By Dave Reid and Mariam Kamish
Production at RF Brookes slowed to a virtual standstill on the second day of the second strike in Rogerstone near Newport. Agency workers who had been bussed in to break the strike were sent home as production ground to a halt. About 100 workers supported the picket line.
Workers at RF Brookes, all members of the BFAWU trade union, held their second two-day strike against the greedy and bullying 2 Sisters food company which owns Brookes and produces food for Marks and Spencer. As previously reported in the Socialist (issue 905), the company is cutting shift allowances, overtime payments and is under-paying young workers in response to the introduction of the National Living Wage.
Workers on strike have remained defiant in the face of a management which has been attempting to bully the workforce into signing new contracts. Support on the picket line has come from Cardiff Trades Union Council, the National Shop Stewards Network and the Socialist Party. A number of lorries were turned away from the gates as drivers refused to cross the picket line.
One worker described how some have been bullied to sign a new reduced contract: Each worker is being taken into a room, “one chair in the middle of the room, door closed, sign here. The union is not allowed in with the person – supposedly that’s legal, which it only is if they haven’t asked to be accompanied”.
Workers are being told ‘you must sign by the deadline or…’ implying that if they don’t sign they will be sacked, even though that is illegal.
With it being a large agency and migrant workforce, some workers have been intimidated. The Filipino hygiene staff are standing firm and won’t sign even under threats of sacking. But other low skilled workers, many without enough English to fully understand the situation, have signed under the threats.
One young worker, who until recently had been an agency worker, told us that the agency was telling agency staff they weren’t allowed to join the BFAWU – and that loads of people are regularly cheated out of pay for large numbers of shifts by the agency.
Another young striker said his manager was keeping him cleaning freezers six hours a day but as one of the stewards explained: they have to give you 15 minutes rest from that every hour. The young lad hadn’t known that, but knew they were just trying to punish him for being so solid against the new contract. All those hours in the freezers without protective gear is pretty much torture.
But the intimidation is being resisted. The mood on the picket line was very firm – a lot of the workers have toughened in support of the strike in response to the company’s attacks.
One steward who came off nights at 5am and went straight on the picket line told us that he thought management was absolutely desperate: The overtime ban means it was three shifts behind before the strike even started.
This is a company that can rotate its production between plants, so the idea of coming out together with other plants is popular. But the general feeling was – with core cooking staff out – this dispute can be won!