THE BITTER dispute at Euro Packaging in Birmingham ended last week with mixed emotions among the strikers. There was a feeling of triumph and achievement at achieving union recognition in the teeth of ruthless opposition from a hardline boss.
Workers were pressed to work up to 13 hours a day, received only the minimum wage and received just 12 days leave a year plus bank holidays. Yet it is a very profitable company that makes plastic bags for some of the biggest retail giants in Britain.
Many of the workers are recent arrivals from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. They can be proud of their courage and defiance in taking on management and forcing concessions.
But there was anger and disappointment that major job losses will go through and that many active in the strike will not be returning to the factory. One union rep told Socialist Worker that management met GPMU union officials on Tuesday of last week.
Management agreed to recognise the union and safeguard 105 jobs. This is the first time in its 25 years that the company has recognised the union. Workers will be paid time and a half for working on a Saturday.
Most strikers felt it was time was to end the dispute because of the tremendous strain on very low paid workers and their families. However, the union rep was upset that they were unable to reinstate the 80 people made redundant. Many of those made redundant were active in the strike and in building the union.
Management claim that redundancies are on a 'last in, first out' basis but some of the workers made redundant have been working there for ten years. These workers, with the help of the GPMU, are still challenging the redundancies.
GPMU's deputy general secretary Tony Burke said, 'Euro Packaging had refused to recognise our union even though the overwhelming number of workers had joined the GPMU.
'Our members and their families were determined that they would win union rights at the company. Their determination has paid off. They are a credit to the GPMU. I want to pay tribute to our members at the plant, who showed tremendous solidarity.'
Trade unionists everywhere should be inspired by the fighting spirit that the Euro Packaging workers showed. But trade union leaders should also ask why they did not use all their strength to break this employer and win the strike completely.
Respect candidates and members have supported the strike from the beginning. Many of the strikers were hoping that this week would see advances for Respect because it stands against the injustice handed out by bosses.