Scabby the Rat might have moved on, but the flags and booming music make it clear that the electrical union’s picket outside OI Glass in Brisbane’s south is still going strong 11 weeks after it began. All 17 Electrical Trades Union workers in the company remain on strike and intend to stay out until they get their pay rise and management agrees to formalise their existing conditions.
The manufacturing workers’ union, which was part of the picket when it started, has since accepted in principle a draft agreement from the company, and its members are back at work. The electrical union, by contrast, is holding out for the 3 percent pay rise workers are demanding. As Troy, a delegate who has been on the picket every day, said to Red Flag: “It’s the principle, we just wanted the same pay rise as the minimum wage”.
OI Glass, a large multi-national company based in the US, raked in $2.62 billion profit in Australia between 2013 and 2017, but paid no tax. Its attitude to the workers is the same as to tax. According to Brad, an OI Glass workers, the company “don’t see us as assets. We’re not assets to them, we’re liabilities. In some meetings it was like some of the people in the meetings were having to pay [the wage increase] out of their back pocket”.
It has been a long picket and it has taken a financial toll on the striking workers, but solidarity remains strong. For Darren, who has worked at OI Glass for six years, the strike has been about “doing the right thing, the company’s not doing the right thing, it’s more about principle than money to me, it’s about time they give their workers something. They don’t seem to like to look after their workers too much. They are trying to take our conditions. I’ve been through two enterprise bargaining agreements and both times we got very little out of it, so it’s about time they gave us something decent. It’s time to show them we’re not just a number, we’re the ones that actually keep the place going”.
The strikers have been overwhelmed by the community and union support they have received. Troy and his coworkers acknowledge the importance the picket has not only for them but for the broader union movement. “We know we’re like a stepping stone for future disagreements”, he says, “and want to show other members and other people that you can stand up and fight”.