It was mid-February and I remember turning up to work to find the gates were shut. It was a lockout. 260 of us were outside while management were busy stripping the place. We were a well organised print site and we managed to get picket lines set up on every gate 24/7. It was cold and wet and as it all dragged on we began to feel like we were sitting in the snow going nowhere.
That all changed when Sharon Graham presented us with the Leverage Campaign strategy. It was inspiring! Suddenly we could go back to the picket and say “there’s someone here who’s going to have a go at them.” It galvanized everyone.
Mayr Melnhof Packaging (MMP) are an Austrian multinational and suddenly the fight went beyond our site in Bootle. We were in Austria, France, Germany and even the US – we went anywhere they had a shareholder, a major client or a supplier.
We’d tried other things. We had some MPs sign an Early Day Motion and got some trade media coverage. At first you think “that’s great they’re going to raise the issue”, but you soon realise what you really need is action not just talk.
During the lockout it felt like we’d been thrown to the wolves and when you’re a shop steward in a smaller manufacturing site you can feel very much on your own. That’s why Sharon’s support and the fighting plan her team presented really geared us up.
It was the sharing of information that made the difference to us. How the company works and then the connections all over Europe. In smaller sites you don’t always have that info, you need a bit of support.
Knowing you’ll get that support makes all the difference in the world. When you’re backed into a corner like we were it matters far more than what faction someone supports or anything like that.
I believe the future of Unite needs to be with people like Sharon – proper workplace campaigners. It can’t always be going on about Westminster politics – and I’m a Labour ward leader! Unite the union has to be about the workplace and we’re so far away from that.
The status quo isn’t going to work anymore, it’s time for new ideas. I’ll be supporting Sharon Graham to become General Secretary because I want every rep and shop steward to have the support I had.