The Guardian • Issue #1950

Demonstrators protest ongoing lockout of Coles workers

  • by E Lennon
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1950

Three-hundred and fifty workers at the Smeaton Grange Coles warehouse have been indefinitely locked out of their workplace.

The lockout comes after the company announced plans to shut the facility, which is its largest distribution centre in NSW. The warehouse would be replaced by an automated one in 2023.

May 1 Movement organiser Robert Car, who coordinated the day of action, has encouraged people to build solidarity through engaging with the affected workers.

“It’s all about talking to the Smeaton Grange workers,” said Car. “It’s great that leftist organisations will come out to these actions, but without actually going out to the Smeaton Grange picket line and actually supporting them and talking with them, having that strong sense of community, we’re in a bit of an echo chamber.

“Workers are very intelligent and adaptive. We often don’t give them credit for how intelligent and adaptive they are. If you speak to one of the lead delegates for Smeaton Grange, even if they’re the delegates against further actions, they fully understand and fully advocate that we should have an onsite committee from the start and that we should have had a strike fund.

“That would have taken the class struggle further. It’s a bit of a no-brainer. Building unity in that respect is actually quite easy. It’s all about having an ideological mindset.”

One Coles worker who came out to show their support at the action condemned the laws.

“The lockout shows that industrial law in Australia is massively in favour of employers,” they said. “The fact that it’s even allowed to be done. The culture of solidarity needs to be rebuilt to combat this.

“I’m here as a Coles supermarket worker because I believe that when there’s conflict in the Coles supply chain, it’s my struggle as well. I believe that other people from Coles should also get involved in the lockout demonstrations. What happens in one warehouse will happen in other warehouses, where automation can occur. As a RAFFWU [Retail and Fast Food Workers’ Union] member, it would be good to see other workers engage with comrades’ struggles. We’re employed by Coles and similar employers on the shop floor, but we should come together to support distribution centres.

“Similarly, with other UWU [United Workers’ Union] members, they should be directly tied to their other comrades in Smeaton Grange and fighting for their rights. Switching from industry to enterprise bargaining has destroyed the culture of solidarity and allows big employers to get away with what they want in workplaces. Workers in the same jobs, but different workplaces, won’t come out in support. Even though Coles will try and do the same thing to them in the future. It’s the job of unions to support their members, and a big part of that is getting other workers to support them in their campaigns. Things like the May 1 Movement are great ways to get the community involved in the struggle for workers.”

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