Thousands of unionists stopped work to march through Melbourne in support of the CUB 55 in early September.
Carlton United Brewery (CUB) laid off the 55 maintenance workers, electricians and fitters in June, offering them re-employment with a 65 per cent cut to wages. Workers are in their fourth month of picketing outside the brewery for reinstatement at their original wages and conditions.
Unions are running a high profile campaign calling for a boycott on CUB-produced beers. Despite the massive amount of publicity, multinational conglomerate SABMiller, which owns CUB, has refused to concede.
One of the CUB 55 told Solidarity, “We are here for the long haul until we win this dispute. A lot of other companies are looking at this dispute here and if we don’t win this it’s going to affect working conditions around the country for a lot of other workers”.
Subcontractor Programmed Skilled, which employed scab labour to replace the workers, announced at the end of August that it would withdraw its involvement over the next two months. Programmed said it had been “increasingly concerned” because of the inability to get “normal, safe and secure access to the site”.
Unions were hopeful that this would force SABMiller to rehire the CUB 55, but there is no sign of this to date. The unions say this is a “war of attrition” but SABMiller is in a much better position for this than the workers laid off and living on savings.
SABMiller are also backed by the media and the anti-union Turnbull Government. The Herald-Sun has run a smear campaign against the unions, including a front-page write up about a union organiser at CUB attacking a manager, despite there being no evidence or charges laid.
The company have been gradually building up their other major Australian plant in Yatala near Brisbane, trucking beer down to Victoria. The unions have finally started raising the CUB55 dispute in Yatala, holding a rally outside Brisbane CUB offices on 4 August and planning to tour CUB55 workers to the plant.
Some production is also continuing at Abbotsford with hundreds of other workers in other roles still working. The crucial question is whether these other workers inside the Melbourne and Brisbane plants stop work in solidarity. The unions have avoided solidarity action because it would violate anti-strike laws. But the mood for action is clear with workers inside leaving United Voice and joining the CFMEU because of the lack of action from the unions.
Industrial action that strikes hard at SABMiller’s production is sorely needed.
By Feiyi Zhang