The spray-painted banner on the picket line at Soapworks in Easterhouse, Glasgow, carries a quote from Anita Roddick, founder and director of the Body Shop. The Body Shop is the major shareholder in Soapworks.
Over 60 TGWU union members are striking every Wednesday and Thursday after an 88 percent vote for strike action over pay and shift allowances.
Workers have been offered a 3 percent pay rise, but are asking for an increase on the shift allowance for unsociable shifts.
The 3 percent offer is an insult to workers, given the huge pay rises that the company’s management have enjoyed.
“We had a pay freeze for four years, so we are still catching up,” one of the strikers told Socialist Worker. “The managing director recently gave himself a £13,000 pay rise—more than some of us earn in a year.”
Another striker pointed out that a 3 percent rise “gets a weekend in Butlins for the workers but two weeks in the Bahamas for managers.”
John McMahon, one of the TGWU reps, points out that the strike is not just about money. “It is also about how we are treated. We are sick of the bullying and harassment,” he says.
“We work nine-hour shifts with only two 15-minute breaks. Now they are trying to cut the notice they give to people working night shifts.
“It’s a constant battle with the management—you need a suit of armour, not overalls, to come to work.”
Soapworks was established by the Body Shop in 1988. Legend has it that it was established by Anita Roddick after a community worker from Easterhouse asked her to help bring prosperity to a poor area of Glasgow.
The factory now supplies other retail chains, such as Superdrug, but it still produces oils and soaps primarily for the Body Shop. The Scottish Executive recently praised the factory as a model of good practice.
Joseph Toehill is another TGWU rep at the factory. He has worked there for 15 years. Joseph’s partner, Joanne, also works there, so they do opposite shifts and juggle childcare.
He pointed out that many of the oils that they produce at Soapworks are sold by the Body Shop for more than the workers earn in an hour.
“This used to be a great place to work, but not any more. It’s been getting worse and worse, and now we’ve had enough,” he says.
The Body Shop’s mission statement includes “making fun, passion and care part of our daily lives”. But this doesn’t seem to apply at Soapworks.
Many of the strikers complained about incidents of bullying and intimidation.
One told us that they were only allowed time off for funerals if they gave five days notice and it was a blood relative.
Many pointed out that they had worked there for ten or 15 years with no prospect of promotion. They couldn’t remember the last time anyone won a grievance. The last stage of the grievance procedure is to send a letter to the Body Shop.
The last person who did that got a reply which was opened by Soapworks managers before they got to read it.
The first two days of action were very successful, with large numbers picketing on all three shifts.
Deliveries and post workers were turned away. Some of the casual staff employed by an outside agency were persuaded to stay out and join the strikers.
One agency worker went into work on the first day of the strike, but subsequently stayed out after being asked to cover work that strikers would have been doing.
ESME CHOONARA and ALAN THOMPSON
Messages of support should be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, marked “Soapworks”.