On the Picket Line

Coffee workers in UK fight big-time wage cuts

By Jonathan Silberman
May 17, 2021

BANBURY, England — Dozens of workers at Jacobs Douwe Egberts staged a May Day plant gate action here in rural Oxfordshire 80 miles northwest of London. The Unite union members have started escalating strike actions in a fight against the bosses’ attacks on the wages, conditions and pensions of the 291 workers, along with the threat they’ll be fired if they don’t sign up to onerous new contracts.

“The turnout is fantastic,” process operative Sakwinder Mann, who has worked in the plant for 22 years and faces a wage cut of 15,000 pounds a year ($20,900), told the Militant. “We’re not only fighting for ourselves but for future generations,” said Kal Mann, another of the three Mann brothers working here.

Packing operator Kim Spencer Davies, one of some 60 women workers, says she faces a wage cut of 5,000 pounds. “The different cuts have to do with different departments and shift patterns,” she said. “For eight years we’ve also had two tiers. New starts get half the paid break I get.”

The coffee-making company is making big profits, union convener Chris Moon said. “During the pandemic coffee drinking has sky-rocketed, and so too have sales. But the Dutch-based company pits one plant against another.” A spokesman for plant management told the media they “need to reset Banbury’s manufacturing operations for the company to remain competitive.”

Jacobs Douwe Egberts is itself owned by JAB Holding Company, a massive German-based corporate empire that includes Peet’s Coffee, Keurig, Dr. Pepper, Panera, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Einstein Bagels, Pret a Manger, Au Bon Pain and much more.

“They’re taking advantage of increased job insecurity that many workers feel with the pandemic,” said Mark Russell. He’s worked in the plant for 39 years “during which there’s never been a strike — until now!”