Socialist Worker

Unite leadership has failed the JDE strikers

by Pat Carmody
Issue No. 2767

Workers gather for a strike rally outside of the factory in Oxfordshire.

Workers gather for a strike rally outside of the factory in Oxfordshire. (Pic: Conor Kennelly)


Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner last week retweeted the union’s triumphant announcement about the settlement of the dispute at Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) coffee factory in Oxfordshire.

The tweet claimed that the outcome is “Another Unite members’ win for working people”.

It is true that workers at JDE voted for the agreement brokered by the union. Some 81 percent voted in favour, 19 percent against.

But the new terms agreed by Unite have “won” pay cuts of up to £9,000 per year, ­punishing new shift patterns, and a longer working week.

All the attacks that angered JDE workers in the first place—and which were resisted by solid strikes—will now be imposed on those that fought. The only people who “escape” are the 23 that have been made redundant.

And fire and rehire hasn’t been removed.

Those that don’t sign up to new terms and conditions by 13 September will have to seek alternative employment. But what employer needs that weapon when union officials advocate their members ­signing up to worse pay, terms and conditions?

Let’s call the JDE deal what it is—a defeat. The tragedy is that this was a battle that could have been won.

Some 87 percent voted for strikes in April against bosses’ fire and rehire plans.

Fight any rotten deal over JDE fire and rehire strike
Fight any rotten deal over JDE fire and rehire strike
  Read More

Militant protests outside the plant took bosses and union ­officials aback. Months of bullying and intimidation by JDE managers had simply fuelled workers’ determination to give the company a bloody nose.

And Unite national officer, Joe Clarke reflected that mood when he told pickets, “We’re aiming for a knockout in round three, but if we have to go the full 12 rounds then we’re ready.”

And the employer was on the ropes.

The first couple of rounds had cost JDE hundreds of tons in lost coffee production.

An escalation to all-out, indefinite strike would have soon meant Jacobs Douwe Egberts products would be missing from supermarkets.

Parliamentary

The union bureaucracy had a different strategy.

Its efforts were to build for a day of action outside the plant to promote Labour MP Barry Gardiner’s parliamentary bill to outlaw fire and rehire.

“Barry’s Bill” may have gained some national ­publicity, but it was always going to be of little use to JDE strikers.

Even if Gardiner could convince at least 80 scoundrels on the Tory benches, the drawn out nature of parliamentary processes meant it would be too late. JDE workers would have either signed up to the attacks on their conditions, or have been sacked months before any law came into effect.

Many JDE workers expressed their anger at the rotten deal on Twitter.

So why was there such a big vote for he deal?

The answer is fear and demoralisation.

While the strikes were ongoing there was a tremendous sense of solidarity.

But with the workers back in the factory that sense of unity dissipated quickly.

Throughout the dispute, the employer spoke about how the contract changes were necessary to secure the future of the plant.

Now they doubled down on the threat of shutting the Banbury and moving production overseas—and the union officials bought it.

Such blackmail is not new. Threatening to relocate production is easy.

Actually shutting the plant is far more difficult—especially if the trade union ­movement in Britain and internationally organises resistance.

That’s what Unite’s ­leadership should have been doing.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.