On the Picket Line

Coffee workers in UK win international solidarity

By Jonathan Silberman
and Pamela Holmes
June 14, 2021

BANBURY, England — Workers at the Jacobs Douwe Egberts coffee factory here held a three-day strike starting May 26, one of a series of stoppages to oppose wage and pension cuts, worse job conditions and the imposition of inhumane shift schedules. The bosses have threatened mass firings if the 291 Unite union members don’t agree to the new terms.

The workers recently got a solidarity boost from unionists in Germany at another of the company’s coffee factories. “We have had confirmed from Dieter Nickel of the German Food, Beverages and Catering Union that workers at the Hemelingen plant in Bremen are refusing to work overtime,” union convenor Chris Moon told the Militant on the picket line.

“This adds to the local support we’ve been getting,” said Denise Canning, who has worked here for 36 years. Like many of her co-workers, Canning has a sister working at the plant “as did our mum and stepdad.” Canning is one of four women working in processing, the best paid section of the factory.

It was hard to hear Canning over the sound of car horns blasting when workers from the nearby Magna car bumper factory drove by after work in support.

Elaine Reading, with 27-years’ employment and who also works in process, says that she would lose 9,000 pounds a year ($13,000) and six holidays if company attacks go through. “Everything we have got is a result of what the union action has won.” she said.

“That includes toilets for women in processing when we got work there,” adds Canning. “We’re not just fighting for ourselves but for the younger and future generations.”

“I stand to lose my job,” said maintenance engineer Kevin Stavely. “I’m 63 and have a 100-mile round trip to work. I simply can’t do the 12-hour day and night shifts they’re demanding.”

Robert Pringle and Lisa Cattell, a couple who work alternating “earlies” and late shift in the packing section, also oppose the shift changes. “Not only will we lose 6,000 pounds a year between us, we couldn’t countenance what they were proposing — for child care and family life.” They said that their two children have joined the picket lines, proud that their parents are standing up to the boss.