Workers turned out in force to picket Ambala Foods in Stratford, east London, on Friday of last week. It was their fourth one-day strike against low pay.
The mood of the Asian workers remained confident and combative. After an hour of picketing, a traffic jam of 12 delivery vans and cars had built up, with little sign of movement.
Bosses had to call the police to allow deliveries to go ahead. Some of the delivery vans were turned away from the picket line, to the cheers of the pickets.
About 45 workers were out — almost the entire workforce. The workers produce handmade Indian sweets for shops and restaurants.
It is skilled and difficult work, but most earn little more than £5 an hour — and their pay has been frozen for three years.
They joined the T&G union after bosses refused to listen to their demands for talks on pay and conditions. None of the workers had taken action before.
Until now they have been striking each Friday. But this week they said they had plans to escalate to two days of strike action each week.
Naveed Akhtar, one of the workers, told Socialist Worker, “Management just keep making excuses. I hope we’re going to take more action.”
Two weeks ago, under pressure, one of the Ambala bosses made an offer to increase the pay of some of the workers. The union asked for clarification as in some cases figures for pay were not given.
But on Wednesday of last week management denied that they had made an offer — claiming it was the union who put forward the proposed deal. This created anger among the strikers and hardened their resolve.
The biggest cheer of the day came for Mohammed Zahid Khan, who arrived at the picket line just before noon. He had been injured on the second week of the strike when a delivery van drove at him. Mohammed stood his ground and was hit.
He attended the picket line on crutches and is on medication for the pain. He cannot work, but is only receiving £27.20 a week from Ambala in sick pay.
Mohammed said he was glad to be on the picket line and felt it was his duty to come and offer his support.
While on the picket line, another worker from the factory came along and joined the union. He had been working at Ambala for two years, and had initially disagreed with the strike action.
Over the three previous weeks he had crossed the picket line — but this week he said that he would stick it out with everyone else. He added that he would rather join the union and fight the management than carry on working for low wages.
It was an important sign at a workplace where a small minority of workers have been bullied into crossing the picket line.
The Ambala workers are also beginning to win solidarity from other trade unionists. A T&G rep from a nearby bus garage attended the picket line — he said that the workers were right to fight.