Socialist Worker

Refreshing strike defends conditions in Bridgwater

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2445

Refresco Gerber workers on the picket line in Bridgewater

Refresco Gerber workers on the picket line in Bridgewater (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Trade union flags decked the roundabout leading onto the industrial estate where Refresco Gerber workers continued their fight to defend terms and conditions today, Thursday.

The factory in Bridgwater, Somerset, produces fruit juice for leading brand names and major supermarkets. But new bosses want to get more out of it for less after a merger last year.

After a raft of attacks on their conditions, workers in the Unite union have taken a series of 36 hour strikes. They’re out to defend their sick pay entitlement, their pay protection for workers moved onto different shifts and their six day shift pattern.

On the picket line, Steve said, “It’s just a case of the fat cats getting fatter. They say we need to be ‘lean’ and ‘competitive’—everything you hear a politician saying on the TV, they’re saying it here.”

He told Socialist Worker that management want to almost double production to over one billion litres a year. The extra juice produced every week would almost fill five swimming pools.

To do this bosses are pushing through contract changes that will cost most workers several thousand pounds a year, putting many mortgages in danger. And it means a new shift pattern that are “fucking awful—your whole work life balance goes to shit”.

Gary, another picket, said, “Any company has pressure to get goods out the door. But they don’t have to be so vicious about it. You only have to go on their website to see how much money they’re making.”

The strikers are determined to stop the erosion of decent jobs for everyone.

“I’ve been at the company for 17 years, and it used to be that no-one would leave—if you got a job here it was in a dead man’s shoes,” Gary said. “Now there’s 18 engineers just put in their notice, and that’s just off the top of my head.”

Workers talk of a taxi that was sent round with redundancy letters to around 30 workers, and of an apprentice taken on and trained to be an engineer then demoted to operator.  Tom said, “If this lot ran a Formula One team it’d just be one driver and one tyre fitter.”

The last strike at the company was more than 50 years ago, but workers’ morale has repeatedly been boosted by solidarity from other workers.

Local people, including complete strangers, have come to the picket line with cakes, beers and bags full of shopping to support the strikers. Postal workers who turned up to their union meeting with £450 they’d raised in a whip-round.

“It’s really heartwarming,” said Steve. “You can be out here and feel rotten, so it’s absolutely fantastic to get that support because then you know you’re not alone.”

 “We’re still on a decent wage,” he said. “And we want to protect that, or you’ll come back in a few years and there won’t be the same job any more.”

The company’s warehouse is said to have been emptier than ever, and this has pushed bosses to start negotiating. They have made an offer—though it still falls far short of the workers’ three demands.

The next walkout is set for Wednesday and Thursday of next week. Workers are upbeat about their strike. Dan said, “Management saw about 100 people at a union meeting, so they thought that was all that would take part. But now they’re saying 254 of us are out.”

Gary said, “We’ll never know how much we’ve won, because we’ll never know how much they could have taken off us down the line. If we hadn’t shown we could galvanise the workforce and stand up for ourselves, it could be that a year on they come back for more.

“This is happening in every walk of life. The bosses’ attitude is that we should be grateful just to have the job, that we can’t stick up for our rights. But that’s not how it is at all.”

Workers' names have been changed

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