The Coles lockout at Smeaton Grange has reached a decisive turning point.
After successive mass meetings decisively rejected the redundancy deal, Coles management is holding a non-union ballot in an effort to settle a new enterprise agreement and get the Smeaton Grange workers back to work.
The electronic ballot will be held this Friday 15 January between 2pm and 9pm. If the ballot is successful, Coles will then go to the Fair Work Commission to get approval for the non-union agreement.
It is an aggressive move by the Coles bosses who have combined the non-union vote with a threat to extend the three-month lockout beyond 11 February.
The move for the non-union ballot comes after an angry mass meeting again rejected the shoddy conditional offer from Coles.
Smeaton Grange workers are angry at clause 9 of the agreement, which would give the green light for the company to victimise workers who have been active in protests and pickets during the lockout.
In a disgusting video clip, Coles boss Matt Swindells arrogantly says the company might only be, “looking at about ten people to have a conversation about behaviour”. But clause 9 would make every worker vulnerable. Fourteen workers at Woolies’ Wyong distribution centre got “first and finals” for picketing Minchinbury during their dispute last year.
Tragically the United Workers Union (UWU) leadership is playing into Coles hands. Despite mass meeting votes and a union secret ballot decisively rejecting Coles’ offer, UWU officials are taking a “neutral” position on the non-union ballot.
But rank and file Smeaton Grange workers have produced a very solid “Vote No” leaflet and video clip that is being widely shared among the workforce.
It is important that every worker votes No in the bosses’ non-union ballot. The offer is just the same inadequate redundancy deal that they offered back in November. Even worse, they are trying to intimidate workers into voting for the redundancy agreement by threatening them with the sack.
A non-union agreement would give the bosses greater confidence to terminate people with no redundancy payments.
Coles is out to weaken the union at Smeaton Grange. A non-union deal would mean the union was weaker on the job. It would be open slather for Coles bosses if workers are forced back on a non-union agreement.
A non-union agreement would also have implications for all Coles workers and United Workers Union (UWU) workplaces. Every union will be weaker if Coles thinks it can get around union organisation at Smeaton Grange. Every union agreement with Coles will be up for grabs.
Around 3000 Coles workers will be directly affected by the deal that can be won at Smeaton Grange, as Coles moves to automate all its distribution centres. Woolies warehouse workers recognise that they will be next.
A No vote can be the beginning of workers going on the offensive and escalating the dispute against Coles. Shamefully, the UWU leadership has been “missing in action” and has not provided the support for the action that could have won this dispute weeks ago. Workers were locked out on 19 November, but there has been no on-going strike fund set up, and Smeaton Grange is at risk of being starved back to work.
Nor have the UWU officials called for solidarity action. They have argued against organising hard pickets of the pop-up distribution centres, and in particular of the important Eastern Creek warehouse, so Coles’ operations have proceeded as normal.
Action will need to be stepped up if Coles is going to be beaten.
A rank and file group of “Concerned Smeaton Grange Workers” have plans for a strike fund and are proposing a day of action against Coles to follow up a No vote on Friday.
A No vote will be a blow to Coles’ threats against workers and set the scene to escalate the fight for a just deal at Smeaton Grange.