Socialist Worker

‘You can get told off for sucking a throat lozenge’

by Esme Choonara
Issue No. 1919

OVER 60 TGWU union members at the Soapworks factory in Easterhouse, Glasgow, entered their third week of strike action on Monday.

They are striking for two days a week to demand a decent pay rise. The picket lines are very well supported, and there is much discussion about escalating the action.

One possiblity is going to the Body Shop headquarters to draw attention to their dispute. Soapworks is a major supplier to the Body Shop, which is also the largest shareholder in the factory.

“Our boss, Anita Roddick, should come and meet us face to face,” said one striker. “Why doesn’t she come and meet the real women of the Body Shop?”

The strikers are clear that they are fighting not just for pay, but also for some dignity at work. “We are sick of walking on eggshells,” said one striker.

Two women had to leave after years working at the factory. Management had refused to change their shift patterns to fit in with childcare arrangements.

One was given a £10 Asda voucher by management as a “leaving present” after 15 years of work.

Workers are given two unpaid 15-minute breaks a day. Management time these breaks—one worker was given a written warning for taking too long in the toilet.

Strikers we spoke to had been warned for eating throat lozenges, warned for the way they wore their hats, and warned for the way they looked at management.

One said she had been told off for singing near a manager’s office.

Conditions have also been steadily eroded at the site. Over the years the workers have lost a decent Christmas bonus, a subsidised canteen and a bus service for work.

The company previously had its own bus, but managers gave it to charity as a publicity stunt. This left workers with no transport to get home late at night. One woman was mugged after the bus service was withdrawn.

“We used to be proud to work here. Now we call it the hellhole,” said one of the strikers. “When I started here 14 years ago I was told that we had prospects of promotion. Now here I am on the picket line.”

Although the strikers want an increase in unsociable shift allowances, many of them say that they need a significant increase in basic pay to get them out of poverty wages.

One explained that she works 37.5 hours a week, not including the two unpaid 15-minute breaks a day.

She takes home £837 a month after over a decade working at the factory.

Because she works afternoons, from 2pm to 11pm, she only sees her kid for an hour in the mornings.

Other strikers report similar experiences. “I have worked here for 14 years and feel like I’ve missed out on seeing my kids growing up,” said one.

The strikers were amused to learn that managers and office staff were reportedly trying to do their work on the shop floor.

One told Socialist Worker that she thought they may be having a few problems doing the hard factory work.

When she went back in after the last strike days she discovered that whoever had been trying to operate her machine had broken it instead.

There is no doubt that the strike is seriously disrupting production at the factory. Many agency workers didn’t go in to work during last week’s action.

The Soapworks strikers are determined to continue their fight. “We’re sticking together and we can win,” they say.

Email messages of support to tgwu@tgwu.org.uk, marked “Soapworks”. Messages of protest should be sent to ukcustomer.relations@the-body-shop.com


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Article information

News
Sat 18 Sep 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1919
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