We are the 53

Last week, rank-and-file members of Unite in one workplace raised £1,000 to support 53 Indonesian workers, sacked by Nestlé.

They were joined by trade unionists in Germany, the Nordic countries and elsewhere who in a matter of hours raised tens of thousands of pounds for the solidarity fund.

All told, unions have already raised enough money to support those sacked Indonesians and their families for at least six months.

So much for the idea that international trade solidarity is a thing of the past.

This was announced quite dramatically at the world congress of the International Union of Food workers (IUF), at which the “We are the 53” campaign was launched to demand that Nestlé reinstate the sacked workers.

Nestlé refuses to do so, though it prides itself on its record of “corporate social responsibility”. The company’s website says:

“For us, caring about the wellbeing of others and the environment is integral to our promise of improving the quality of life through good food and beverages everywhere. Our commitment to great tasting and trusted products has and always will be tied to our respect for the environment and the people we work with, including the farmers who supply us, our employees, our consumers and the communities where we operate.”

The story began last October when several dozen SBNIP members working at the Nescafé factory in Panjang, Indonesia walked out on strike over a bargaining deadlock.

The strike ended and both sides reached an agreement to return to work.

But when the workers came back to their shifts, they were met by riot police.

Nestlé managers began arbitrarily sacking them. Not all the strikers were sacked, but all those who were sacked were union members who had participated in the strike.

It was a clear message to others not to be “troublemakers”.

When the IUF raised the question with Nestlé bosses in Vevey, Switzerland — a short train ride away from the IUF headquarters in Geneva — they were given four different explanations of what had happened.

As the IUF put it, “Nestlé has a different explanation for this action, depending on who is asking the question. No one is told the real reason: the workers are being punished for attempting to assert their rights in a country where such efforts are not well received by company bosses and HR managers unaccustomed to challenges to their supreme authority.”

Full details are on the IUF website, http://www.iuf.org