European unions support Coca Cola En Lucha in Spain

Vera Bartolomé, Federico Tomasone

Working session and action day in Madrid

NGG from Germany, CGT from France and LBC/NVK from Belgium together with the international organisation IUF participate in a working session and an action day in Madrid.

After the merging of different bottlers in the Coca-Cola Iberian Partners, the company is undertaking a significant restructuration of the production chain in the region. It is drastically cutting workplaces and closing minor plants. This is a general trend affecting the workers in several European countries. The merge in the Coca-Cola European Partners is being used by the company to impose large job reductions. Workers from Portugal to Germany and Great Britain are being forced in precarity and have to accept the flexibilisation of working time. Understanding the urgent necessity of a collective answer to this common trend, the workers of Fuenlabrada, together with their families and supporters, organised as “Coca-Cola en Lucha”. They gave the impulse to coordinate the common struggle.

Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO.) organised a two day meeting between the Spanish and the international beverage unions in Madrid on 17 – 18 January with support of the Rosa–Luxemburg-Stiftung, Madrid Office. During those days around 15 unionists from Germany, France, Belgium and international organisations joined their Spanish colleagues to exchange information on the current situation of Coca Cola in the face of massive layoffs at European level. Also, some future joint actions were discussed.

CC.OO., who hosted the event, explained to their colleagues that the current situation in Fuenlabrada (town where the bottling plant is located) is very difficult. After a massive layoff of around 800 workers three years ago, some of them were forced by the courts to be readmitted thanks to the workers struggle. However, the plant is currently virtually dismantled: production has been stopped and the plant has been turned into a logistic centre. The workers remaining in the plant (around 200) do not have the same working conditions they used to have. The logistic centre, as all the unionists could see in a visit to the plant, is not such. In sum, the company is pursuing a clear strategy of turning this plant unnecessary at the workers’ expense. The courts in Spain have had some favourable sentences in the past that were not abode by the company. During the European union’s visit they showed support in front of the Supreme Court, which issued a sentence on 18t January that would oppose to the fact that the readmission was legal and well executed. However, the Supreme Court’s sentence was in favour of Coca Cola.

During the working session the NGG provided information, such as the decreasing number of employees in Germany, going from 12.000 workers in 2007 to only 8.000 in 2016, with 30 small plants that have been closed. Surprisingly, the demand on Coca Cola products has increased, so more production is done with less workers, leading to high levels of absenteeism and stress at work.

In France the workers face a similar situation, even though more dividends were distributed. Still, there are more sick leaves, particularly amongst women. In France, strikes of two hours are taking place in order to push in the framework of the collective negotiation.

The Belgian representative from LBC/NKV explained that they are negotiating on the flexibility that the company is trying to impose, by distributing the workers’ shifts very little in advance, worsening the workers conditions, of course.

IUF showed support to the workers in the struggles through the Assistant General Secretary Sue Longley, who attended meetings and action day. Also, EFFAT issued a letter to the Coca Cola workers showing their support for their valuable struggle.

This two-day meeting was a true accolade for the workers’ struggles in the day to day union work in the plants, resisting international capital strategies with a brave and sustained union work, which now, after this meeting, becomes an international one. A manifesto will be soon signed by the unions attending to the working meeting and it is likely that some actions will be carried out at a European level in the next months.

These kind of organising forms – mutual aid and solidarity action among workers of different countries in Europe – are more important today than ever. Affected by the same restructuration plans of the Coca-Cola Management, the only way to respond effectively is the organisation across borders to face the arrogance of such international corporations. It is only from these struggles and class conflicts, seething and growing from below, that a different common course in Europe can rise. Only through coordinating, learning and supporting each other the Coca-Cola workers can win their fights. If this is true for the women and men working in the Coca-Cola factories, it is something generally extendable and valid for all those struggling for an alternative in Europe.

Video: European union representatives support the workers of CocaCola Fuenlabrad