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John Passant

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November 2011



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Poultry workers hold off riot police attack

Striking workers at the Baiada chicken processing plant in Laverton scored a stunning victory last night, when a picket of several hundred held off a concerted attack by scores of riot police says Corey Oakley in Socialist Alternative.

The police attack, which came just before 10pm, was brutal. One worker was seriously injured, sustaining a broken thigh bone. But the police could not break the line.

Workers and community supporters linked arms and held fast – when the police finally got through the front lines dozens ran to reinforce the picket at the back.

Eventually the police were pushed back and retreated amid wild cheering. People cried, hugged each other and jumped in the air. Solidarity and resistance had won the day.

The euphoria was a long way from the mood several hours earlier. Late afternoon the company, Baiada, had successfully obtained an injunction from the Supreme Court banning the union, the NUW, from continuing the picket. Union officials were barred from participating in or organising picketing, and the official NUW picket was no more.

This was not all. Since the strike began on Wednesday, the company – one of the most unscrupulous you will ever come across – has employed any number of dirty tricks in order to intimidate its workforce. On Friday afternoon muscled thugs, obviously employed (directly or otherwise) by Baiada management, drove up and down the road outside the picket, menacing strikers. Others in security uniforms (not actual security guards, but thuggish crowd controllers whose usual work is in nightclubs and strip-joints) waited nearby.

Spirits were low. But a meeting at 6pm, when the union organisers announced that they would no longer participate in the picket, turned everything around. It was proposed that the NUW picket be replaced by a community picket, with workers standing behind rows of community supporters who would maintain the line.

This was greeted with great enthusiasm by the strikers. At first, numbers were very small – only a dozen or so supporters were present. But the word went out, and over the next two hours numbers swelled as carloads of unionists, left-wing activists, and others from the community began to arrive.

Several hundred staffed the main picket, with scores at the two subsidiary pickets nearby. Anticipating an attempt by the police to bring in scabs or trucks full of live chickens (6 of which were stationed around the corner) strikers and their supporters rehearsed picket line tactics, and chanted an inventive array of slogans. The favourites of the mostly Vietnamese workforce were “no more ten dollar” [an hour] “no cash pay” “no bully” and “we just ask fair”.

There were also inevitable chicken puns. “What’s disgusting, union busting, what’s outrageous, poultry wages” was the most popular.

Baiada workers are fighting for the most basic rights. As Naomi Farmer explained:

While the company pays some of its workers as little as $7 an hour, the Baiada family is one of the richest in the country, their wealth currently sitting at $495 million dollars.

In the last five years two workers have been killed at the company. At about 3am on 5 December 2005 Mario Azzopardi was crushed to death by a 550kg steel cage. The cage had been put into position by an unlicensed 16 year old worker driving a forklift. There had been accidents on this particular poultry farm before – but Baiada continued unsafe working practices.

Then in August last year Sarel Singh was decapitated at the Laverton processing plant. Sarel had already finished his shift, but he was ordered by management to clean a machine in a section of the plant he was not familiar with. Sarel was forced to clean the machine while it was operating at full speed. He got caught, was thrown from his ladder and his head was ripped off.

Although the police attack on last night’s picket was expected, it was still shocking. But people resisted with courage and dignity. And while seeing off the riot squad was an important victory, it is only one step in this campaign. The company is ruthless, and it is clear they have the police and the state on their side.

If the workers are going to win, there needs to be a substantial union and community mobilisation in their support – starting now. Everyone who supports union rights needs to get down to the picket line (the factory is in Pipe St, Laverton, just off the Westgate Freeway). There has already been substantial community support for this strike, but it needs to be stepped up dramatically. If the strike is to win we need hundreds of people defending these picket lines 24 hours a day.

There are a number of important industrial disputes developing at the moment. Nurses voted on Friday to go ahead with bed closures and other actions, starting today. The public sector union, the CPSU, is also set to begin industrial action soon. And of course the Qantas dispute is still in the balance, despite the fact that Fair Work Australia has outlawed immediate action by the unions.

It is the Baiada workers though, who have been out in front in taking determined action in defence of their rights – an indefinite strike and a solid picket line. The Herald Sun describe this disparagingly as “old-style unionism”. It is a badge Baiada workers and their supporters should wear with pride. As the employers – in both the public and private sector – gear up for confrontations and cutbacks, old-style unionism is exactly what we need. Unionism that is about organising together, taking a stand, refusing to be intimidated and calling for solidarity when you come under attack.

One of the chants on the picket line last night was “touch one, touch all”. It’s an old union slogan, and one that the whole of the union movement needs to remember now. What happens to the Baiada workers will not only shape their futures, it will have an impact on everyone in the union movement. Which is why now is the time for all of us to get down to that picket line, and show poultry workers they do not stand alone.

For an account of the issues involved in the Baiada strike, read this article Socialist Alternative ran on Thursday.



Pingback from Worker picket | Wyrmtungh
Time November 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm

[…] En Passant » Poultry workers hold off riot police attack […]

Comment from Berran
Time November 16, 2011 at 6:18 am

FYI – Baiada Poultry also trades as Lilydale Free Range Chicken, and Steggles. See ‘Products’ tab on

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