Community assembly underway at Swift Australia

A strike @ Visy in Dandenong ended last month; another @ Swift in Brooklyn [map] is ongoing and now into its fifth week. The factory is located on Industry Park Drive:

Brooklyn Processing Plant
30 Industry Park Drive
PO Box 36
Phone: 03 9315 1299
Facsimile: 03 9314 1011

Swift Australia is 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 strike/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).

The Workers Solidarity Network (Melbourne) provides the following infos:

Community assembly underway at Swift Australia

Striking cold store workers at Swift Australia voted against the latest in a string of condescending offers from management today, as Workers Solidarity Network members and union activists assembled at the site.

The workers’ supporters blocked trucks throughout the day, sending a message to the company that endless stalling and bad-faith negotiation must end.

Confident despite their five-week ordeal, the workers reminded those attempting to cross the picket that Swift cannot be allowed to set this precedent for the mistreatment of workers, and that ‘touch one, touch all’ applies now more than ever.

ACTU President Ged Kearney was present, promising to do all she could to get more union supporters down to the site and funds raised. The Western Suburbs Community and Union Coalition, as well as ANF, MUA, ASU, NTEU, CFMEU and CEPU members all came to show their support for the striking workers, even helping to block trucks. All promised to return tomorrow with extra support.

Some workers, while appreciative, questioned why this community support was so long coming. Indeed because the call for community help has come so late in the dispute, it is crucial that all supporters go now and stand on the picket line alongside their friends in Brooklyn.

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 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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5 Responses to Community assembly underway at Swift Australia

  1. @ndy says:

    Things are pretty tight at Swift Australia/JBS Friboi. On the one hand, the company has apparently failed in a takeover bid of Australian food giant Sara Lee:

    US food group Sara Lee is understood to have rejected a takeover offer for its US business from Brazilian meat giant JBS, who also own Swift Australia, due to a disagreement over price.

    Sara Lee’s management has been in talks to sell the business to JBS for a few months, Bloomberg reported today (20 December). However, the bakery giant has turned down an offer from JBS, deeming it “too low”.

    It is understood the bid was less than Sara Lee’s intraday high of $17.62 on 17 December, when the Wall Street Journal reported the companies were in talks. The stock closed at $17.26 that day; at that price, Sara Lee was valued at $11bn.

    On the other hand, the company is having enormous difficulty paying a fraction of its workers in Brooklyn just a little bit more than the minimum wage.

    Meat supplier locks out workers
    Ben Schneiders
    The Age
    December 23, 2010

    Tito Reng has been through tougher struggles than a workplace dispute after fleeing Sudan as a refugee and living in Ethiopia and Kenya. But being locked out of work by his employer for three weeks without pay has been difficult. ”It’s not easy, it’s not simple,” he said.

    Mr Reng, along with 140 of his co-workers at meat supplier Swift Australia, have been prevented from returning to work since December 3 and now face a prolonged period out of work with Christmas nearing. It is rare for a lockout by an employer to last this long.

    The cold store workers were to go on strike in protest at an offer of a 2 per cent a year pay-rise – they had wanted 4 per cent – but were then locked out indefinitely by the Brooklyn-based Swift, a major supplier to Coles.

    Mr Reng, 25, a machine operator, who was paid a little more than $17 an hour, said management had become increasingly hostile in recent months but workers, many of whom were from Sudan or Burma, wanted to stick it out.

    National Union of Workers state secretary Tim Kennedy said Swift had used scab labour and brought in workers from Queensland and Korea. He said the length of the lockout was unnecessary.

    Mr Kennedy said a strike fund had been established and Christmas presents had been distributed to workers, many of whom were paid just above the minimum wage. He said the picket and absence of the cold store workers had hit Swift.

    ”The cold store is a complete mess and the productivity is shot to pieces.”

    Swift Australia corporate and regulatory affairs director and manager John Berry denied the dispute had hurt its Brooklyn operation, which housed an abattoir and employed 1100. ”We’ve continued to operate our business and supply our customer base.”

    Mr Berry said meat processing was a low-margin business, and his company needed productivity improvements from its workforce and greater flexibility. Mr Berry confirmed Swift had brought in contractors.

    Mr Kennedy said the picket activity wound down yesterday but would restart on January 4.

  2. Liz says:

    Perhaps the WSWS article is as good a place as any to start a discussion of what the WSN is. I would be interested to know what the WSN has to say about WSWS crew being asked to leave a picket for handing out a leaflet, if indeed they were even aware of it. I think the WSWS’ characterisation of the community picket is pretty accurate. As with it’s predecessor, Union Solidarity, the community picket seems to increasingly function as an excuse for unions themselves not to mobilise members. The fear of the secondary boycott provisions, as the justification for Union Solidarity’s existence is I think just accepted within the WSN. But should we accept that we should find ways of working within these laws? If we accept the secondary boycott provisions as here to stay, then it seems there really is no horizon for action beyond the increasingly pathetic demands of unions on management. The community picket functions to cover up what the secondary boycott provisions, and union refusal to confront them means. The community picket offers the small consolation prize of committed unionists from other areas using their bodies to engage in minimal symbolic disruption for long enough for the union to negotiate with the company and both union and WSN to declare a victory when negotiation works: when it becomes clear that no one else is coming, that no effective actions by other workers at other plants are coming, that nothing will spread beyond their work site – well of course they agree to the only deal the union offers, which is usually well less than the rhetoric of those organising the community picket, who anyway, get the version of events fed to them by the union, that perpetuates both their ongoing roles.
    I would like to hear that I’m wrong however, and that the WSWS reporting of this dispute is inaccurate. But you can tell I’m not surprised since it rings so true.

  3. Liz says:

    More on the WSWS being accosted, apparently by workers, at the WSN facebook page…

  4. @ndy says:

    Yeah. WSWS reckon it was “NUW bureaucrats” wot done it, and the angry workers who told them to piss orf were incited by the same “bureaucrats”. The article makes various other criticisms of the union’s conduct: that the workers were “deliberately isolated by their union for nearly six weeks”; that it “rammed through” an agreement under dubious circumstances, and that this agreement “accepts a number of the company’s key demands”. And so on and so forth.

    Buggered if I know.

    On the rest, moar later.

  5. lumpnboy says:

    The deliberate isolation for weeks: check. Accepting company demands, including pay ‘rises’ which, after inflation, are pay cuts: check. Accepting new divisions within the workforce: seems like it. As to the specific dynamics which determined the struggle and its limits: well, maybe others can explain.

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