GMB, Britain’s general union, has announced four days of strikes and continuous action short of strike in November, with GMB members in York will downing tools after a failure to reach agreement with their employer, Tangerine. Socialist Appeal supporters in the GMB report on the battles being fought by factory workers against the confectionary company bosses.
GMB, Britain’s general union, has announced four days of strikes and continuous action short of strike in November, with GMB members in York will downing tools after a failure to reach agreement with their employer, Tangerine.
The row began after a planned pay rise left factory workers frustrated and angry. When the company finally agreed to meet with GMB representatives they begrudgingly offered a 1% pay deal, indignant that they had already introduced the national living wage for the lowest paid workers. The offer was unanimously rejected by members in favour of a ballot for industrial action.
After years of cuts to benefits and below inflationary increases the workers are fighting back. The loss of paid breaks and hand-wash breaks, along with slashes to pension schemes, meant it was inevitable that something had to give – and it was the patience of the workers at the York-based site. After the workforce said that enough was enough they started to organise, and within months they increased their union membership by 300%. Pulling away from collective talks with their other site in Pontefract, one of the other Yorkshire-based Tangerine sites, they have controlled local talks. The ballot – which has seen high percentage rejections of the terms offered – has now led to a period of strike action.
Workers were preparing to go cap in hand for another year of despondent pay talks that would leave families struggling before Christmas. Empowered by their strength, however, these workers are not prepared to sit back and see their dreams smashed.
As the UK’s largest sugar confectionery and branded popcorn manufacturer, Tangerine’s brands include Barratt Sherbert Fountain and Butterkist Toffee Popcorn.
In 2011, US private equity firm Blackstone Group bought a majority stake in the company. Tangerine have since returned this investment by eroding workers’ terms and conditions in favour of profits. Blackstone has simply targeted a profitable company with its strategy of asset stripping in order to plunder the company, mounting it with enormous levels of debt and floating this former confectionery giant back on the stock exchange – all at the cost of jobs.
The GMB has already made enemies with Blackstone in the past, with union members smashed during battles with the investment firm in the fight for Southern Cross Care Homes.
With a clear mandate from members, action started on Monday 8th November. Tangerine have been warned that action short of strikes will continue if talks fail to materialise. Further industrial action will take place on the 14th, 16th and 30th November.
Ben Kirkham, GMB Organiser, said:
“This is not about rejecting an outright 1% pay increase; this is about GMB members rebuilding their terms and conditions. We have witnessed a long list of attacks on paid breaks and hand-washing time; pension contributions reduced and provider changed; training money and bonus payments pulled: the list really is endless.
“We’ve seen a US-based private equity firm come to the UK and smash the Tangerine dream. What was once a pleasant place to work and a valued career choice for many is now nothing more than a sweet return for its capital partners. We’ve even seen the warehouse radio removed. Why?
“GMB members feel that they have been backed into a corner and are faced with no other option than to strike; and I really must stress that this is the last resort for our members. As Christmas approaches, we’re saying ‘bah humbug’ to this scrooge employer.”