Workers at Britvic in Norwich are taking strike action against job losses. From day one, the bosses have shown nothing but contempt for the factory’s workers
Britvic Soft Drinks confirmed late last year that it would be closing its Norwich-based Robinson’s and Fruit Shoot production site, Carrow Works. The site is co-owned and operated with Unilever, who also produce Norwich’s famous Colman’s Mustard. The closure of the Carrow Works site means the loss of over 300 jobs from across both companies.
Now, Britvic workers at Carrow Works are out on strike over the terms of their redundancy. We joined them on the picket line, to talk with them about the issues at stake and the background to the strike action.
We were told that the main reason for the strike is Britvic’s refusal to negotiate redundancy terms with their recognised unions. The strikers are demanding that Britvic meet the unions at the table to negotiate new terms of redundancy.
Those on the picket line said that the terms imposed were insulting to the workers, many of whom had worked there for a long time and had given a lot to the company over the years. Worse still was that any consultation over the issue had been a sham.
Treated with contempt
GMB, one of the largest trade unions in the UK, represents the workers at the Carrow Works plant. Their full-time trade union officer was not permitted to participate in the consultations and the officer’s site pass was revoked to prevent access to the members at the plant. Britvic loaded their sham “collective consultation group” with non-union company appointed “employee representatives” instead.
This refusal to allow the appropriate trade union participation was one of the key issues for the workers on the picket line. One said that the company was treating them “with contempt and disdain”.
Britvic closed the consultation, imposed their redundancy terms, and have refused to negotiate further. The terms offered are barely over the statutory minimum, yet the CEO of the company takes home a salary of £2.1 million a year. This year he afforded himself a 19% pay rise.
What’s more, Britvic have refused to disclose any of their finances to scrutiny throughout this process. One worker told us that some of them had been offered relocation to other sites in other parts of the country instead – but Norwich is their home and many have families. He described the behaviour of the company as being “morally reprehensible”.
No thought for workers
We were also told that the Norwich site was one of the better performing Britvic sites in the country, but that it had been closed in what the company were presenting as an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. Everyone seemed to agree that this was a complete farce.
Britvic have said that they are closing the Norwich site to build up three other UK sites. They have blamed Norwich’s distance from the M1, despite the fact that they ship ingredients in (unnecessarily) from all over the world to save on costs. Britvic also ship their produce out to be “co-packaged” in France, then import them back into the UK – hardly environmentally friendly!
Yet again, the complete chaos of production within capitalism creates a situation in which the jobs and livelihoods of the many are determined by the whims of the wealthy minority. Masked with a vague and cynical excuse about environmentalism, large companies like Britvic make decisions to maximize private profit without a second thought to their workers.
While the CEO of Britvic walks away with even fuller pockets, the Britvic workers at Carrow Works are left with an insulting redundancy package, and no negotiation on the matter. As one worker put it: “Britvic can afford it, but they choose not to give.”
That these huge companies – only interested in making massive profits – choose not to give back to their workers is no real surprise. The workers at Carrow Works won’t simply be given the redundancy package they deserve; they will have to struggle for it through this strike. They will have to struggle for even the most basic demand – of trade union involvement in negotiation.
The global crisis of capitalism will see more and more struggles like this flare up as ordinary workers are forced to fight for fair treatment and a basic standard of living. Whether or not the Britvic workers will win this battle remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: only the organised and militant action of workers can combat the greed of capitalism.