Angry print workers rushed the gates of Mayr Melnhof Packaging (MMP) in Bootle, near Liverpool, last Saturday in response to a management lockout.
Workers had been striking against bosses’ plans to slash jobs. On Saturday they occupied for two hours and forced bosses back to the negotiating table. Today, Monday, workers continued to strike and protest.
The workers’ Unite union is strong in Bootle. But bosses are trying to lay off around a third of the workforce—and tearing up agreed procedures.
Workers are being offered much lower redundancy payments than previously. And they are especially angry that they are being selected for chop based on a new “skills matrix” system that they say is “unfair”.
Of the site’s 149 union members, 138 voted for strikes compared to only five against. Virtually the entire workforce has been turning out for union meetings and pickets.
But bosses raised the stakes last Saturday by locking them out.
One worker said, “We were in meetings on Thursday and nothing was mentioned. But on Friday morning we received letters saying the factory would be closed from Saturday through to Tuesday.”
When pickets came to the factory gates on Saturday, they saw a management team inside loading wagons for delivery. They tried to stop the wagons leaving, but were repeatedly dispersed by police. Then they decided to occupy.
One picket told Socialist Worker, “When we saw the wagons coming out we knew we had to do something. And the idea of occupying the factory got an instant reaction. We all accepted it was our last opportunity to do something.
“The gates opened for one of the Kingsmill lorries from the bakery next door, and we saw an opportunity. There was literally a swell of people rushing through the gates by the side of the lorry.”
The management team inside quickly locked themselves in an office and called in the police. But within the space of a few hours they had agreed to new talks with the union in exchange for workers leaving the premises.
Over 100 workers assembled outside the factory gates again today. Union Father of the Chapel [workplace union rep] Phil Potter told them, “Saturday has made us comrades in arms.”
Bosses are clearly spooked by the occupation. They insisted on meeting union reps at a secret location far away from the rest of the workers. Workers made it clear that they would accept no shoddy deals—and that there was nothing to stop them occupying again.
They are not alone. One of the factory’s main suppliers is Unilever. There, workers are in dispute over attacks on their pensions—including at the massive Port Sunlight plant a few miles down the road.
MMP workers have already arranged to speak at the next meeting of the UCU union at Liverpool University. Lecturer Mark O’Brien told pickets today that the government’s attacks on public sector pensions gave “a green light” to private employers to attack workers.
He added, “We need to stand and fight—and the unions need to stand together.”
Workers have received messages of support from those at the firm’s sister companies in Germany, France, Austria, Spain and Deeside.
The outcome of today’s negotiations is not yet clear.
But the recent victory for electricians over Balfour Beatty shows that a determined workforce using militant tactics can win in the private sector.
In the words of one picket, “The bosses here have no respect for their workforce—but they need us if they want to have a factory. This time they’ve gone too far.”
Thanks to Mark Henzel
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