The Guardian • Issue #2073


South Australia Inghams picket

CPA members in Adelaide attended the recent United Workers Union (UWU) picket against Inghams chicken. The workers at the Adelaide worksite are almost entirely migrant labourers – placards boasted slogans in at least four languages. After over 20 years without a strike, many Inghams workers are paid as little as $22 per hour for the kind of work that most people would never consider taking on. But now, the workers are organised enough to stand up against the low pay, abysmal working conditions and contemptuous treatment dished out by their bosses.

The picket started at midnight on Thursday night, 21st September. The bosses made numerous attempts to get scabs onsite, at one point becoming desperate enough to cut open a fence rather than try to get them past the picket lines on the gates. By sunrise it was clear that they couldn’t get enough scabs in, and the situation calmed down.

Delegates displayed an excellent degree of discipline in this crucial stage. While resolutely refusing to let anyone come in as scab labour, they reached out to their colleagues and convinced a significant number of them to join the union at the picket line.

At one point management asked the delegates to agree to let a truck out as a show of good faith, in return for resuming negotiations. The workers voted to do so, but it quickly became clear that management wasn’t prepared to offer anything. This call for “good faith” was just the latest of management’s threats, tricks and other dirty tactics to try and get product past the picket line for sale.

The bosses’ sinister tactics culminated in their decision to position skips full of stinking offal to rot in the sun by key gates, and along the fence where the picket was concentrated. The smell was overpowering, but the workers’ resolve was stronger. Inghams told the press that the placement of the skips was “not deliberate,” but the bins’ tactical placement left no room for doubt.

On Tuesday, having refused two prior offers from the company since the start of the picket, the delegates accepted management’s offer. There isn’t space to include all the details here, but it includes a 13 per cent pay rise over 3 years, guarantees of casual conversion, limits to the use of labour hire and an independent investigation of management’s bullying and harassment of workers.

As industrial action is something of a rarity in 21st-century Australia, it’s worth noting some lessons learned at the Inghams picket. Hopefully this will assist those who are considering strike action for the first time.

While we cannot tolerate scabs undermining industrial action, a significant number of workers will remain uncommitted until events force them to take a side. It’s important to leave room for them to come over to the union side.

Some shifts and some locations will be less popular than others. It’s necessary to be proactive about covering them – providing a marquee where there’s no shelter, and making sure that isolated locations are supplied with sunscreen, food and water all helps to encourage people to maintain a presence in a key location away from the action. Providing blankets and planning for a night shift makes it easier to ensure that enough people will maintain a presence overnight.

The start of the picket is the hardest part. It’s crucial to make sure there are enough members and supporters to hold the line until the bosses realise they can’t get past.

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