Workers at an Essex tractor factory are fighting for a pay rise—after years of bosses using “flexibility” to squeeze as much out of them as possible.
New Holland Agriculture in Basildon is a highly profitable subsidiary of Fiat, one the world’s biggest companies. But it’s offered workers just 1.8 percent this year and 1 percent in 2016.
Unite union member Dave told Socialist Worker, “This is a multi-billion pound company, they own Ferrari, Chrysler and Alfa Romeo. But when it’s time for a pay rise they plead poverty.
Garage repair worker Colin added, “To us the message is always ‘due to the current climate we can’t give you your money’—but that ‘current climate’ never stops them paying the investors.”
More than 200 Unite members—a majority of the plant’s manual workforce – were out picketing at the factory gates during the second 24 hour strike today, Friday.
For many of them, the pay dispute has brought resentment about working conditions to a head.
They are proud to be one of Fiat’s most profitable factories. But those profits have come through waiving regulations that limit working time.
Workers said that with overtime some days start at 6am and don’t finish until 10pm. They said that “ridiculous” shifts can be “physically and mentally draining”.
That’s one side of a culture of “flexibility” that has workers at bosses’ beck and call. The other is a practice of “laying off” workers on reduced pay for weeks at a time when they are not needed.
One worker said, “We haven’t done a full year’s work in four years. You don’t know from one day to another if you’re going to be laid off. After Christmas last year we were sent home for three weeks.”
As more high tech methods have come in, pressure for flexible working has increased. And it’s created an anger that’s fuelled big majorities in votes against the pay offer and for the strike.
One worker stressed that the workforce is “not militant”—and admitted voting Tory. But he added, “This is about respect, mutual respect. The high tech work we do for the farmers is feeding the planet. And we just want better for our families.”
Derek said, “We’ve had enough of being patted on the back and told we’re doing a good job—until it’s time for pay discussions. How long can you roll over and just let the piss get taken out of you?”
Dave said, “I think the company was shocked by the size of the majority that rejected their offer. And if they come back with a new one the union’s got to bring it to us.
He added that the strike is “hurting” the bosses, with trailers remaining unloaded, the factory running on overtime but with production deadlines to meet.
Talks were set to take place on Tuesday and many workers hope for a speedy victory.
But they are prepared to keep fighting, with further strikes planned for Wednesday of this week, next week and the week after.