Unite imposes “fire and rehire” deal at Jacobs Douwe Egberts: “the workers have lost faith in the Unite union”

Unite’s rotten deal with Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) has been ratified by JDE workers after the union used “fire and rehire” threats to force through the company’s agenda. The deal will usher in massive cuts to pay, terms and conditions.

A press statement issued by Unite yesterday morning, trumpeting the success of its pro-company deal, was packed with lies from start to finish. Its headline claimed, “Banbury coffee workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of deal that removes ‘fire and rehire’”.

Unite in fact presented its deal with JDE’s fire and rehire threats still on the table. As such, JDE workers voted with a gun held to their head. If they voted “no” then termination notices would take effect on September 13. Unite has “removed” fire and rehire only by giving the company everything it wanted.

The result of the ballot showed 81 percent accepting the new terms and conditions and 18.5 percent voting “no” off a turnout of 93 percent. A separate vote on a brutal new 4/4 shift pattern registered 80.4 percent in favour, 14.8 percent against and 4.8 percent where ballot papers were spoilt.

JDE workers voted through gritted teeth. The fact that nearly 20 percent of workers rejected the deal despite the threats hanging over them underscores the extent of opposition behind the bare vote tally.

This did not stop Joe Clarke, Unite national officer for the food industry, declaring yesterday, “We are delighted that our members have overwhelmingly accepted this deal in a democratic ballot—the scale of the endorsement shows that Unite’s stance during the dispute and in the tough negotiations reflected the wishes of the vast majority of the employees.”

Unite’s ballot was neither democratic nor reflective of JDE workers’ wishes. When Unite first unveiled its pro-company deal on July 15 it provoked fury. After two months of rolling strikes and overtime bans, workers were presented with a deliberate act of sabotage: annual pay-cuts of £9,000, penalty rates slashed, a longer working week and a 4/4 shift pattern forcing employees to work two 12-hour days followed by two 12-hour nights in a four-day period.

In the lead-up to the ballot, Unite worked to suppress opposition among workers, banning critical comments on the local Unite Facebook group and calling for the closure of the Banbury300 Twitter account that was giving voice to workers’ anger. As a JDE worker told WSWS on July 26, “Anyone who spoke out against the deal is being censored… with voting starting tomorrow, I guess they want the people with opinions to shut up.”

That week Clarke issued letters on behalf of Unite aimed at damage control. His first conceded that “fire and rehire” had not been withdrawn, but that Unite would re-ballot for industrial action if JDE workers decided to reject the deal. Two days later a second letter followed. Clarke now claimed that JDE was financially “struggling” and would relocate if workers rejected the deal.

In claiming “victory” yesterday, Clarke declared, “The fact that ‘fire and rehire’ has been removed from the table is a major achievement for Unite and the Unite internal plant committee”, citing the union’s “high-profile industrial action and leverage campaign”. Steve Turner, a supposed “left” and frontrunner in elections for Unite general secretary issued his own statement on Twitter describing Unite’s sell-out agreement as a “win”.

The working class cannot afford such wins!

JDE is a “victory” for the bureaucracy, not the workforce, in the same way as previous sell-outs at British Airways, British Gas and Go North West. In every case, the unions have responded to “fire and rehire” threats by offering their services as industrial policemen for company-wide restructuring. Unite’s “leverage” strategy is to use limited strike action as leverage in its efforts to convince corporate executives they must work with the unions to suppress workers’ opposition and impose company dictates.

This was made clear by Clarke, when he explained that “victory” at JDE meant, “There is now an opportunity to rebuild relationships with the management in the months and years ahead. We are particularly keen to enter into constructive discussions about future investment opportunities at Ruscote Avenue.”

His words must serve as a warning. JDE’s “fire and rehire” demands have all been fully realised via Unite’s sell-out deal, with a JDE spokesperson telling the Banbury Guardian, “We are pleased that our associates have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the latest negotiated deal… and look forward to working together to create a better future for our factory.”

But the attacks will not stop there. JDE has already made clear that its “constructive discussions” with Unite and any “investment opportunities” will be achieved in a bidding war against its factories worldwide based on who can offer the most competitive rates of pay and conditions.

As Unite announced its filthy sell out yesterday, JDE Peet’s announced its half-yearly results showing profit before interest and tax growing by 0.8 percent to €636 million. Fabien Simon, the company’s CEO, who joined last year with a €10 million “golden hello” and annual salary of €1 million plus “bonus opportunities”, praised the company’s “strong set of results” across “all key metrics, including top-line, profitability, cash generation and in-market performance.”

Three months ago, workers began their dispute against a ruthless company, but Unite’s role as a corporate syndicate has proven they face a war on two fronts. This central lesson is one that many JDE workers are already drawing.

As a Banbury worker told the WSWS yesterday, “While JDE celebrate the dark con of the deal and Joe ‘Vapes’ Clarke tells the whole world he's never lost a fire and rehire battle… the truth is JDE are spending millions on a deal where people will be standing around doing nothing and the union are losing members left and right at Banbury JDE.

“Unite union and Joe Clarke have lost the fire and rehire battle and the workers have lost faith in the Unite union, especially the Banbury committee who look weak and humiliated. We will never know how much the Unite union were paid off but for the record the workers are the ones who have lost big time and the future looks bleak for this once great factory.”

The central lesson from the sell-out at JDE is the need for a rank-and-file rebellion against the pro-company unions and the creation of new and independent organisations of class struggle.

While the agreement foisted on workers at JDE is a bitter defeat, there is a combative mood among workers and a discussion underway about the way forward. The same process is reflected in a growing wave of strike struggles and protests by workers throughout the world. The Socialist Equality Party will support these efforts, encouraging the fighting capacity of the working class and its political and organisational independence from the company, the trade unions, capitalist parties and the state based on the fight for socialism.

We appeal to JDE workers to contact us and begin a discussion.