principle of negotiation with the union.”
A strike last week was called off for talks at conciliation service Acas – but today’s action went ahead after bosses refused to budge on any issue.
“At Acas they pretty much offered the same thing they’d offered two weeks previously,” Brett added.
“As a rep it’s felt like they’ve tried to get between the stewards and the workforce, putting things out tit-for-tat, with their own spin.
“They tell the members that the stewards are the reason why they’re not getting their pay rise.”
But this divide-and-rule plan hasn’t worked. “There are three people on my shift who aren’t in the union, but everyone else has walked out,” said Brett.
There are around 150 workers at the Coca-Cola Enterprises plant, the vast majority of them members of the Unite union. They are split across four rotating shift groups.
Today’s six-hour walkout was planned to cover two shifts: the last three hours of the day shift and then the first three hours of the night shift.
Workers on the other two shifts will walk out in the next planned round of strikes.
Unite national officer Jennie Formby added: 'Unless the company engages more positively with Unite, workers will become even more frustrated and we could well see an escalation of this dispute.'
The workers will strike again tomorrow (Thursday), from 3pm to 9pm.
And Unite has called more walkouts over the next few weeks:
- Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 September
- Wednesday 29 and Thursday 30 September