Mass picket supports locked-out workers
By Michael Bull
MELBOURNE — More than 600 people heeded a call to attend the picket line at the Australian Dyeing Company (ADC) on January 13. The ranks of the picket again swelled by more than 50 people on the mornings of January 14 and 15. The pickets kept the plant closed, to the delight of the locked-out workers.
On January 12, 50 residents attended to offer their solidarity and support. Local residents are concerned that the plant, which uses toxic chemicals, is using untrained non-union labour.
On December 1, 80 workers were locked out by ADC. The dispute is viewed by the Victorian trade union movement as the latest politically motivated attack against unionisation.
The origins of the dispute date back to mid-August, when negotiations over an enterprise agreement began.
After months of fruitless negotiations, the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union (TCFUA) decided to impose bans in an effort to maintain award conditions and win a modest $20 a week pay claim, and an equally modest redundancy payout in case of lay-offs. The mainly migrant work force is one of the lowest paid groups of workers.
A meeting of all workers at 6am on December 1 voted for industrial action, and by 8am the company locked everyone out. Immediately, 45 Chubb security guards were employed on a 24-hour roster. Over the next few days, $100,000 worth of security cameras were installed.
The company has employed two photographers with video cameras and sound recording equipment to gather evidence to outlaw the picket under the Workplace Relations Act. ADC has also hired Peter Reith's personal lawyers.
ADC management, with help of 20 scabs recruited from among students at Monash and Melbourne universities, got the factory up and running again but, according to ADC, it is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
TCFUA assistant secretary Michele O'Neil claims that the attack on the workers is politically motivated: "These workers earn between $410 and $440 gross a week — clearing between $320 and $350. The amount of money the company spent in the first few days of the dispute would easily have covered a $20 a week pay rise."
The locked-out workers point out that ADC declared a $16 million profit last financial year.
O'Neil said that workers have been offered their jobs back if they resign from the union and sign individual contracts.
Angelo Ranoldo, the TCFUA shop steward, told the volunteer picketers that the company had "offered us a wage increase to return to work, but the issue is not just about money but about the right to belong to the union".
To the applause of the crowd, he added: "All these offers by ADC have been turned down by every picketer, because it means we will have to give up all our rights as workers if we accept".
Union sources explained that the unions were reluctant to escalate the dispute prior to the holiday and therefore limited action to a "peaceful assembly". With workers returning, the idea is to turn it into a proper picket, with stand-by picketers on call.
The January 13 action began at 6am, when hundreds of workers and union officials were called to join the picket. At 10am, 300 construction workers took over.
The action followed two days of the picket preventing traffic into and out of the factory. On the night of January 12, 50 police officers with eight horses led a minibus of scabs through the line for the evening shift.
The union is asking for as many volunteers as possible to defend the picket during the shift changes at 6am in the morning and between 5pm and 7pm in the evening. Volunteers are also asked to make themselves available at short notice to defend the picket in case of unexpected attacks.
"This dispute is not just about the workers at ADC but about the future of the entire trade union movement", Ranoldo told the picketers.
Join the picket at 169 Noone St, Clifton Hill. Support can be given by visiting the site. Donations and levies can be deposited at the Commonwealth Bank, ADC Solidarity Account, account number 063008 10032412.
Please fax details of any weekly levy to TCFUA (ADC Solidarity) to (03) 9348 1779.