"Empowering" is how Nick, a packager on the can line, described stopping work to support fitters and electricians sacked by Carlton United Brewery. One by one through the turnstiles, bagpipes sounding, “touch one, touch all” resounding, production workers walked out for a three-hour stop-work.
“Solidarity is everything in these kinds of situations”, said Justin, a CFMEU member. “We are all together, we are all fighting together and no-one is going to flinch.
“We’ve offered our verbal support to the CUB 55, and today is just an opportunity to do something more than just verbally support them but actually walk out for a few hours and let them know that we are still supporting them. This is just the beginning. If the boys don’t get the result they want, we’ll escalate it, take it further. We want the guys to be re-employed on at least their previous conditions, at the very least”, he told Red Flag.
Nearly 12 weeks ago, the company sacked 55 workers. They were offered their jobs back on terms that would result in a pay cut of 65 percent. CUB wants to scrap the 35-hour week and the workers’ rostered day off. It is a scandal of vicious greed. There has been a protest outside the Abbotsford brewery ever since.
The owner of CUB – SAB Miller – last year turned $2.7 billion in profit because of the labour of its workers. “We are the people that perform the work, we are the ones that get the beer out the door, we are the people that allow these profits to be made”, said Justin. “Why shouldn’t the electricians and fitters get the pay and conditions they want? The packagers and the rest? Everyone knows they do all the work.”
It’s not the shoulders, hands and backs of the bosses that give way after a life of hard work. They don’t do the handling, the repetitive lifting; they don’t use the machinery or the hand tools. They only put a price on the value of those who do. “We are just numbers, and that is all we are here for”, said Nick.
The dispute at the brewery is significant. “It is going to set a precedent: cutting our wages, keep treating us like crap, taking away our rights”, said one of the sacked workers. “A lot of people are watching this, like Coca-Cola, Nestle and all that, and they are going to try to do the same.”
He explained what it means for him: “Every week there is a bill on my bench: electricity, Foxtel, you know, there’s always a bill on my bench and you’ve got to pay them. None of them are under $200.
“I have a mortgage; if we win our jobs back with the same pay and conditions, it means I can go back and comfortably pay my mortgage, and have half left to pay my bills and raise my two kids. I’m a single parent.”
Solidarity matters to the sacked workers who turn up every day to do shifts at the protest camp. The stop-work on 25 August, the first since the dispute started, was also a glimpse of the industrial power of the workers still inside the brewery.
“United we stand, divided we fall. It’s a very old saying. It’s a very true saying”, said Meagan, one of those who stopped work. “We need to show support to the people who have fought before us, to show our kids that if you want something, you fight for it.”
To support the CUB workers, boycott CUB products, visit their picket line at South Audley Street in Abbotsford or donate to their fighting fund at www.gofundme.com/CUBworkers.