“We’re British workers now - but we’ll fight like Turks”

On Saturday, November 4, Mark Fischer spoke to a young striker on JJ’s picket line

The boss basically told our union rep to fuck off. He told all the union members to stand to one side - then he told us, “Fuck off: you’re sacked”.

He pushed us off the property. So we started a peaceful protest - with the agreement of the police - on the corner of the road to the factory. Fifteen minutes later, the manager of the factory arrived. He parked his car, got out and shouted over to us: “You lot are all dead men - wait there.”

Fifteen minutes later, ten thugs turned up in cars. They attacked us with weapons - knives, crowbars, billiard balls in bags - they rushed us. Six of us were injured - three hospitalised. The owner actually rushed out of the factory and joined in with the attack! In particular, he assaulted the only woman in the union - she is the only one on the clerical side, the upstairs office, that joined up. The rest were drivers and loaders from downstairs.

At the beginning there were about forty-five of us out. But in the last few days, we’ve managed to get another seven people out. Over half the workforce is out at the moment. The boss is trying to recruit, but he’s having problems.

The boss has refused to accept the union, refused to accept our right to join a union. It looks as if it could be a long dispute. Yesterday, his solicitor phoned the union offices to tell us that he refuses to accept anything. He is now even suggesting that we walked out voluntarily, that he did not sack us. He’s alleging that he did not attack us, that we attacked him!

The working conditions before this strike were terrible. People in the warehouse have to work twelve hours - five o’clock in the morning until five o’clock at night. There are workers in there who are coming out with £130 a week for a twelve-hour day. There are six people who are made to work in the freezer, for twelve hours a day, in conditions of minus 30 degrees, with no lunch breaks, no tea breaks - just ten minutes to have their food then back into the freezer. And they are getting £180 a week.

Drivers have different wage rates according the length of employment. A basic rate for a driver is £150 and can go up to £220 or £240 a week. But for that, the drivers have to do far more hours. They start at 5am and often end up finishing at 8pm, 9pm or even 10pm.

Four weeks ago, a boy was knocked over by a forklift truck. No ambulance was called - he was just told to go to the hospital. He couldn’t walk after the accident. He was called up by the boss and told that he could have no pay and he can only come to work and start earning again when - if - his leg gets better.

We’re organising a boycott of JJ’s products. No one will go back until the boss sits at a table, agrees to take back union members and to improve conditions.

In the bosses’ own words - “I’m a rich man; my money talks. I’m Turkish and I do things the Turkish way.” Our response is: “We’re in England; we’re British and we want it done in a British way.”

We’ve had a lot of intimidation. Yesterday, two of our people were visited at their houses. They were pulled out and they were nearly bundled into a car. People are having abusive phone calls, cars parked outside their houses, their car windows broken and so on. One person yesterday was held at knife-point for nearly fifteen minutes. His wife managed to get hold of us, we went down and ‘dealt with’ the problem.

The police are not helping the strikers with these threats. That’s the ‘British way’ as well, of course. When it comes to this aspect of the fight, we are going to introduce a bit of the ‘Turkish way’ of doing things into this strike. If any of our people are harmed, we sort it out - properly