“I don’t see the difference between the sites,” says a rank-and-file activist at McCain Foods in Ballarat. She’s speaking about all McCain sites: from the other end of the industrial car park in Ballarat to the potato processing plant in Smithton, Tasmania, solidarity knows no bounds.
The AMWU have been gathering messages of support from the workers in Ballarat to send down to Tasmania, where the workers commenced strike action last Thursday after EBA negotiations broke down. On her break one day last week, one activist went around taking photos of her fellow AMWU members raising their fists in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Tasmania.
The McCain workers in Tasmania earn about 15% less than those doing the same work in Ballarat. What’s more, they also earn about 15% less than several other nearby, comparable sites.
Their demands are simply to achieve parity with their mainland counterparts.
On one level, this AMWU member can’t fathom how this can be right.
“The injustice of it all, when we’re supposed to be working under one umbrella company, just isn’t right. The fact that the same work can be valued differently by the same company goes against everything I believe in.
“Their fight is our fight, just as much as our own pay and conditions are.”
Unity is Strength
At the same time, she isn’t surprised by the divide-and-conquer tactics. In Ballarat, there’s a physical divide between the Potato Products and the Prepared Foods plants, including a small dam. The company treats it like a hard boundary.
“It’s almost like there’s several divisions, even across our site. There’s three plants, and you’d almost feel like they’re three different companies.
The union doesn’t recognise this distinction. At close to 100% union membership, workers are bound by more than their location and role.
“We’re union first, and that unites us,” says one staunch AMWU member.
Unionists Without Borders
In contrast to a small dam that separates Potato Products from Prepared Foods in Ballarat, Bass Strait separates the workers in Tasmania from their Victorian comrades. But even across that much bigger body of water, the union won’t be divided.
“It all comes down to unity. I hope they know they’re supported, and that we’re backing them. We all work for the same company, so if we can stick together and win then they can too. They’ve got the whole of the union backing them.”
Border restrictions also make places that aren’t too far in reality feel like a world away.
“If we didn’t have all these restrictions at the moment, I’d more than happily be jumping on a plane and heading down there to support them, as would many others that I know.
“In the meantime I guess we have to be creative with our solidarity.”
If, like the Ballarat McCain workers, you want to express your solidarity but sadly can’t jump on a plane to Tasmania, you can get behind the AMWU’s campaign to Support Local Manufacturing. Sign the petition today to call on the Morrison Government to step up to prioritise Australian manufacturing jobs and commit to buying Aussie made!
The AMWU have been gathering messages of support from the workers in Ballarat to send down to Tasmania, where the workers have commenced strike action after EBA negotiations broke down. On her break one day last week, one activist went around taking photos of her fellow AMWU members raising their fists in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Tasmania.