Visy & Swift ~versus~ Workers & Solidarity

Update : Australia: Visy strikers denounce mass picket line arrests, wsws.org, December 14, 2010 | Police arrest picketing Visy workers, Workers Solidarity Network (Melbourne), December 14, 2010.

Police have been kicking arse and employers have been kicking goals @ the Visy factory in Dandenong and @ the Swift Australia factory in Brooklyn. Between 29 and 34 picketers were arrested @ Visy, while 120 workers have been locked out @ Swift. (“The 20 hectare Brooklyn plant situated in Melbourne’s west is the largest multi-species processing facility in the southern hemisphere.”) According to one report, “Last Friday [December 9], Visy management secured a Victorian Supreme Court injunction banning union organisers and delegates from the Dandenong picket” (Australia: Striking Visy workers arrested on picket line, Richard Phillips and Tania Baptist, wsws.org, December 13, 2010).

Unions are bad, mmmkay?

Helicopters, on the other hand, are very cool, and Visy management has been using them to fly scabs in over the heads of picketers.

A community picket has been called for Tuesday, December 13 from 6am. The picket is located near the corner of Greens Rd and Hammond Rd in Dandenong.

The picketers welcome solidarity from fellow workers, especially those with helicopters, or even vocal training:

Word on the street is that, as well as refusing to grant minor wage increases, combative Visy management is attempting to accelerate casualisation (with a concomitant reduction in wages and conditions) with a view to de-unionising the site.

As for Swift Australia, it’s a subsidiary of the Brazilian-based TNC JBS Friboi, the largest beef producer in the world. Swift has been busy taking advantage of the 457 visa scheme elsewhere in the country, and raking in even fatter profits as a result. The lockout was triggered by workers’ refusal to to agree to a measly 2% pay increase “in exchange for working Saturdays with reduced penalties” (Brooklyn meatworkers in wage war, Maribyrnong Weekly, December 8, 2010).

Presumably, police will eventually be kicking arse in Brooklyn too, altho’ if the company had enough smarts, it would have ensured it had sufficient stockpiles to starve the recalcitrant workers into submission, and thus avoid the need for any nastiness.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining, and while workers fight for scraps, others–in particular their employers–are a little more fortunate

    * The average total remuneration of a chief executive of a top 50 company listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2010 is $6.4 million. The average CEO’s total pay packet is now worth almost 100 times that of the average worker.
    * Executive pay rose by an average of over $940,000 over the past year – the equivalent of an extra $18,000 a week, while the annual wage for a full-time worker rose by just $3200, or $62 a week.
    * Since 2001, the base pay for executives has risen by 130%, while average weekly earnings have risen by 52%. Inflation over the same period has been 28.6%.
    * Across the economy, profits soared by 27.5% in 2009-10 financial year. Gross operating profits in mining have risen by 60.6%, while wages grew by just 3.8%. Construction profits rose by 55.5%, but wages by just 2.9%. And profits in the information, media and telecommunications sector grew by 10% – five times wages.
    * Company profits as a share of national income are now back to the record levels of 2008, while the wages share is the lowest since 1964.

See also : Union blasts police action to break blockade, Ben Schneiders, The Age, December 14, 2010.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2021 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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3 Responses to Visy & Swift ~versus~ Workers & Solidarity

  1. David says:

    Hey @ndy,

    Good of you to link the Visy and Swift actions; I wasn’t aware of Swift, but was able to get down yesterday to stand with the Visy picketers.

    The helicopters were a big dramatic thing, but one point that was going around among the workers was that the properly trained scabs amount to a small handful of people, who would not be capable of running the plant at anything resembling normal production. If they’re getting in extra scabs from elsewhere, these will be untrained people. We speculated that they’d mostly be using scabs to package stuff that’s already been made at the plant, but hasn’t been gotten out to the warehouses due to the strike.

    Which highlights a crucial point that gets made over and over again by history – workers have power, and this is the source of their power. They’re the key to production, and it just can’t be done without them.

    When the management came by with their hired security, a few of the workers were yelling stuff like “How much did it take you to run the helicopters?” There’s a lot of awareness that the choppers are a (disgusting) attempt at intimidation, and a damaging holding action for the company.

    Anyway, good work reporting. I’d add that these people are brave and united, and they’re doing something difficult but powerful, because they have a really far-sighted grasp on what’s happening here. They know *exactly* what Visy is trying to do to them, and they know they can make the company pay.

  2. @ndy says:

    Hey David,

    Yeah, choppers are expensive–my own fleet annually costs over $10 million to run believe it or not–and I’m sure Visy management would prefer it if scabs remained Earth-bound. On the other hand, the company is massive, and has massive resources, so it really depends. Mostly, on the cost of helicopter transportation ~versus~ successfully negotiating with police and Government to really smash the pickets: again and again and again if necessary. Which cost must be factored into the overall purpose of denying the meagre wage increases being demanded by its members but, moreover, the general strategy of casualising the workforce, not only at Dandenong, but across the various sites owned by Visy. This is obviously a longer-term strategy which, in combination with de-unionisation, helps to establish a more solid foundation for reducing wages and conditions (working in high temperatures without adequate breaks or ability to rehydrate being one of the major OH&S issues apparently). So, y’know, I think the major questions are: determination (workers/union ~versus~ management/scabs); attitude of (newly-elected) Tory Government and police (police generally regard breaking pickets as one of their least desired roles; Visy would obviously want to have the support, public or private, of Uncle Ted’s mob); union and public support (or lack thereof); costs to the company associated with decreased production/distribution of goods/flow-on costs to customers:

    Manufacturing strike could stall market fruit sellers
    Melbourne Times Weekly
    December 14, 2010

    …Australian Vegetable and Potato Growers Association spokesman Hugh Tobin said he didn’t think the strike would be a problem.

    “There won’t be a supply disruption based on the fact that Visy have moved the work to a lot of the other sites, and there’s already products in storage.”

    Mr Grey also said the recent weather conditions had slowed demand for fruit and vegetable boxes.

    Heavy rain has dampened the immediate demand for boxes; harvests have been affected,” he said.

    It may also be the case that the company–now under NEW! management–is just testing the waters, will accede to the union position on the EBA, and have another crack later, better prepared and moar determined.

    *shrugs*

    Talks underway on Visy dispute
    Jan Deane
    ABC
    December 14, 2010

    Copters bring in staff during strike
    Lucille Keen
    The Greater Dandenong Weekly
    December 13, 2010

    “…the company has enlisted 60-70 security guards for the Dandenong site”?!?

  3. Pingback: Community assembly underway at Swift Australia | slackbastard

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