Workers for the win in General Mills strike

Employees at a major food manufacturing company took a stand and gained a big win against wage suppression. Here’s how they did it.

IEU organisers Ann-Maree McEwan (pictured above, far left) and Dave Towson (second from right) attended a picket line to support striking workers at the General Mills plant at Rooty Hill on Wednesday 23 June.

The workers, who are members of the United Workers Union (UWU) were on day 19 of their strike to increase their pay and maintain their conditions. But come Friday 25 June, they'd attached a substantial victory.

US-owned General Mills, a global food giant that manufactures popular brands including Old El Paso taco kits, Latina Fresh pasta and Haagen Dazs ice cream, had raked in revenue of $US17.6 billion ($A23 billion) in 2020, and profits have risen by 40 percent over the past five years. The company’s CEO was paid $US11.6 million ($A15.3m) in salary, bonuses and stock options in 2020.

Yet the 90 or so workers on strike were facing an average pay rise of just 1.5% a year, cuts to their conditions and new clauses that could see them forced to work more on weekends. The company was still operating during the strike by engaging a labour-hire company, but it was on substantially reduced output.

“As we arrived, a delegation had been invited into the building to speak with management about resolving the strike,” Towson said. “It was the first time management had reached out to the strikers. Those present cheered their colleagues as they walked into the building.”

UWU organisers had instigated a Twitter campaign on the same day asking users of the social media platform to tweet asking @General Mills to #RaiseWorkersWages or customers would #PassOnOldElPaso. The campaign saw this issue trending at number one earlier in the day, and organisers believed management’s decision to talk to employees was a direct result.

“The General Mills employees work hard to provide for their families and are proud of the work they do,” Towson said. “But they were even more proud to take a stand against a multinational insulting them with a paltry pay offer and a proposal to reduce their conditions.”

These same employees were even prouder still on Friday 25 June when they endorsed a deal that would see all their conditions maintained, a pay increase of almost 9% over three years (back paid to mid-February), and a $1500 bonus. The company’s original offer was just 4.5% over three years, no back pay and no bonus. By taking a stand, union members almost doubled their pay increase.

“Throughout the strike, General Mills workers were buoyed by the support of other unions,” Towson said. “Transport Workers Union truck drivers refused to cross the picket line and turned their delivery trucks around at the gate.”

Members of the Australian Workers Union dropped off firewood to help keep the strikers warm as they maintained their picket line 24 hours a day. “Police officers who attended reportedly sympathised with the members while grumbling about the state government’s wages cap,” Towson said.

Community support for the strikers was strong, with people vowing to boycott the brands and posting pictures on social media of General Mills foodstuffs spoiling on supermarket shelves.

The IEU rejects wage stagnation. When workers have money in their pockets, they spend it in the local economy. “We were proud to support our sister and brother workers at General Mills and congratulate them on their hard-earned win,” Towson said.

Monica Crouch