Striking Coca-Cola women speak out

March 12, 2014

This is an amended version of the translation of the article by Josefina Martínez published in Periódico Diagonal
Translated to English and published by libcom.org

Striking Coca-Cola women speak out

Twelve women in red ‘Anti-Coke’ T-shirts at the gates of the factory

On Saturday March 1st we met with 12 Coca-Cola workers. In this group interview we wanted to find out how the closure of the Fuenlabrada plant would affect their lives. They wanted to talk because each has a story to tell – a story very different from looking ‘on the Coke side of life’.

Marisa has worked in customer services for 25 years. “I have two children and I’m separated. One of the children is independent but lives in Germany – he’s very young and paid very badly. And I’ve a daughter who is studying full-time.†On the relocations offered by Coca-Cola she says: “They haven’t explained it. My whole life is here: home, mortgage, student daughter. To live on my own? I can’t do that.â€

Teresa interrupts and explains that the posts they have offered “are a complete trap†. She has worked at Coca-Cola for more than 30 years. “Suppose we agree; later they have the luxury of saying that you don’t meet the conditions of the profile they are looking for and so ‘voluntarily’ you are made unemployed. Whatever they call it, they’re firing us!†Teresa’s father worked his whole life at Coca-Cola but now he and her mother are both frail. “I can’t go and leave my parents alone. My sister works at Fuenlabrada too and so we’re both in the same situation. It’s not just that you have a mortgage, or that it’s the money, there are loads of things. It’s that your life is here and they don’t have the right to finish with you.â€

Maria has her baby daughter in her arms. Closure of Fuenlabrada would leave not just her out of work but also her husband, who has worked there for 12 years. “I’m temporary but my husband’s permanent. And with what they’re saying about the relocation ... How will I cope with two mortgages? Above all, you don’t know the conditions you’re going to be in. We have to find two jobs, not one, and with a five-month-old baby, paying for vaccinations, paying for everything...?â€

Eva’s children are with her, wearing T-shirts with slogans against the Coca-Cola sackings. She watches her daughter as we speak: “She doesn’t know what’s going to happen. She asks me: ‘Mummy, where will we go? Can I stay with my friends? Am I going to go to the same school as the friend I’ve had since I was three?’ What do you say to an eleven-year-old girl with that future ahead of her?â€

Idoia is younger than her colleagues and single: “I’m not in the same situation as most of my colleagues because I have no family expenses, but I don’t know what contract or collective agreement I will be on, or what salary ... so I am staying here in Fuenlabrada.†She’s one of the first women to work in production at the plant, which has always been a business “by and for men†, she tells us.

Gema is moved by the story of each colleague and when we talk she echoes the feelings of most of those present. “What have we done to deserve this? I have two children, the oldest of whom is five. How do I explain to her that she has to leave her friends and that she might also have to be away from her dad? It was difficult for me to get my current job in Madrid. It seems very unfair that all these workers, who were proud to say they worked for Coca-Cola, are now in this situation, having to take to the streets against compulsory redundancy.â€

Virginia is angry and wants to refute the recent statement made by Juan José Litrán, Coca-Cola Iberia’s Institutional Relations Director, that Coca-Cola welcomes the “generous†offer made by Iberian Partners, since it allows “anyone who wants to work to have a job.†“I’m totally outraged that a man in such a senior position tells me this! We in Madrid want to work. The thing is that later on they will have plenty of money for advertising and we in Madrid will be portrayed as lazy.â€

“Having said this, suppose we accept the transfers: we are going to have to compete with our own colleagues for the jobs. But even if I get a job and I go with my daughter, the salary would only pay for a hostel room with cooking facilities, so we would be in a state of economic and family instability. So as a mother I am outraged. I think that it is all down to greed: Coca-Cola has always presented itself as a company that brings happiness, but it has made us very unhappy – all for greed.â€

Mercedes is a CCOO trade union delegate and tells us how the struggle is continuing: “We Coca-Cola workers are constantly demonstrating, raising the visibility of our fight, through media and other means. The company hopes that this will finish after the 10-day consultation period. But no! We have prepared a schedule of actions that run at least until March 30th. We have planned marches and demonstrations, and rallies at the US embassy and the Coca-Cola Iberian Partners headquarters. Everything we have done, we’ll continue to do, and above all we are maintaining our base here, our Ground Zero, in Fuenlabrada.â€

Teresa, Raquel, Virginia, Marisa, Gema, Idoia, Eva, Mercedes, Vida. They are Coca-Cola workers or relatives of the workers and they don’t want to be denied the right to determine their own lives. “Your life is here and they don’t have the right to finish it.†They are also part of the struggle of millions of women for the right to choose what to do with their own bodies. Early in February they went to the demonstrations against Gallardón’s Law, for the right to free and legal abortion, with the Mareas health workers campaign. They are backing the marches on March 22nd and have expressed their solidarity with the workers at Panrico. The struggle continues.

“Why will we be on the streets on March 8th?†says Virginia. “Because we think. We think and we want to decide. That’s why I invite all women to be with us that day. Because we have, every day, to fight for our rights. So women, girls ... everyone onto the streets to defend our rights!"